I was thinking of games like The Godfather II, Saints Row 2, and GTA IV... about how the cities are so big but also full of empty buildings. For every two-story structure you can enter and enjoy, there are dozens of shops, homes, and skyrises that are locked and might as well be stage paintings. That's understandable. Open world games like those already offer a lot of content, and a huge world with limited content placed amid stage props is often more fun than the alternative.
But perhaps there's a way to have our cake and eat it too.
Bioware forever changed the gaming landscape by including their Aurora toolkit with Neverwinter Nights. The intuitive software Bioware used to create the Neverwinter campaign was given to players so that anyone could design further adventures using the same assets. To date, literally hundreds, if not thousands, of adventures have been crafted by amateur designers with the Aurora toolkit. And while much of that content is basic and shallow, a community has arisen that recognizes the best designs and encourages quality contributions.
A long and deep, but ultimately finite game, was made infinite and ever new by enabling players to design additional content using developer-provided assets and tools.
Why can't games like GTA and Saints Row do that?
In the case of these games, players could expand not only out but also in. It's time to fill all those empty buildings. That can be accomplished by sharing the load with creative players. Design your big city or vast countryside. Polish it. Complete it. But then let players fill in the gaps.
Bioware has already demonstrated how this can be done efficiently -- create and maintain a player community that weeds out the bad input and sublimates the good stuff. So what if the game is for the 360 or PS3? The professionals designed it on PCs, right? Is there any reason content created by players in a PC community can't be transferred to the consoles as DLC?
Keep in mind, I'm not talking about MMOs. I'm talking about single-player and limited-mulitplayer games being fleshed out by a player community, ala The Sims 2. The idea has been out there for years. I'm just wondering why is hasn't been applied to some genres of games.