Experienced Points: The Indies Will Ruin Everything!

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Jan 14, 2014

Filed under: Column 66 comments

Since I’m not making a videogame at the moment, I might as well write some columns, right? First up: The rising cost of videogames and how AAA developers seem to be oblivious to it.


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66 thoughts on “Experienced Points: The Indies Will Ruin Everything!

  1. Paul Spooner says:

    Ten times? That’s madness! What can the AAA publishers possibly be thinking? Are they going to expand their market by an order of magnitude? Are they going to start charging $600 per title? I just… I don’t even

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      I can only hope that the 10x figure is hyperbole. Even doubling the cost of development would be huge, ten times is surely ridiculous.

      1. Primogenitor says:

        I suspect it includes “re-use an existing engine” vs “develop a new engine”.

    2. Benjamin Hilton says:

      To me this sounds like it comes from the same people that expect games to sell millions of units more than is feasible.
      There is a huge disconnect between these people and consumers….Its like they have this Field of Dreams notion that “If we build it, they will buy it……no matter the cost”.

      1. RCN says:

        I think that the most likely scenario is that Capcom is just being extremely incompetent in their workflow right now. I mean, for the last four years pretty much all they did was come up with ways to monetize already existing titles with DLCs and micro-transactions. Oh, and full-price re-releases with the barest of improvements and a tiny scrap of new content. Suddenly they have to actually create new stuff! HOLY CRAP!

        Though even considering Capcom’s assumed incompetence, I believe that development budgets should at least double if these publishers are to follow their own trends.

        Interestingly, Ubisoft is actually not that deft. They keep pushing for smaller titles and ideas (even though their DRM still tries the patience of their customers). They seem to have an internal raffle for new smaller production ideas. Apparently that’s how Might & Magic X got into production. Well, that and the success of Grimrock.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Perhaps you meant “daft” instead of “deft”. I agree that Ubisoft has some good practicies. In fact, they are all doing some things right, Ubisoft, Activision, EA, Valve, everyone! The problems come when people hide behind the things they are doing right in order to avoid fixing the things they are doing wrong.

          In any case, here’s to hoping that the huge AAA companies get their act together and don’t go out of business. The latter case might seem like a victory, but it would likely result in the financial ruin of thousands. Much better that they reform than dissolve.

        2. False Prophet says:

          “Ubisoft is actually not that deft

          Did you mean daft by chance? Because that last paragraph sounds like Ubi is smartly trying to control bloated budgets, but that one word means the opposite.

          1. RCN says:

            Yes, daft, that’s what I meant. Word slip.

    3. kingmob says:

      Never underestimate the power of stupidity. The power of money is quite big, which is the only way these AAA companies have been able to stay afloat for such a long time, constantly acquiring new studios and IPs and spitting them out later.
      Traditionally, like for instance in Hollywood, you will end up with giants that are starved for creativity and run by the nephew of the brother of someone’s uncle. Then the entire thing crashes a bit and the cycle is renewed. new companies with great ideas or which are just run well will get big and eventually will become the same.

      This is coming from companies that fire most of their work-force after a game is done and force them into year-long ‘crunches’. These people have no clue how to run software companies, let alone a creative one. Yet they will firmly believe they are the best, simply because they are the biggest.

      It is all about inflated ego’s of stupid men with a lot of money, I guess that’s what I’m saying. This is something that can be seen in almost any domain (Wallstreet is another example). I’d like to remind everyone that expensive copy protection on CDs and DVDs was a thing for a loooong time, even though it’ll take about 5 minutes of thinking to realise how much of a waste it is in the era of the internet.

    4. SteveDJ says:

      Perhaps it isn’t that the actual, physical, dollars spent will increase by 10x… instead perhaps it is the development-cost-to-buying-customers ratio that is changing (due to smaller install base), such that in the end, it will cost 10x as much to reach *each* customer as what it used to… ???

  2. Andy_Panthro says:

    It really is a great time for gaming, I’ve been enjoying the rise and rise of indie gaming for quite some time now (and stuff from smaller publishers, like Paradox).

