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What Makes A Good Year For Games?
by Isaiah Taylor on 02/05/11 05:14:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

Because the only thing better than a pile of money -- is two piles of money.

I’ve written about my impressions on this current era of capitalism and how it effects the games industry. Now with recent numbers showing a slight decline in almost all facets of the industry, I wanted to comment on this obsession with growth. Did you just snicker? It’s going to take a sense of humor to look at the twist and turns the industry has taken. As an artist, I see the good in wanting to grow and mature my craft, but I’ve never understood the instant negativity if an artist’s art didn’t quite click with a general audience. Hence, why I’d be terrible running a corporation that produces consumable art. So what say you? Is the games industry a small representation of how all modern-business works? Will we always have this need to be bigger and better?

As it turns out, people don’t buy games for there Wiis. Especially if that darn plumber isn’t on the cover. The combined versions of Nintendo DSs seemed to have been sold to everyone -- possibly twice over. Our current generation of consoles have struck this sect of gamers in an odd manner. Gamers are playing games too long. Feature-rich online multiplayer games are keeping gamers from buying more. A good problem to have, but a problem that seems to be growing at an accelerated rate.
EA President, Frank Gibeau made a bold claim last year saying the single-player story in games is essentially done. His vision is coming closer to fruition with games like Dead Space 2 being reconfigured as a single-player experience that also has multiplayer options.

Couple this notion with used game sales being the proponent for why single-player experiences now have some sort of online multiplayer tacked on to them (the more you play, the less likely you’ll trade it). There are more people finding out what they like in games. Genres are being bent, blended and created with every downloadable title pushed on to a smartphone or online marketplace. How can this be bad or negative?

Technology has proven to make humans smarter. Looking at the price points for new consoles and especially new games, I wouldn’t be surprised if more people are reading reviews. In harsh economic times I can see the term “disposable income” being synonymous with “small investment”.

Rife with flaws and interesting character interaction, Ninja Theory's game Enslaved sold 460,000 units. By today's standards the game is considered a partial failure, in spite of the studio taking intriguing chances. The game was well reviewed and under-promoted. What happens to studios like Ninja Theory and ideas like these in the future for games?

The industry has now grown to become more disposable. With over 2,000 games being produced via a downloadable outlet, or a brick and mortar store -- it’s no wonder consumers aren’t consuming as much. The tubes are clogged. It seems odd, because the creativity in gaming is at an all-time high. With Heavy Rain, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and indie-hit Limbo -- the success of games that aren’t first-person shooters has proven that there is a need. However, the polished first-person shooter still sells.

Games like Halo: Reach and Call of Duty: Black Ops don’t seem to be showing signs of weakness with their consumer base. There should be concern as to why there is a need to always be making a sequel -- to always want the next iteration to be bigger. This concern, my concern, is drawn from an industry struggling to also provide to its consumer base, that being, film. The entertainment industry, as a whole, has pegged high-definition 3D to be what consumers need to fully experience entertainment in this era.

This need to always-be-expanding. This need to make one interface connect with another has benefited Microsoft greatly in the past year. I'm wondering if the impetus to slim down the Xbox and push out the Kinect came from creativity or business savvy. Maybe both?

An argument could be made that entertainment has consistently thrived off of novelty. Within games, there has always been a peripheral or new graphics engine that breathed new life into the industry. Gamers were temporarily satiated and developers had new tools to craft experiences. The duplicitous edge in which the industry lives. Creating new experiences while building upon trusted blueprints are how most businesses remain successful, but with the market currently contracting, I have to question if the industry is reaching for too much (as the movie industry has)? I also have to question if the market should go with the flow, not every year is going to be bigger than the last.

As a gamer, I know what makes a good year. If you are reading this, then you do too. A lot of us have been playing games (in some fashion) since the early 90’s. We’ve been raised on an industry that prided itself on rapid change and fanciful ideas. Then an obscene amount of money was made and now the change is more incremental. The ideas en masse aren’t incredibly radical. As the industry stands today, it seems without a couple Black Ops being released within a years-time we may have never received a Deadly Premonition.

Had it not been for the DS reaching a saturation point, we may not have had engineers toiling away creating a PSP2 (NGP). How far should the games industry be reaching before the wallets of consumers unanimously vote on the basic forms of entertainment? This business is based on both developers and gamers NOT being content. But where is the happy medium? Can it exist in an industry that isn’t pleased with making slightly less-than a fortune?



From Le Brog

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Kamruz Moslemi
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The cyclic nature of the console industry is to blame for its own rapid commercialization. Last generation still struck a good balance of games being not so expensive to make that each year had at least its dozen or so showcase titles driving forward innovation.

But even then each generation forward had seen to that number diminishing by raising the bar of entry, and morphing the art studio approach to game making largely into a consumer product based approach. Alas whenever a console reaches saturation in terms of unit sales software sales diminish and the whole cycle needs to be restarted, only on exponentially better hardware, requiring exponentially more expensive development.

All of the Japanese studios which despite 30 years of this cycle had managed to maintain their art studio like mentality towards game creation were crushed under the weight of current generation development where million sellers were not a nice surprise, but a necessity. And I feel their last refuge, the domestic portable market might also prove too heavy for them to shoulder with the coming of 3DS, NGP and their improved specs. It is almost like the hardware manufacturers have no sympathy for the people that at the end of the day make their platforms viable.

Today games are consumer products, and all facets of their creation is treated as such, and why shouldn't it be that way when the average cost of a current generation game is about as much as a movie. The number of critical game consumers is too minuscule to support a art studio type production today, so unless you can make a profit with a tiny number of units sold then aiming broad is your only option.

Isaiah Taylor
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But isn't the big gamble the Minecrafts and the Angry Birds of the culture? Small teams that work hard on the simple [yet complex forms] of entertainment. Seeing the vision of Enslaved hitting few gamers...consumers, worldwide has to sent a message to Ninja Theory.

The success of games comes with several drawbacks. People want more of this good stuff and they'll steal or pay ridiculous amounts of money for one...maybe two things [in regards to genre preference] they like in gaming.

So either a small budget for a game with grand vision or a broad vision to hit a large market. There's gotta be a middle ground can't be that black and white. Even I'm not that pessimistic.

Sylvester O'Connor
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OMG! I have to first say, amazing article. These are the same questions that many of me and my associates ask. Another COD game coming at the end of the year? WTH! One just came out last October to good numbers. They also have a new map pack available now but yet the need to continue selling is there.

Games prices have also dropped at considerable rates which is scary. I remember when a game came out, it was about a year and a half and you started to see 5 or 6 dollars off the main price. Now, the games that were top selling of last year, the price has already split in half at brick-and-mortar stores like Gamestop. Online worse as people are playing them and selling them off to get the next greatest thing.

Also the quality of these games are thinning. For everyone that said that COD Black Ops was awesome, I played it. It was not that great. The fact that they removed the destructible environments is absurd. Now I can stand behind buildings and corridors all day without having to worry about someone finding me or blowing the building down on me. COD games have become nothing more than numbers games. I have to beat my friend because he has 2100 kills and I only have 1500.

I feel the industry getting cheaper despite the titles that are coming out. Then, you have too many titles coming out. With the way this economy is going, people are not buying like they used to. I know plenty of people that actually wait for the new games to become used to buy it at a lower price. One friend of mine buys it for no more than 35 dollars online almost all the time.

But again, it is a thoughtful article. Great job and thanks for the contribution.

Isaiah Taylor
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Hey man, thanks for reading and for such a spirited response.