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State of the Industry: Four Frightening Facts
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State of the Industry: Four Frightening Facts
by Seth Sivak on 10/31/13 10:17:00 am   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.

 

This is cross-posted from the Proletariat Blog.

In honor of Halloween, we bring you four frightening facts about our industry. Don’t get too scared though, not everyone dies in the end.

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They’re coming! About 188 games fly, perch, and peck their way onto iOS every day.

“I think we're in real trouble. I don't know how this started or why, but I know it's here and we'd be crazy to ignore it...” – Mitch,The Birds

Just so we’re clear about that number, only 254 games were ever released for the Sega Saturn and that was over the course of 5 years. Making a game is hard. Releasing one is even harder. Standing out from the flock though? That seems almost impossible these days. Not only is your game competing with a massive catalog of other games, but also with streaming music and video, social networking, and the myriad of other distractions people have on their devices. 

With both Sony and Microsoft courting indies and Steam making strides with Greenlight, getting your game to a marketplace isn’t the huge hurdle it once was. Discoverability will become the next monster hiding under the bed. Just remember to keep your wits about you and think not only about your game, but also how you’re going to get it noticed and get people playing! Also, don’t buy any lovebirds.

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Rawwaggrlrll… The average game developer is a 31-year-old white man with no kids and works so much he might as well be undead

“My name is Ash and I am a slave. Close as I can figure, the year is thirteen hundred A.D and I'm being dragged to my death. It wasn't always like this, I had a real life, once. A job.”– Ash, Army of Darkness

A double-feature of fear! A lack of diversity AND work-life balance! Big companies are legitimately proud of the amount they crunch. Others embrace their sexism and exclusion, either quietly (and sometimes unknowingly) through subtle design and art choices or loudly with their words and actions. Thankfully, people are starting to take notice, and while there’s no solution in the short-term, it’s starting to get better. When comparing the 2011 Salary Survey and the 2012 Salary Survey it seems that women made up a higher percentage of respondents in every job discipline but Programmers and Audio. Games tackling these questions are receiving notice and praise. The industry as a whole is starting to take an active interest in their employees’ well being and trying to keep sane schedules.

So long as no one mumbles “Klaatu Barada…” we might all be ok in a few years. 

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Ah ah ah! The Top 20 Best Selling Video Games of 2012 were completely drained of new IP blood.

A complaint as old as Dracula himself, rooted in folklore, and whispered about by children around the campfire. Can a new IP be successful or is it doomed to walk the earth as a husk, cast off to bargain bins and never spoken of again? This trend is seen in most entertainment these days and building new IP is hard work and high risk. While 2012 had some strong new IP with the likes of Sleeping Dogs and Dishonored, they didn’t manage to break into the Top 20 with the yearly staples of Madden and Call of Duty.

"My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side." – Dracula, Dracula

But wait! What’s this? There’s hope with the new dawning day! The next generation of consoles brings with it a raft of fresh IP! And with that comes the attention and marketing to possible crack the Top 20. Some notable titles include Titanfall, Destiny, Ryse, The Order: 1886, Sunset Overdrive, and so many more. Let’s just hope the light breaks soon and clouds don’t sweep in to blot out the sun.

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Ahh!! Over 3400 jobs were MURDERED this year.

“The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths….” – Narrator, Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Ok, maybe “murder” is a strong word, but “layoffs” (does that make it less scary?) have become a common part of the industry. It seems like every other week there is another announcement of a studio shutting down, a project being canceled, or a “realignment of resources”.  Between the cost of developing games for the new generation, the explosive growth of mobile, and the decline in Facebook gaming, the industry has been even more turbulent than normal. Staying ahead of the Reaper requires studios to adapt quickly, and for larger companies, that always seems to mean making personnel adjustments. According to the 2012 Game Developer Magazine Salary Survey, layoffs actually trended down in 2012! So maybe it’s not all bad. It sure doesn’t seem that way from the inside though...

As for us, our five heroes? We were lucky and got out alive last year when we were laid off and given the chance to start our own indie studio.

We (and not just us here, but ALL developers) have lots of work ahead of us. Speak up, stick together, call for help before you need it, and don’t venture down the dark hallways alone. 

Happy Halloween!

DEATH Sivak, Chief EXECUTION Officer  and Jesse KurlanSHRIEK, Creative DISSECTOR at ProleSCAREriat Inc


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Comments


Rudy Gjurkovic
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Great article. I like the way you infuse statistics with the creative tone of the article. Being an Indie myself, you sometimes get wrapped up in your work and forget about the world around you. Indies sticking together, I think is a very good point, especially in cross-promotion and other aspects as well.

Jay Anne
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Scary article!

I keep seeing this word "discoverability", as if Apple, Facebook, and Steam have some great incentive to make sure that every little niche developer gets some piece of the pie. I understand that it's not a zero sum game, but it seems closer than we think. Apple, Facebook, and Steam have an incentive to improve their product experience quality and usage statistics, but they don't exist to promote my turn-based steampunk dating sim into a hit. As I've mentioned before, it seems like anyone worrying about discoverability a few years from now will be a casualty in the war where everyone is trying very hard to carve out repeat customers aka "community".