    Kickstarter added an extra bonus too, and I’ve already begun to receive some of the games I’ve backed (including Broken Age, the Double Fine Adventure today).

    I doubt there’s a likelihood of a big crash though, but I hope that whatever shake-up does occur doesn’t just mean the biggest publishers swallow up all the smaller ones.

    1. Volfram says:

      When I was still willing to support Kickstarter, I looked at several of their video game projects but none of the ones I supported ever made their goals.

      The last project I supported which did make its goal was recently filled when Velociraptor: Cannibalism arrived on my doorstep. Very fun game once you apply all of the “optional” rules.(dice rolling for combat resolution, allow mutating cards from your stomach instead of the Meat Locker, produces a more strategic game with enough unknowns to make things REALLY interesting)

    2. Trix2000 says:

      With the abundance of good indie developers out there, I really don’t think a crash is possible, let alone likely. The worst that might happen is many of the AAA names we’ve known might go under… then be replaced by new studios using better methods. Gaming’s here to stay, so it’s really just a question of who supplies the demand best. Anyone who can’t compete (even AAAs) will be beaten by those who can.

      I would definitely agree that it’s a great time to be a gamer – mostly because it’s gotten to the point where indie titles have grown to the point where they can compare favorably to AAA titles… and they’re cheap and everywhere. If anything, the only downside is finding the time for all of it!

  3. Blake says:

    The developers that will do best in the next generation are those that don’t use the extra horsepower to aim way higher, but to build similar things without needing to worry about current RAM limits and optimisation.

    Run their animations at a higher frame rate, use the pre-crunched textures/models the artists produced, maybe chuck in a few fancy shaders and if there’s still RAM left over, start precaching the next area/level, and you ought to end up with something that costs the same (or possibly less) to produce, but is nicer to the end user than last gen games.

    Sure you’re going to have to compete with God of War-Economy, but I doubt the industry can support more than a couple of mega budget titles per year.

  4. The Rocketeer says:

    I agree with the sentiment of the article, but Capcom didn’t say next-gen development is eight times more expensive, they said it was eight times more work. Now, of course that greater workload is going to necessitate some increase in budgets due to either longer development cycles, larger teams, or more expensive equipment and software, but we don’t know for sure what exactly “eight to ten times more work” means in practical terms, and the idea that that figure is some sort of quantitative or material assessment and not just “damn this new generation is a pain in my ass” is pretty low.

    Like I said, I know there must be some increase in budgets, which were indeed already too high to begin with. I really wish there hadn’t been a new console generation, and I only see the industry’s problems getting worse before they get better. But that “ten times more expensive” line seems to be the pillar of the article, and it’s a pretty spurious point that contrarians like me could latch onto pretty easily if they just wanted to be jerks and try and direct conversation away from the actual intent of the article.

    While it isn’t about the new generation, this article, in which Eidos Montreal founder Stephen D’Astous takes a thundering swing at an easy pitch and misses like a champion, remains my go-to example of AAA companies failing to wrap their heads around exactly this kind of wisdom. That article… Ugh. It hurts. It just hurts.

    1. syal says:

      Was going to say something similar, more work is not necessarily more expense, at least not linearly; maybe he’s saying the code has to be a lot tighter than before or something. Only one in eight of their shortcuts still work.

      That article looks more like D’Astous is trying to leave on good terms with Square than that he doesn’t understand the situation (though the two aren’t mutually exclusive). Also the second link didn’t work, was it the same article?

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        I don’t actually know what happened with the second ‘link’ it should have been italics, I don’t know why it shows up that way.

        The thing that gets me about that article is that the “three AAA-games” he’s referring to are Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Tomb Raider, and Sleeping Dogs. All of these games sold well. Human Revolution moved two million units in the first month alone, yet failed to reach S-E’s sales projections. Sleeping Dogs sold 1.5 million in its first month, and failed to meet sales projections (which Yoichi Wada admitted had been unreasonable). Tomb Raider sold a million copies in the first two days, and has sold over 4 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling titles of the year, the most successful game that the franchise had ever had, once again failing to meet sales expectations. All of these titles were considered commercial letdowns by the publisher.

