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Open World Gaming: From a few titles to an industry standard

In the last two decades, open world video games have become a norm within the industry, but why are they so popular?


Open world video games allow players more freedom with how they play despite the prolonged development time. ASU students interested in gaming are no exception. 

The gaming industry has seen no shortage of open world titles in recent years, from “The Elder Scrolls” to “Fallout,” to “The Legend of Zelda” and “Red Dead Redemption.” 

Since the 2001 release of “Grand Theft Auto III," a game known for popularizing open world gaming, the genre has gone from a select few titles to becoming an industry standard.

Jeffrey Holmes is an instructor in Film and Media Studies within the Department of English at the University. For Holmes, the primary appeal of open world gaming has been its ability to attract a wide array of gamers.

“Open worlds invite different kinds of players,” Holmes said. “They give lots of people different ways of playing the same game."

Holmes said that open worlds act as a unique social space for gamers, further bolstering the appeal of such titles.

“Sandbox games serve as modern digital playgrounds,” Holmes said. “Games like ‘Minecraft’ have given people a new space to come and hang out in, especially open world multiplayer games.”

Coylee Mitchell, a freshman majoring in computer science, said open world titles are popular because they let players choose their own routes and adventures.

Mitchell said the ability to successfully deliver on the promise of variety is what elevates open world games.

“I feel like there’s always something to cater to with open world games,” Mitchell said. “And when they’re done right, they can be amazing.”

While open world titles have various appealing elements that separate them from other titles, they are also known for their long development cycles. 

Over four years have passed since the announcement of “The Elder Scrolls VI” and over a decade since the last installment in the series came out, yet the game remains in pre-production over a decade after the last game in the series was released. Nearly a decade has passed since “Grand Theft Auto V” and it is only this year that Rockstar Games has officially announced the next installment in the series. It is for this reason that the upcoming "Final Fantasy XVI" has been confirmed not to be open world so as to avoid a lengthy development process.

"Sure the development time may be long, but gamers get it," said Annie Graziano, a senior double majoring in mechanical engineering and English. “I think that players know that the delivery will be worth the time it takes to explore it. They would much rather wait for a good game than to have a bad game early.”

In contrast, Holmes argues that the wide array of video games ensures players have something to experience while anticipating a new open-world title.

“Gaming isn’t necessarily a zero-sum,” Holmes said. “People are willing to put ‘GTA’ down for a little bit in favor of other experiences and then come back to ‘GTA.’”

For Graziano, it’s important for developers to justify the inclusion of an open world, going beyond simply being a feature to market.

“If companies are doing it just to have it be something they can say, like ‘look how big our map is,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean those things are worth it,” Graziano said. “The oversaturation feeling comes from companies being more focused on meeting trends rather than understanding why they are trends and what players actually like about them.”

Holmes, who admits to being exhausted with the number of open world titles, said developers should make use of advancing technologies to ensure that future titles remain innovative.

“I think we’ll see less directly crafted open worlds and more procedurally generated worlds,” Holmes said. “I think it opens up the possibility of user-generated worlds like with ‘Minecraft.’”

Regardless of how technologically advanced a game is or how long it takes to release, one thing is certain: So long as there is more for players to explore and experience, there will always be a reason to jump back into an open world.

Edited by Andrew Onodera, Wyatt Myskow and Luke Chatham.

Reach the reporter at and follow @amir_amimam1 on Twitter. 

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Amir ImamEcho Reporter

Amir Imam is a reporter for the Echo, providing a unique lens for The State Press and ASU to view pop culture and media through. His articles have covered major projects being done by professors, news in pop culture, and events relevant to students.

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