Dull gameplay becomes acceptable if the story is engrossing. This is proven financially.
BioShock is hailed as one of the greatest FPS games because of its story and engrossing atmosphere. But play the game and you will realize it the gameplay itself adds nothing really new to the FPS genre and that the majority of the game is the player performing 'fetch quests' to gather some items.
The Last of Us, acclaimed by many as possibly the best PS3 shooter to be released this year, has a very engrossing story. However, when it comes to gameplay, there is nothing it adds to the FPS genre (reminds me of Call of Duty), and many of the fights occur in cut-scenes where you have to press some button within a short amount of time in order to win, which is a criticism that is often acknowledged but passed over because the story is just so good.
You are confusing innovation with gameplay quality. "Bioshock" and "The last of us" might not be anything new, but they have a fun gameplay, sure, the story helps to avoid noticing how repetitive they are, but that's all. Gameplay is very polished and it'd be fun for Bioshock fans even without the dressing.
So in "Bioshock" and "The Last of Us" the story helps but there must be a gameplay better than just decent.
I agree that in those games the dressing is way above the gameplay, that's why I'd prefer to have them as a TV show, book or a movie instead of a game.
I've played a few games where the story was great but the gameplay was dull, I ended up quitting after a couple of hours(sometimes minutes) and searching for the cinematics in Youtube.
It's personal preference as to whether a story is needed, but in terms of financial success, a great story with average gameplay will pay off more than great gameplay without a purpose.
I was speaking about game quality rather than financial success. Sure, if you are focusing on earning money you should really worry about the dressing. But from my point of view those are dirty tricks you can use to cheat the gamer. For example, there are some RPGs where you start with some old clothes and a rusty sword, fighting wolfs, by the end of the game you are a fully equipped-knight fighting dragons; that's ok as long as the gameplay gets deeper, if the core mechanics don't progress at the same pace then you're just using a dirty trick. Smart players will notice this and quit the game. Sure, you'll sell tons of copies, that's what many commercial games do.
You can choose to learn from most commercial games and make things that look like hollywood blockbusters (which will look awesome and be financial successful) but I'd rather experiment and try to do something I can call quality entertainment; once I've done that I'll worry about marketing and making it more appealing(adding the dressing).
So basically we differ in the final goal, your point is that financial succes tells us what's right (and what we should do) but I don't feel the same. Everyone has a different point of view of how videogames should be made
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P.D.: Chess doesn't have a story but it's one of the best games ever made. Its core is so good that it doesn't require any dressing at all.