        And what’s Stephane (not Stephen, as I see now) D’Astous’ lesson from that situation? Don’t expect every game you release to be one of the best-selling titles of this or any generation? Don’t spend so much so that you can never make that investment back? Fire your marketing department for feeding you outlandish fantasies, or maybe your management staff for ignoring real data and trying to shape the future with wishes and denial?

        Nope! They just “don’t know how to sell games!” Whatever the crap that even means!

        D’Astous is understating a lot in saying that Square hasn’t been making the best investments lately, but for this guy to resign in frustration over ‘a lack of communication’ when he can’t even interpret the glaringly obvious?

        1. syal says:

          Key phrase in the Polygon article: “I had difficulty understanding all of the different elements of his plan, so it would not be very logical for me talk about it.”

          Translation: “Square doesn’t know what they’re doing, but directly challenging their policies in a public forum won’t get me another job.”

          All I’m taking away from that is that Square still doesn’t think the problem is in their sales estimates, and D’Astous has more tact than Phil Fish.

    2. Ingvar M says:

      “Eight times more work” should result in “eight times the people cost” (at least, you may need a bit more to deal with having eight times as many employees as you did, in terms of management and HR), so I’d say that purely based on that, “10 times the cost” sounds vaguely reasonable.

      1. syal says:

        It’s eight times harder to juggle eight balls than one, but it doesn’t take more people or more time, just more skill and concentration.

        1. Ingvar M says:

          Harder != more work, though. And you can scale work from people in two ways, you can have more people or you can work them (harder or smarter). Hopefully, they are already at the limit of smart, and there is practically no way you can work game developers harder (definitely not by a factor of eight). That leaves getting more of them.

          FWIW, juggling difficulty grows as O(n^2) not as O(n), but “harder” it’s still not the same as “more work”.

          1. syal says:

            Hopefully, they are already at the limit of smart

            That’s the part I question. Especially since they’re using new tools now, they’ll not know the best way to use them yet, there’s absolutely room for them to get better.

            (It’s more accurate to say juggling eight balls is eight times more work, anyway.)

      2. Thomas says:

        And if it were actually 8 times the people cost, than that means for every 50 person studio Capcom owns, they just hired 350 new employees. Unless they found a way to pay money to make people work instead of sleeping or eating… and that would still only be double the work.

    3. Steve C says:

      > “eight to ten times more work”

      Effectively all of a developer’s cost is salary. If it’s more work then it’s going to be more man hours. More many hours scales directly. If it’s more difficult work requiring a more advanced skillset instead then that’s worse. That means that it’s 1) more specialized, 2) there are fewer people who can do it and 3) those people can demand higher wages. Plus any increase in size will have diminishing marginal returns. No matter which way you slice it, “more work” = “more expensive” in a fairly direct increasing ratio. Not necessarily linearly but close to it except worse.

      tl-dr; Capcom *did* say say next-gen development is eight times more expensive. Which if true, Capcom also said “We are going bankrupt this hardware generation.”

  5. Bropocalypse says:

    Eight-to-ten times more expensive? Wow. There are very few developers with that kind of money to spend. Even so, their profit margins will certainly be cut thin.

    Reading this article was like reading about how the dinosaurs were replaced by the little mammals.

    1. Bropocalypse says:

      Additional thoughts.
      The console race seems pretty silly compared to other industries. It’d be like if every four years the three biggest auto makers released cars that were bigger, faster, less efficient, and more expensive. Sooner or later the roads aren’t gonna be wide enough to hold these monstrosities.

      Yeah, I like similes and analogies.

      1. syal says:

        This makes me giggle; the thought of a videogame console so powerful a standard electrical outlet can’t handle it.

