[With this article, veteran designer Pascal Luban (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory)
launches a new series of articles on the "megatrends" of game design in today's market
-- from making games to have a longer shelf life through the rise of 'fast gaming' and beyond.]
The purpose of this series of articles is
to attempt to shed some light on emerging trends likely to influence game
design philosophy, and therefore, our industry at large in the next few years.
than an essay in futurology, which is by definition very hypothetical, the trends
described in these articles are already in motion -- so the question we should ask
ourselves is not whether these trends will appear, but rather what their impact
will be on video game design. I hope that these articles will be food for
Megatrend I - The necessity of increasing the
commercial life span of games
Development costs continuously increase. This
phenomenon is especially true for triple-A titles representing the driving
force behind major publishers. Yet, the commercial life spans of such titles
are surprisingly brief -- a few months, sometimes less.
Beyond the initial
commercial blitz of their release dates, most games quickly exit the main stage
for good, overthrown by the new crop of triple-A titles everyone is waiting
Only a later "budget" version, or the
release of an expansion, will renew the attention given to a game. Publishers
are therefore facing a very risky situation: they must commit large investments
18 to 24 months before a game's release and require a return within a very
brief period, all whilst hoping the competition will have the decency not to
beat them to the post with a similar product!
Publishers are those most affected by this problem,
and as such, are researching solutions to spread out the revenue generated by a
given game over a longer period.
The consequences of this on all aspects of a
game's development will be major, as a game will have to be built around this
need. What solutions are worth exploring?
to the rescue
The first avenue lies in the development of a
multiplayer mode. A few recent titles, such as Call of Duty 4, have
clearly made this choice. The solo campaign is breathtaking, but brief. The
publisher relied on the multiplayer mode to gain profit on its title and to
increase its shelf life.
Activision/Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
The multiplayer's role in securing a successful title
can be taken further if the developers give tools to the players themselves
with which to enrich the game by creating maps or mods. The latter can
unexpectedly increase the interest given to a game.
Epic has grasped this well. Unreal Tournament 2004 and UT
III were conceived to encourage the players to develop their own
content. Of course, the development of mods does require not only that the game
engine allows it, but also that the game's basic design is sufficiently
flexible to accommodate new uses.