I'm gonna say again what I've said many times: game devs persistently underestimate the appeal of (aka the market for) pure exploration, and overestimate the value of laboured/grandiose plotlines, tedious grinding, artificial difficulties, boringly complex economies, repetitive violence, banal greed... etc.
My personal bet is that sales of most games would _double_ if devs issued two versions, or two modes within one release: the Campaign Mode and the Tourism/Exploration Mode. There are at least four or five big-name games that I would buy in a heartbeat if they offered a pure Tourism mode (walking sim with fascinating scenery and exploration); but no way am I going to spend my hard-earned cash just to be ambushed, shot at, constantly threatened, frustrated by pointless and repetitive obstacles and tests, and dragged into warfare scenarios that are approximately as wasteful, stupid and cruel as the real thing. Gaming is what I do to get AWAY from all that ugliness.
I think this reviewer is spot on: if you can stand in any location in a game world, look around, and see interesting stuff that you can actually walk to and check out, it's a winner. It has a high Exploration Quotient. The Assassin's Creed "Discovery" versions are excellent examples of this: you can ignore all the educational lectures and just go for a stroll around insanely gorgeous terrain in which almost every visible structure is reachable and explorable (climbable even!), delightful non-obvious details are everywhere waiting to be descovered, and living things enrich the landscape throughout.
IMNSHO Planet Zoo could profitably offer a version in which there's no campaign -- you just wander around a "natural" habitat and observe interesting wild animals (I returned PZ to Steam for a refund when I realised how monetised and grindy it really is). Call it Planet Safari and watch the bucks roll in, especially if there's a VR version.
I could go on... but I think this article underscores the gaming industry's persistent undervaluing of pure exploration, wandering and discovery. There is indeed something about _just being in_ a big, detailed, interesting and different world that is well worth spending the time there (and the money on your copy of the game).
I think this conversation is just beginning…