      2. Klay F. says:

        You say that, but many car companies actually DO participate it that sort of wang measuring contest. The only difference being that there isn’t just one, but many such contest going on at the same time. As an example, find your nearest BMW fan and ask him what he (or she) thinks of Mercedes or Audi. Same thing with the top speed competition. Just about every year there is a new record for fastest production car: held by cars that sell for $2 million and are still sold at a loss for their makers. These kind of competitions are things even the participants call infantile, yet they still participate for some dumb reason.

        What were we talking about? Stupid me going off on a car rant.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Although quite often it’s important to note many of these cars which push boundaries are made simply simply because they can. They don’t intend to sell many.
          It’s basically a research project.

        2. Steve C says:

          That analogy doesn’t work with cars. Pushing the envelope in those sorts of sectors is mandatory due to competition. They maybe selling it as a loss leader but there’s a series of valid reasons from brand identity, to subsidizing testing and R&D, to (yes) infantile chest beating and dick measuring.

          A company in a competitive tech sector that doesn’t do these things is doomed. Just look at RIM… oops I mean Blackberry… oh wait I mean that company that used to have a name. The problem here is that EA and Capcom and all those other developers *think* they are in a tech sector and need to do those things. They are wrong. They are really in the Arts and Entertainment sector. Tech is something they use, not something they are.

      3. False Prophet says:

        Auto makers have a venue to experiment with over-priced, over-powered designs: professional auto sports. Some of those innovations pioneered on Formula 1 or NASCAR tracks eventually trickle down to the consumer models.

        Similarly, the fashion industry throws up the most insane and ridiculous designs on the catwalks of Paris and Milan, but puts extremely-toned-down versions in the next season’s clothing lineup.

        Maybe game studios need a forum to showcase awesome tech demos David Cage-style, but don’t have to use every new engine or effect in every game until it’s refined and affordable?

  6. thebob288 says:

    If that estimate is even close to true I think the most intelligent thing to do for developers is to just ignore next gen consoles and releasing for the ps3 and 360. Because everyone already has those consoles it saves money and your customer base is already established. It would be fascinating to see the game market completely reject an entire generation of console.

  7. Dave B. says:

    Hey Shamus, I’m getting one of “those” ads again. Something called “League of Angels”. Clicking the ad leads to this address: http://vda.gtarcade.com/?q=131202oLpz3Ba&keyword=&target=&placement=www.shamusyoung.com&creative=36194805428

    1. I started seeing those and googled the game for a review, and people were claiming a lot of the “footage” seen in the ads was lifted from the Dead Or Alive series. Not having played it, I can’t confirm it, but it might be interesting to see a legal “battle of the bewbs” between these two companies.

  8. Jonathan says:

    What is this con-sole you speak of? I don’t think it’s referring what you get when you press ~ in Valve games.

    Ohhhh… is that like a NES? I had one of those back in 5th grade.

  9. It’s probably a pipe dream, but I’d love it if a AAA developer used those extra resources the next-gen consoles appear to have to improve on games in ways that reflect “more stuff going on” rather than “adding yet more bloom/bump-mapping to what’s already there.”

    F’rinstance I’m a huge Fallout nut. Fallout New Vegas has some mods that “restore” parts of the game to what had been planned before running into the limitations of consoles, namely making Freeside and the Strip their own complete areas rather than segmented chambers. This also added a load more NPCs who in turn made the place look inhabited and more interesting. Imagine a sandbox world game where you could have even more interactions and effects from your activities than we currently do (assuming that the devs actually plan for that) along with procedural generation, environmental factors, etc. and other things that eat up processor cycles and memory in 360/PS3 terms.

    I’m not holding my breath or anything, but it seems like it would be just as “easy” to ramp up the number-crunching on the content side of things as it would be to make your gun look as real as possible. Shamus (and other programmers), correct me if I’m wrong on this, but I hope I’m not…

    1. Shamus says:


      I agree, this would be a sensible and liberating way to use the power, and it might even CUT costs. I’m sure balkanizing the Vegas strip was a huge pain in the ass for developers.

