For the group topic this week, the 1985FM crew focuses on the future pitfalls of game development and the rising costs associated with it. What are the risks, and how should gaming move forward?
Game “X” didn't sell poorly because it sucked. In fact, it probably sold well. The problem arises when so much capital is required to develop and publish a game, forcing companies to move obscene numbers just to turn a profit. That's the reality of modern top-tier games. Creating assets that utilize hardware potential or at least rival what other companies output, corners developers to create AAA games, from day one. That’s just not practical. Call of Duty may sell 20 million units, but it's a rare phenomena. There's simply not enough gamers out there, with enough cash to buy every decently crafted, AAA game.
Current generational trends have proved the need to extend initial purchases of a retail release. Try going into a store on day one and buying the complete version of any game for $60. I dare you! Can't do it. Once you unwrap that unnecessarily difficult cellophane packaging and place your new game in the tray, you'll be greeted by another $20 in optional purchases, enhancing your already sizable expense. It's not because the developer had a sudden epiphany and created even more game before it went to retail. It took a ton of cash to make game “X” and developers have to find alternative ways to make more money, without scaring consumers by the initial price. This is just one example of how expensive game development has affected the average consumer.
Then there's the developers, themselves. Studios like THQ had a great stable of games lined up, but were put in positions where they couldn't afford to fail. Obviously, U Draw played a big factor in THQ's demise, but every release thereafter became life-or-death and this limits the ability of a developer to take chances. Next thing you know everyone has to release games with proven formulas, rather than try to pioneer new ideas. That means a lot of first-person shooters, third-person shooters and the next gen craze, fourth-person shooters! Seriously though, If development costs continue to grow, expect the indie game model to become even more attractive to developers.
With all that said, THQ's bankruptcy was a major bummer. Luckily, most of the employees of THQ's studios still have jobs and many franchises will continue in some capacity. Some acquisitions were a little more bewildering than others. Namely, Koch Media's purchase of Saint's Row and Metro. Great games, but most would agree these franchises need a generous amount of marketing dollars to reach their audience. I'm not positive the owners of Dead Island can do that, but hey! They wanted to play with the big boys. Welcome aboard and save your pennies.
Brian (Executive Editor)
Games get more and more costly as we advance technology. Advances require more manpower and new ways of thinking when designing these new games. Has it gotten to the point where we are being forced to shrink the size of our modern games? Despite the many high profile titles to come out last year, there was a very big rise in the caliber of smaller downloadable titles in the Xbox Live and PlayStation Network marketplaces. Even on Steam, some of the best games were only $9.99. So what does this all mean?
The idea of creating something new and interesting is a great one, recent examples have shown to be less than successful. THQ had some of the most original titles in the market, but they just didn’t sell. This is partly due to outside factors such as poor marketing and PR. In the case of the recently closed Junction Point Studios, the failure was their initial release, which had high expectations, but fell short in many areas. This ultimately led people to have skepticism of the sequel. So it doesn’t fall so much on the product, mostly the publisher’s management of those titles. You’d think that the drive for original games would be dead because of these recent failures, but there were enough big successes to say otherwise.
We’ve had games like Walking Dead, Hotline: Miami, FTL, and Journey, all become major sleeper hits in the game industry. These will ultimately inspire similar titles and in some cases, the creation of completely new experiences. If anything, we are going to see a more diverse market for games than we have in years past. Soon we’ll be seeing the shooters no longer winning all of the Game of the Year awards. Since these games are becoming more and more ambitious they require bigger and bigger budgets to even compete. So instead of wasting all that money on trying to 1UP someone, it now appears to be cheaper to create something new and fresh to get people excited, which will ultimately change the face of the industry in its current state.
Nathan (Associate Editor)
For a lot of those affected by THQ’s collapse, things ended pretty well. Many franchises were purchased, some entire studios were bought up, and those not included in successful sales were scooped up by other local studios. More auctions will be held in the future, and all should be good in the world, right?
Well, for others, this might be an ominous sign going forward. Since the start of the previous gen of consoles, budgets for games has been a major concern. In the wake of the 360 and PS3’s arrival, studios lamented the fact that their staff and costs would rise tenfold, and the new set of consoles don’t promise any alleviation in that regard. An increased focus has been placed on streamlining the creation process, and reducing the burden on R&D and programming stalls so that developers don’t have to grapple with the daunting shadow of inhibitive costs and impossible sales margins.
Why did THQ fail? Why do so many studios go under simply because they lack the gargantuan hits enjoyed by Activision and Epic Games? On the lower end of the scale, small one-man or two-man indie developers can flourish with small budgets and moderate sales, but between them and the giants of the industry, there seems to be very little middle ground. Video game makers are stuck treading a razor sharp edge worrying about whether they should go big and try to win it all, or push for something smaller at the cost of financial glory.
For years industry watchers and participants have feared another great fallout like the video game crash of ‘83. Reasons have run the gamut from too much dependence on breakneck big budget franchises, or an over-saturation of samey cookie cutter genre conventionalists. Is the answer free-to-play? With many self-funded studios trying to remain independent, it’s remarkable how relatively small teams like CD Projekt can churn out state-of-the-art graphical showpieces. Maybe it’s simply a matter of affordable and richly capable tools being made available to a broader range of budgetary needs, and certain flagship developers splitting up their teams into more condensed and productive units. It’s hard to say, but for the next generation to be successful and not a siren calling fleets of ships to their doom, more intelligence will need to be devoted to how revenues are prioritized and how resources are distributed and spent.