A couple of days ago I read that DOOM’s sales have surpassed 500,000 on PC alone. The numbers on consoles haven’t been released yet, but I imagine they’re huge as well. So why is DOOM so successful? I mean, it’s a great game, but there has to be more to it than that. I think it’s because it fills a niche in gaming that hasn’t been explored in years, at least not like this. DOOM simply scratches an itch that we didn’t realize we had, and it feels oh-so-good.
For the last maybe ten years or so, we’ve watched as the first person shooter genre has become more and more samey as big companies realized that there was a certain formula to making money. They realized that if they made you feel really good at the game, then you would want to play it more. And so they started to dumb it down a bit, shortening the skill gap between skilled players and casual players in small increments with each release.
At this point you’re probably rolling your eyes and assuming I’m a hater. I’m obviously talking about Call of Duty here pretty specifically. A hater I am not, however. Call of Duty is a great franchise, and it definitely has its place in the gaming world. People clearly want to play it; the numbers in sales with each title speak for themselves. But with each iteration in the franchise it becomes clear that they are forgoing innovation and risk-taking in favor of churning out sequels that provide new content without rocking the boat. This becomes a bigger problem when other developers see the success Call of Duty has and begin to try to emulate it. We have seen shades of CoD (loadouts, cover-based shooting, regenerating health) seep into many of our beloved franchises lately in ways that begin to betray what the game was all about.
And that’s where DOOM comes in. DOOM takes risks. DOOM doesn’t hold your hand. It is relentless. It doesn’t let you take cover; the enemies will hunt you down and flush you out. It doesn’t regenerate your health; you have to find your health or literally rip it from your foes. In DOOM you move fast, and you have to keep moving or else become like one of the many demons you have torn, smashed and stomped through. You are encouraged, sometimes even forced, to use your entire arsenal, and every gun is at your fingertips constantly. It’s a game that favors pure fun gameplay over making anything remotely realistic, and that willingness to take such a huge risk in today’s climate is what makes the game so remarkable. In a world where big-budget gaming takes almost no risks, in a genre that has seen little-to-no innovation for years, DOOM is like a hellish breath of fresh air.
What’s interesting is that DOOM was originally a much different game. The first version of this iteration of DOOM was something very Call of Duty-like, with brown environments on a near-future earth and some generic marine main-character with voiced dialogue. It took itself very seriously. They got nearly three years into development and took a hard look at their game, deciding that it wasn’t really a DOOM game, and completely started over. It meant we had to wait nearly ten years for a new DOOM game, but the wait was worth it, because what we got was a game worthy of the legacy of its forefathers. The interesting thing is you can see elements of the CoD influence in the mediocre multplayer of DOOM. It has loadouts, not letting you use all of your arsenal. It takes away a lot of the freedom and doesn’t embrace what makes the singleplayer campaign so awesome, and suffers for it.
DOOM’s singleplayer works because it is a phenomenal take on something that was great to begin with. The first DOOM still plays great today, and it paved the way for what the modern shooter has become. Each game has something great that it brought to the table in its heyday. Diversity is important. Homogenization can only hurt each franchise, and the consumer as well. Developers need to take more risks, to let Call of Duty be Call of Duty, Halo be Halo, and DOOM be DOOM.
And that is why it succeeds.