      The risk is that people who plonked down $500 for their next gen console will be pissed if these games “look just like the last-gen games”. I don’t know if that would happen or not.

      1. Bropocalypse says:

        It’d all be in the marketing, really. Convince the consumer that they want scale instead of scope. You’d have to do something like show a section of stadium seating filled with plebs or a huge bar brawl. Or even better, GTA6 with a street crowd similar in quantity to what you’d see in Times Square.

        Personally I’d be in favor of focusing on processing power, which could be used for physics or group pathfinding AI. But yeah, if graphics are going to remain the cornerstone of console marketing, it would require a shift.

        1. jarppi says:

          But that would require a marketing team that would actually know what they are doing… Anyway, I agree with the idea presented above. If I would decide how to use the extra power of the latest consoles, I would just use it to give devs more freedom in level design etc. I don’t see a reason to max out the hardware if it really isn’t worth it.

          More physics and better AI are on my wishlist too. Heck, in HL2 you could move just about anything smaller than a van. How many games in recent years have let you do that?

      2. I’ve not tested the waters of public opinion, but is there any disappointment over the current offerings for the new consoles? I know it’s early, and of course Yahtzee is all over the “same old stale games but with shinier polygons” side of things, but is there any upset over there not being many (if any) standout titles that do something innovative?

        As much crap as Bethesda gets, I would hope it wouldn’t cost them too much more than they blow on most titles to do something like release an RPG title using their current engine but with loads more content to test the waters. Heck, they could appropriate the Skywind project and put out a mega-sized game that crams two or more Elder Scrolls games into one, giant, dynamic whole and see how that flies. It could be sold to the shareholders/fans as “keeping the franchise alive and available to a new generation” or something.

        1. Corpital says:

          They are releasing Elder Scrolls Online for PS4 and the Bone…does that count?

          1. Not really. An MMO really doesn’t do the things I’m talking about. It could, I suppose, but I’d really be surprised if one achieved it.

            1. Abnaxis says:

              How about Morrowblivion?

              Now they just need to do the same thing for Skyrim–Morrowblivion Rim

              1. Ciennas says:

                They’re doing that already. Morrowrim or some such.

    2. Darren says:

      My beef is that all of this horsepower yields no performance boost. I got a WiiU around Christmas because, hey, Nintendo doesn’t put out a lot of games but they put out consistently good ones. All of the titles I have look at least as good as anything on the PS3 or 360, but run at an uncompromising 60 FPS. That makes such an enormous difference, but console games almost don’t bother with the attempt.

      Honorable mention: Final Fantasy XIII. Say what you will about the game, but it looks amazing and runs beautifully. We wouldn’t be hankering for a new generation if every game looked and ran like that.

      1. Trix2000 says:

        That was my experience when I got mine recently – titles were a tad slim, but BOY does Wind Waker look and feel great at 60fps HD.

    3. False Prophet says:

      My anecdotal example: The Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game released for PSN and XBLA was very clearly a homage to 8-bit era side-scrolling beat ’em ups like Double Dragon and River City Ransom. But NES games of that era, especially poorly-developed third-party titles, would often flicker or chug if more than half a dozen animated characters appeared on screen at the same time.

      Playing Scott Pilgrim on the PS3, I reached a stage where there were 4 playable characters and maybe 4 dozen enemy characters of various models and sizes on screen at the same time–and it ran perfectly. Somewhere deep inside, 9-year-old me’s jaw hit the floor.

      1. Now imagine the Persona games but with two or three times the complexity.

        I also almost want to write a sci-fi story where instead of such a heavy emphasis on graphics, gaming (or at least a segment of it) worked on throwing as many resources at improving the parser on Infocom-style games to the point where conversations in games were almost natural.

    4. MrGuy says:

      Did….did someone on this site say something positive about Pipe Dream?

  10. Svick says:

    How could development for the new consoles be so expensive? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

    PS3? Sure, developing for that is expensive, Cell is a really weird architecture.
    XBox 360? Probably too, PowerPC is not that common.