I mean, that's what happened to the AAA console industry, right? The "age of the hunt for improved discoverability" died a bloody death to "the age of existing franchises with existing customers". The concept of getting a console gamer to discover a new IP became such a hugely expensive task with very few winners.

Simon Ludgate
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I think it's less about everyone getting a piece of the pie, and more about getting the games that will sell well into the hands of the customers who are willing to pay for them. Discoverability is a problem when consumers fail to purchase a product they would otherwise buy because they don't even know it's there.

Discoverability isn't about making sure every game gets discovered, but that the RIGHT games are discovered (by the right customers). Solutions that show the same games to all customers (eg: top 10 paid and free lists, like on Android) might get the most bought games to the most common buyer, but that still cuts out a huge potential chunk of income from all those other games that people might have bought if they knew about them.

Daneel Filimonov
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Until a system comes that has the depth required for the user to specify the kind of game they're looking for (which would take some time, considering the ambiguity of game genres to date and the bias of current systems), people who truly want something of their niche will take their own initiative to find what they want, discoverability or not.

Jay Anne
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@Simon Ludgate
Good point. The book "The Long Tail" got everyone to try to chase after that chunk of income. But I'm told that because game audiences are incredibly hit-driven, revenue curves are also incredibly hit-driven and logarithmic in that the top 10-20 titles make 90% of the revenue in most of these situations. So I would not immediately assume that it's cutting out huge income, especially if that long tail revenue is gained using very difficult and costly methods. While Netflix and Youtube have figured out recommendation systems that work well, video games don't map onto those methods as well. I suspect it's because the way consumers jump from movie to movie is very different from how gamers jump from game to game.

Dane MacMahon
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Well presented article. The game flood not only on mobile but PC and even console is truly overwhelming. Too many movies are being made today as well. We're so diversified in our entertainment, you never need to step outside your niche. We still have the big releases that seem to bring groups together though, like Assassin's Creed, which no matter how much you like as a series I think is a good thing overall.

Further diversity takes social acceptance of gaming as a hobby for women and minority groups first, in my opinion. It's a chicken an the egg scenario of course since modern games could do a better job appealing to them, but at the end of the day groups of White males making media for groups of White males are probably going to be write in the White male voice, for better or worse. Every college writing class would tell them to. At some point is has to evolve naturally and takes time.

New IP... Dishonored was amazing and successful. Every established IP of course started as new IP. Honestly I think game companies screw themselves by putting too high of expectations on first entries and not setting new IP apart with a new look. Dishonored looked and played like very little else on the market, and Bethesda was happy with a smaller sales return than EA would be, as they know they can build on it.

Chris Clogg
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Discoverability is hard, especially on the app store. People tend to like things they know or brands they recognize, over new IPs (but I guess that's true anywhere).

Casey Labine
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"A lack of diversity AND work-life balance!"

To be clear, the latter is not intrinsically bad. Some people live through their work, and that's okay, as long as their employer isn't forcing it on them.

Simon Ludgate
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Right, because game development companies are more than happy to let people CHOOSE to crunch or not. No forcing. Just that the "not" leads to death (see part four).

Kain Shin
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Brilliant!

Craig Timpany
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The 148Apps link to iOS submission volume was interesting. The trend is still a linear increase in submission volume. The conventional wisdom is that iOS is saturated, (from the perspective of a small indie team debut with no name recognition) but there's no consolidation showing yet. I'd expect it to overshoot and then correct, so there's likely to be lag of one dev cycle, but that's not a very long time on iOS. I guess some of the volume will be hobbyists who never expected to make a profit, so it'd be interesting to see a breakdown by price and IAP.

Daneel Filimonov
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I wonder what would happen if all the major studios/corporations were encouraged to start new IPs and drop their current best-sellers or long running series? Like, simultaneously perhaps. What would the consumers think? How would the publishers gauge profit or the like, or compare to competition? I really wish this would happen, if only to see how it pans out. But it seems that the higher-ups of these major studios/corps feel adequate enough with churning out the yearly releases for a steady flow of cash. What purpose does it all serve in the end, I wonder? Do all of these studios or corporations expect to somehow own the market (which is technically infeasible)? Then what? More of the same? It's a circle jerk either way; for obtaining power over the market, or using that power.

Frankly I'm not surprised more AAA devs are going indie, if not to pump out strings of mobile games hoping to hit a niche vein. It saddens me that the likes of developers I once grew up to appreciate the work of have come to a (in my opinion) low point in the industry but I can see their plight as being somewhat of a stepping stone to (hopefully) greater things to come.

Perhaps our industry has hit a roadblock of sorts. There's not much left to really add to it. Other than technology that many other industries can take advantage of like VR and the like. So in a way, if you think about it - for example - writing a book can only go so far: you can add flashy pictures or colored text but it's still fundamentally a book and it's the writing of the author that matters. And so too with a video game, you can add nice graphics or a humorous story, or blood and gore but it's still fundamentally a series of inputs with outputs that keep you engaged on a psychological level, and it's the design that the developer has put into it that really matters. And by that I conclude by saying that if we want to bring the industry out of stagnation, we're going to have to work as a whole to make change even possible. Together, one thing at a time.


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