Below is an older post I wrote on my website some months ago (remastered). Recent comments have gotten me thinking about this again. So I figured I would dig up old anxieties for old time's sake. Ultimately my thoughts surround the simple question, "How long can the industry last, making games purely for the love of it?"
"There's no magic bullet. ...everything is a grind, especially in the game industry. You have to have amazing press, and get the feature spots, and get huge VO, and have amazing polish, and then you do... okay. But if you didn't have any of that stuff you'd do horrible." - Justin Bailey, said with a nervous smile.
"I honestly think the $60 console game market is going to continue to become silo'd. [...] In the console space, feels like COD, AC, Halo, Batman, etc... and that's it. And they're all trying to out market each other with hundreds of millions of dollars." - Cliff Bleszinski, Reddit AMA
In the fashion world it is a very tough pill to swallow when you are looking at your collection of $4000 original boutique hand bags that are about to be mass produced and tossed in a bin for $250 at your local Walmart.
One of the interesting aspects of trading down is what happens to the brand. The side effect of an expanding market is the devaluation of those goods. The overall sum of the parts adds up to a much greater number on paper, but the consumer’s invested interest of each part declines to a point where profit margins are counted in pennies not dollars.
As a crude example; the average $49.99 NES/SNES game sold in 1985 would likely be priced somewhere between $100-$110 today. The market was smaller, the cost of production was more expensive, and games were not as plentiful. The high prices and limited options cultivated a breed of gamer that was almost forced to wade through the rough edges of a game and find an appreciation for it. I could imagine most kids in those days getting 1 game for Christmas with the understanding that another game wasn’t coming until maybe their birthday. It’s easy to see how those of us who grew up in that time would start to take each game we own very personally. Obviously, things are different now.
Creating low-bar video games has gotten easier, much easier. We have tool kits like RPG/Game Maker all the way up to AAA engines like UDK. We have free asset libraries available for download and free asset creation software for making anything from 2D sprites to fully animated 3D models. It seems like anyone with an idea and the motivation can at least get a guy to move around on the screen. The mobile market and deep Steam sales, coupled with free-to-play, have made games available to anyone with a digital screen nearby. Even affordable fixed-priced games with infinite gameplay like Minecraft are molding game designs of the future. So, how does all this awesomeness threaten video games?
This low barrier to entry approach to creating games and selling games is something of a mixed blessing. For a small niche group out there, they are perfectly fine tinkering with tool kits; reducing their buying habits. For others, the markets are splintering across:
- 2-3 mobile phones
- 3-4 home consoles
- 2-3 handheld consoles
- Very wide array of PC + Steam Machine configurations
- micro consoles, including Ouya as well as Rasberry Pi, Arduino, and some homebrew handhelds being manufactured.
- Soon-to-be Amazon’s console
- and possibly more that I haven’t listed.
More is always better, until it’s too much. If internet culture has taught us anything it’s that moderation is a lesson seldom learned. This is exactly why many people will argue that we haven’t gone far enough; that fragmentation is good, and low barriers for both developers and consumers can only lead to some kind of strange and fluid equilibrium. This abundant acceptance of all things techie is exactly what has allowed Japan to experiment with almost quarterly iterations of their electronic devices, knowing someone out there is going to buy it. I can only assume that it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows however. I wonder if Japan is suffering a bit today because of the steady changing flow of iterations, fragmentation, and overt experimental products.
With such a massive growth in people creating games but the relatively steady progress of people consuming them, there are sure to be some gems moving forward. But the industry is sure to pinch out a lot of turds as well. And even if those low-bar games don’t see much traffic, they do add to the overall noise. This leads me to the Bazaar realization.
"I just wanted to find something that reminded me of my childhood and came home with Battlefield 4. It doesn't even run in my Xbox thing (original)."
- Disgruntled Casual Gamer
It’s getting almost too difficult to find the games that speak to you when everyone is screaming for attention and you only have so much to give. I find myself falling behind each day, or completely missing out on an experience that is only on 1 of the 10 or so platforms, hearing about some game that a niche of gamers have been following for years. I sometimes play games that climb to the top and wonder how they got there. Video games are starting to look more and more like a 3rd-world market square, with merchants shoving their produce in your face and throwing their fabrics on you without asking. As a buyer, it’s easy to see why casual gamers do not engage fully into the gaming ecosystem. As someone who follows and is actively involved in the industry, it’s impossible for me to keep up with the flood of content that blows past my feeds. I can only imagine that, for a casual gamer, it must feel much like I feel when I stare at a stock ticker, wondering if “closing in at 16.82″ is a good thing.