Avoiding the fates of those who walked before you
As the maddenification of videogames pushes more titles on gamers at higher prices with the unavoidable thinning of gameplay casual gamers could very easily be pushed out. What nearly killed comic books was the fact that even when prices and practices corrected themselves it was too difficult for readers to get back into stories they’d been away from.
"But..." you say, "even games like Splinter Cell don't have continuous stories!" Very true, but videogames have a gameplay language that is always in flux. How do you know that barrels in first-person shooters always explode? Imagine how hard it would be to play a top-tier videogame released today if you've been away from gaming for the last few years.
So how can the industry open roads for new players to get hooked on gaming? Follow the lead of the only company who seems to recognize that there is a problem: Nintendo. As I've watched the Nintendo DS skyrocket to international success by tapping a previously untouched audience, I've grown to respect their previously crazy-sounding business plan.
I'm not saying that all games need to be highly original low priced easy-for-anyone-to-play, but there's something to be said for having these games be out front with the "big boys" like Halo 2. There's also something to be said for not immediately following a release with a new version. Giving new gamers time to join in on the fun seems to ensure that they'll try new games rather then just continue to purchase one game over and over; eventually tiring of games all together.
Only instead of watching companies create open roads, I'm watching the slow maddenification of every major publisher. What happens when casual gamers grow bored with the eighth version of Need for Speed? No one's saying that that particular version will be a terrible game, but we can only sell someone the same experience so many times.
When we surround the audience with a wall of yearly-updated titles that they've played to death, and similarly silenced independent studios by buying them out we're going to be left with a core-gamer audience that will break. On that day, I fear we will realize that we've let maddenification trade a long lasting future for a bright today.
Shut up and fix the problem
There is no solution to maddenification as I see it simply because publishers are providing exactly what gamers are asking for: more games. The quality of these "yearly updaters" is not in question because simply fine-tuning your product every year is sure to result in solid reviews. There is always the chance that reviewers will start to become more critical of sequels, but games like The Matrix have shown that negative reviews can't stop people from buying a game.
So as long as quality stays reasonable and prices edge up only slightly, then apparently there's nothing wrong. Just like the comic book industry death won't come in an apocolyptic jarring crash, but a slow spiraling death. I'm not sure that Nintendo's Revolution, Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, or Sony's marketing know-how are enough to pull in enough new users to sustain the gradual maddenification of the industry.