    But PS4 and XBox One? Both are pretty much just a normal high-end PCs (x86-64 architecture) in a nice box. I don’t understand why would developing for those two be any more expensive than developing for the PC, at least not by much.

    1. Simplex says:

      It is most probably not more expensive, but saying it is is a great excuse for hiking prices of games.

      1. Thomas says:

        I think it’s a mixture of hyperbole and Capcom being stupid. They struggle to port games to PC at all, so having a PC architecture is probably difficult for them.

        To be honest, I think this whole conversation is massively jumping the gun. This is like taking a casting rumour on some Hollycrud site that Vin Diesel is going to play Luke Skywalker’s son and then freaking out about it.

        When some people who actually seem to know what they’re talking about put a figure on the increased cost then we can talk about it. As it stands I’m 99% certain that the number we’re all talking about right now is absolute BS.

        Think about it, if Capcom are working ‘8x as hard’ does that mean that they’re working 8x longer? So each game is going to take 16 years to release? Or did they just hire 8x as many people and no-one noticed that Capcom hired 700 new developers out of thin air.

        No this is just someone whose never made PC games being told to man up and code it and them going ‘but it’s haaaaard’

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Although a couple of games of theirs I have played on PC were actually pretty good. Though this is mostly restricted to Resident Evil 5 and Street Fighter IV.

        2. The Rocketeer says:

          This is why I take issue with hammering on the “ten times more expensive” line. For one, that’s not even what he said, and for two, it’s impossible. Not impossible as in, “they can’t keep that kind of thing tenable for long,” but as in “there’s no possible way it is actually so.”

          No one’s noticed Capcom increasing their staff by an order of magnitude, and Capcom couldn’t increase their budget or schedule by that much even if they thought they had to, nor have they done any combination of these things to achieve a similar whole. Even Capcom isn’t that stupid, and they’re freaking Capcom!

          They are, however, more than stupid enough to let slip a comment like “making games is now eight to ten times more work” even if it wasn’t nearly true.

  11. Corpital says:

    Oh well, if CAPCOM says it, then it has to be true. It’s probably the reason, they want to turn everything into social/card games for smartphones et al.

  12. MadTinkerer says:

    I laughed at the title of the article until I remembered that there are people who actually think that way. Then I sighed and checked the Escapist comments section and indeed, that was someone’s perspective on the issue. And I facepalmed.

    Because it’s not that Indies ruin anything. Ever. Nor that AAA development ruined everything. It’s that the original Indies got so wrapped up in the escalating possibilities of escalating hardware specs they either made huge financial blunders and died too young (Origin systems, Bullfrog) or survived long enough to be absorbed into the AAA factory mindset and all trace of Indie-ness vanished (Blizzard, Bioware, id). (And some, like Spiderweb, stayed Indie and were ignored by all except the fans of the niche.)

    But now it’s gotten so bad that Capcom isn’t Capcom anymore and Square Enix isn’t Square Enix anymore. Because the people who actually did develop the classics have jumped to Kickstarter, even though there’s no way to do that directly from Japan. (That last part is a particular slap in the face of large “traditional” Japanese game devs, that their superstars would dare form their own American companies.) Kickstarter has become a wonderful melting pot of new Indie stars and international veterans, and the old trademarks mean nothing anymore.

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      “That last part is a particular slap in the face of large “traditional” Japanese game devs, ”

      Which they deserve, by the way, for firing all their talent to begin with.

      1. Ilseroth says:

        To be fair most of them aren’t *fired* they are given what is known as a “window seat” job. Essentially, they are given a position where they perform some kind of busywork that doesn’t matter until they either retire or quit. Usually this is done after some kind of mistake after taking a risk.

        For instance Gunpei Yokoi made a lot of Nintendo’s major assets (Gameboy, Game & Watch) was allegedly given a window seat after the Virtual Boy, and it is also rumored that Inafune (Megaman) at Capcom was stuck in a similar situation and left Capcom.

        I don’t have a quote on hand for Inafune but I remember it was something like “I wanted to have a greater impact on the games and they wouldn’t let me.” or something close.

