Not all game development is sustainable | 10 years ago this month

The gaming industry moves quite quickly and everyone involved tends to constantly watch what’s to come without caring too much about what happened before. That said, even an industry so steeped in the present can learn from its past. So, to refresh our collective memory and perhaps offer a perspective on the history of our domain, offers this monthly feature highlighting the events of the game from exactly a decade ago.

Good news for developers who love bad news

February 2011 was a difficult month for game developers to take stock of the opinions of their well-known peers.

In a recap post with leading developers sharing their thoughts on making the switch to digital distribution, Gaikai co-founder David Perry warned of tougher times for small game developers.

“I see a lot of small teams trying to make simple games, and I’m a little worried… it’s not sustainable,” he said. “The folks who make Kleenex games – the ones you can blow your nose at and throw at – that’s not necessarily a safe place to bet your money. If your game design is two pages, unless you have found the next Tetris, I’d start to worry. “

Okay, that might not be great for those working on really small games, but it’s not the end of the world. There are many different types of games out there and it is only natural that some of them are unusually poor investments at any given time. Guess the developers just need to focus on medium games or bigger games, then? Maybe not, according to Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin.

“There are pitfalls in the industry now for developers – one is growing up to the size that makes intermediate console games over $ 15 million but under $ 30 million.” , Rubin said. “This mid-gap appears to be a financial weak spot right now, and a lot of the games in this budget aren’t big enough to compete with Call of Duty, but it’s also not small enough to recover with declining sales.”

Oh, well, I guess that makes sense. Obviously, now small games and medium games are not beginners. I guess AAA blockbusters are the only safe bet left then. Or at least that would seem the case if you hadn’t attended Mark Cerny’s DICE Summit presentation, where he warned that the AAA economics made no sense.

“Last year there were only about 50 or 60 games that sold over a million units, it’s cross-platform and international,” Cerny said. “And only half of them only sold two million. Of course, if you spend more than $ 20 million, you want to sell a million units. And if you spend more than $ 50 million, you want something. well over two million unit sales… Frankly, the $ 50 million gaming economy looks a little shaky. “

So to recap, small games are a bad idea, medium games are very risky, and big games are economically irresponsible.

Of course, there are exceptions. Three years after Perry’s warning about small games, Flappy Bird has become an overnight phenomenon, and these days, the hyper-casual genre is an attractive investment for many companies and publishers.

And sometimes opinions change as the market moves. Rubin was barely a year before joining THQ, a publisher synonymous with making games with budgets too big to ignore but too small to compete with Call of Duty.

And then there’s Cerny, who was so careless about the economy of AAA games that he produced Marvel’s Spider-Man for PS4, which has sold over 13.2 million copies. And that doesn’t mean anything to his role as lead system architect for the PS4 and PS5, two systems depending on the success of big-budget blockbusters as he warned developers.

The point here isn’t that Perry, Rubin, and Cerny were hypocrites, or wrong, or anything like that. After all, the industry changes rapidly, circumstances change, and so do spirits.

The point is that no matter how successful someone is, no matter how astute they may seem, or how much sense their argument makes on the surface, their advice or opinions on the state of the industry or on what. what developers should do are always thoughts to consider, not precepts to follow.

Besides, they were doing well in a way. Small games aren’t a safe bet, clones can be more successful than their inspirations, and it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Mid-sized games are risky, as Rubin said; THQ had a well-established name and a stable of franchises that remain relevant to this day, but that wasn’t enough to keep it from going bankrupt months after Rubin’s signing. And when it comes to the big games, I don’t see a lot of people lining up to say that the finances are endlessly sustainable, that we can keep spending more money and more people at a decreasing number of AAA blockbusters from foreground and sales will only continue to grow to keep pace.

Making games is difficult, success is not entirely in our control, and disappointments outnumber successes in any area of ​​the industry you want to look at, at all sizes and in all times. It is not difficult to find an argument as to why this or that type of gambling is a bad idea. That’s not to say developers should ignore it when people report issues to the point that they are video games and there is no such thing as a completely safe project.

Good call, bad call

GOOD CALL: The Xbox 360 / PS3 generation has outlived most generations of consoles at this point, and more than five years after the Xbox 360 hit stores, Irrational Games’ Ken Levine still wasn’t looking for a replacement. , stating, “At this point, I have no desire as a developer and no desire as a player to see the next generation come out where I’m sitting right now.”

We may not have understood how little Levine had desire for a new generation. He’s never created a single new game for the Xbox One or the PS4.

BAD CALL: GamersGate CEO Theo Bergquist said the digital storefront is not afraid of Steam, adding, “We think they’re peaking now while the market is still very hardcore.” It’s safe to say it wasn’t.

BAD CALL: Id Software CTO John Carmack told the Dallas Morning News that Nintendo and Sony may stop making dedicated handhelds because consumers will prefer smartphones, saying, “You can’t always just build pyramids. because you want to. “

Depending on what you think of the Switch Lite, Carmack might have been right about the portable space. Yet he is about the last person able to lecture others about the inability to pursue financially dubious interests.

He founded Armadillo Aerospace while he was still at Id in the hope of establishing space tourism. He left Id in 2013 because the studio wouldn’t let him pursue his virtual reality dreams, but Oculus would. And he left Oculus in 2019 because he wanted to pursue even more “unconventional or unproven” technology in general artificial intelligence.

GOOD CALL: Speaking at the DICE summit, EA Worldwide Studios vice president Travis Boatman said grassroots gamers are underserved on mobile and there is a hungry audience ready to play traditional style games. with a mobile style business template.

“The freemium space is really for gamers who are conditioned to pay,” said Boatman. “But the result is that they really like the freemium model, and they will spend many on these games. ”

This state of mind could explain the unfortunate mobile reboot of Dungeon Keeper by EA a few years later. But while EA’s free base game offerings haven’t turned into massive hits, games like PUBG, Fortnite, and others have shown Boatman to be right on the broad lines.

GOOD CALL: London Venture Partners has unveiled its first investment, an undisclosed sum in a company creating a browser-based MMO called Gunshine. Gunshine didn’t last, but the developer switched to mobile and made games like Clash of Clans, Boom Beach, Clash Royale, and Brawl Stars. Supercell did well, all things considered. LVP followed up with investments in NaturalMotion, Playfish, Unity, and a number of other big game start-ups.

Such a bad call it deserves its own section

Sony Computer Entertainment chairman Kaz Hirai said the plan was for the PlayStation Vita (then known as NGP) to overtake the PSP’s global installed base. That probably would have brought him into the “Bad Call” section to begin with, but he kept talking anyway.

“Beyond that, try to go beyond that,” Hirai told the PlayStation blog at the time. “The fact that we work hand in hand with studios around the world internally, but also with many third-party publishing partners already. That, combined with some of the cool features, is a really solid combination to really match the basic setup we have for the PSP and we certainly go above and beyond. “

He continued, “Whether it’s a home console like the PS2 or the PS3 or a handheld like the NGP, it’s very important that we have a stable platform for the long haul. .. Once [the consumers] investing in our products doesn’t go away in two or three years, but they are able to really enjoy this particular console for a very long time.

“I expect NGP to have a similar lifespan in the portable space as well.”

I know I’m kicking a dead horse here, but the Vita sold considerably less than the PSP during its lifetime, quickly ran into issues with third-party publisher support, and was abandoned in two or three years.

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