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Sales are slowing because games are getting worse

by Johnathon Swift on 04/22/13 06:45:00 pm

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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.


It's no secret that game sales have been going down hill for over a year now. You can just take a look to see:

Amid challenges, U.S. video game retail trudges ahead

But why? There's been a lot of speculation. About a new console generation being needed. About a shift in markets. To what? The extremely volatile handheld market, dominated by small indy companies that make things like Angry Birds and Temple Run. Or perhaps to the failing Facebook social market?

Or, I offer an alternative explanation: Games haven't gotten any more entertaining in over a decade. In fact many have gotten worse. Take a look at the Halo Metacritic score, and you'll see the series has consistently gotten lower and lower scores since the first game. Same with Crysis. Same with Assassin's Creed (since AC 2). Call of Duty appears to have peaked with Modern Warfare, Splinter Cell all the way back with Chaos Theory. Many that have been with the series long enough agree Morrowind was the best Elderscrolls game in many ways. The list goes on, and on, and on.

So what's happening? The sequel effect. People are more willing to spend their money, especially the cost of a retail game, on something they feel confident is going to be worth the money. So sequels have a better standing in peoples minds than something new.

But most every sequel in games has gotten worse. Much of the industry has managed to make a worse and worse and worse games, riding on the safety of sequels, believin they're doing well enough because their sales are increasing, even though their increasing due to something completely different from actually making a better game.

And games haven't gotten better because production values and monetization schemes have overtaken any and all game design. Microsoft would rather spend a hundred million dollars on Halo 4 making it look great, and have top of the line voice acting, and a mind boggling plethora of multiplayer options and goodies. And yet how many people on their 300 person strong team are actually responsible for designing the game? How much can the game designers even do when the producers refuse, point blank, to change absolutely anything about the game, to the point where their creative director quit to become an indie game developer?

Or take the tale of Square Enix, a different perspective on the kind budgets that seem to be thrown around today even if their games haven't gotten worse. SE is a publisher and developer that has had multiple multi million copy selling games released in the last six months, and yet has lost enough money for its president to step down.

There are two basic problems here: Games cost too much. And/Or. Just aren't fun enough. Games costing too much needs to be adressed by better tools, better practices, by people needing to learn the lessons of how to build a large, triple A title in a reasonable amount of time, a problem which so many games this generation got hung up on as developers struggled with new team sizes and goals.

As for fun, production values need to take a back seat. As do executives quarreling over business models. Ordering your developers to make the game simpler to "broaden the audience" isn't going to help anyone, not when a game as complicated as League of Legends may have just surpassed every major (involved) game in history as the largest active user base ever (Over 32 million active users and counting!). Keeping your game "safe" just seems to be a synonym for desiring a slow and inevitable sales decline into history.

All of this isn't just bad, it's just plain stupid, it's uttery ridiculous. People play games to have fun. Many in the industry that was challenging Hollywood in terms of revenue just a few years seem to have fundamentally forgotten why people even buy their products in the first place. And all the new consoles in business models in the world aren't going to help anyone if that reason isn't found again.

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