  13. Benjamin Hilton says:

    I also feel like part of this is a result of developers “rushing to the next console generation. I mean I’m still not convinced that more couldn’t have been done with the last one.

    When RE4 came out I was shocked that my little gamecube could do that….and just look at the difference between Halo and Halo 2 in graphics..it was a huge change from the same console…PS2 didn’t have allot of graphics improvement, but it did have a huge library of games that knew how to use what it had.

    I don’t know if we should blame publishers that see a new console as a way to make money, developers who complain about technological limitations when the money isn’t made back, or consumers for getting bored and constantly looking for the next new shinny thing to distract them.

    There are some in the games community who express hope or even belief that this will be “the Last Console Generation”. Stating that graphics are plateauing so developers will now be able to concentrate on other aspects.
    Unfortunately I believe this to to be a pipe dream….there is no evidence from publishers, developers or consumers to suggest that people would ever be happy with what they have.

    1. But we need a few more generations of graphics power so buying a 4K resolution TV is worth it!

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      While people may never be happy with what they have, they are also increasingly unable to afford what they want. “What’s the world coming to?” etc.

  14. Bubble181 says:

    The 10x number is just ridiculous and laughable – a trainwreck like SWTOR costing $2 billion? Yeah, not going to happen.

    That said, the only ones hurting AAA games are AAA publishers (and sometimes, developers).

    1. Benjamin Hilton says:

      I think one of the main problems with developers is lack of good art direction. Graphics may not age well, but when I think of all the older games that I go back to, allot of them have some kind of visual style that makes them enjoyable to look at despite the years.

      To parrot Shamus a little:

      The first Half Life had bright colors, the orange HEV suit, soldiers wearing white, mesa top battles with bright sunlight and a clear blue sky. to me this is still fun to play from a visual standpoint especially compared to contemporaries like Delta Force and the early Rainbow Six games that went for “realism”.

      Jade Empire is another good example. Even though its two generations old, the art style is such that it never really seems to get dated to me.

      My friends and I will sometimes still sit down with a Nintendo 64 and play Mario Kart or the first Smash Bro.s because it’s still bright and fun to look at.

      Even dark games such as System Shock and Deus Ex work because the visuals combined with the sound design are there to set a tone and ambiance that still work despite their age.

      1. Bubble181 says:

        Absolutely. Shamus has said it often: the point of “better graphics” isn’t to make it more photorealistic, but to make things look better. A good aesthetic is vastly more important than realism.
        Heroes of Might and Magic 3 dates back to well in the ’90s and I still think it’s a beautiful game.

  15. I did just think of something that actually looks like a step forward: Oculus Rift. I might not buy it, especially not the first model, but it looks like everything I was told “virtual reality” would be as a kid, short of having a holodeck. The nice thing appears to be that it can make older games (I think they’ve made it work with Half Life 2) a new experience to play.

  16. arron says:

    The problem with AAA is that they’re in a massive crisis over the numbers. They’ve basically saturated the market for gamers, so they’re not going to getting more cash by increasing the number of gamers out there, but their marketing department are pushing forward to make bigger (and ‘better’) games that they thing will show off next gen. The problem with this is they’re never going to get double the revenue I think they’ll be hoping for to fund this fools errand. The other thing about the games industry is that it’s ridiculously exploitative. Ten years ago I was considering a career in the games industry. Given that it’s now become an industry that takes talented people and reduces them to ground chuck with endless crunch to get the latest game out. The other thing is that the guys at the top cream off the revenue to give themselves bonuses, where the rank and file devs get a pole up the rear. I’ve known three people personally who were better coders than me are now working in other fields of engineering because they were treated with derision in their annual reviews, whilst the mid and high level execs paid themselves large bonuses. There’s something exceptionally wrong where the skilled people get dumped on almost routinely because the the system knows they’ll be replaced with raw meat if they quit.

    The problems with games is that the industry at a whole seems blind to seeing the trouble they’re in. To survive next gen they’re going to need to do something..!

    1. Make cheaper games

    The industry is committed to photorealistic graphics, so they’re not going to dial back on the wow factor the marketing department demand. They’re more likely to cut back on content (so your game is shorter or less detailed) because marketing can’t sell excitement about content. It would be great to have a Fallout game which has more branching paths and missions, but people aren’t going to see that in a game advert. But graphics, action and immediate experience are easy to see on the back of the box. So the first thing they’ll cut is content for cheaper games because they sell it as DLC later.

    The games industry major cost is labour, so I think outsourcing is the only way forward to save costs. It’s already close to being a sweatshop industry, and I think they move entire operations to China like they have for most thing so that there is little or no organized industry in the west because we’ve got too many social costs here.

    2. Earn more from the same – IAP/DLC

    DLC is a good phenomena for adding to the game experience which expands it outwards at modest cost. The Dishonored DLC for example with Daud really made a valuable addition to the base experience.

    I can see mandatory IAP being the norm in AAA after your initial £45 purchase, and if you stop paying for new IAP, then you’ll never get through the artificial grind they’re going to add to AAA to make the IAP worth paying for. Plus because grind is filler content, it makes the game appear longer. The industry has a boner for IAP because it seems like instant endless cash for little or no additional effort. And given that that it’s not for free to play any longer, if they can make people accept it as normal in AAA, people will just keep spending dough to play a game they thought they owned (or rented a time limited licence to install on their machine).

    3. Leverage indies

    I’ve noticed that AAA is trying to go through indie distribution channels to appear like indie games, although they’re not indie. Indies are the new blood and most of what’s out there is pretty dire, but merely through throwing enough dice..huge hits like Minecraft are inevitable, and the AAA industry want those hits making money for them rather than the likes of Notch by buying them up before they become huge. Letting Minecraft become an independent global indie phenomena is a major screw up for the industry. Even a strategy of taking mid-range products and doing something like the Apple store – you can get indies to pay to develop and distribute their own games and you earn a cut for each game sold. They earn a metric shedload of cash and it doesn’t matter if it flops, you earn money charging rent regardless. And making money on the scurrying of the ants around you means you can plow that cash into your AAA operations to destroy the competition and you don’t have to do much to achieve that. It’s like sharecropping as opposed to being a farmer yourself. And if you rig the game, you can make more than the developer does through getting them to buy tools, buying access to land and for everything they sell. Apple are not stupid in their business model, and the hipsters have more money than sense.

    4. Destroy the competition

    The problem with the zero-sum games industry is that the amount of money available through revenue is pretty much fixed. The reason that we have next gen now and that it isn’t much of an improved experience over last gen..is because they need people to buy things all over again, like they’ve done with Blu-ray and iTunes and Hollywood remakes of films that are barely a decade old. It’s all about selling the classic experience again.

    The furore about 2nd hand games isn’t about the games industry not losing money on them (because that’s not how the system works) but because a pound spent on old games isn’t a pound spent on new games that earns them money. The “Cash for Clunkers” initiative is more about getting cars off the road that don’t earn the industry money through sales and servicing than it is about safety and environmental concerns.

    I expect them to subvert the indies by buying them up and putting them out of business (through exclusivity practices) to prevent the public from spending money that doesn’t get into AAA coffers. 2nd hand games have to go or make the AAA houses money in some way. Competitors will be cannibalized when they fail so that IP can be making them money rather than for someone else.

    The dinosaurs of the games industry know they’re in trouble but rather than doing the sensible thing and become creatures more suitable for surviving the oncoming famine through becoming smaller, efficient and quick to react, they’re going to keep eating the new small furry indie mammals, reducing computing sources of games from second hand and retro games by pulling them from sale where ever possible and forcing gamers to pay more for the experience by milking them daily. The dinosaurs are doomed, but they’re going to fight every step of the way whilst they become fossils. And they’ll be selling the process of turning into stone as being the most desirable next-gen experience for the future rather than acknowledging they’re heading for a crash.

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