Tuesday, February 21, 2012

VG Talk #10 Why the Gaming Industry is Playing it Safe

In a gaming world filled with sequels, a thousand brown and grey multiplayer shooters, and main protagonists that all hate hair and surprisingly look a little too similar (image credit goes to IGN),


it can be easy to think that the gaming industry has simply run out of ideas. That actually isn’t the truth. The truth is that new ideas are risky business. Games are expensive to make and they simply aren’t made overnight. Publishers are afraid to throw money at a project they think won't sell.

A recent example of a development team taking on a risky project would be Team Bondi. You might have heard of a little title called L.A. Noire. The game used new facial recognition technology to implement gameplay where you would interrogate characters and discern if they’re telling the truth or not based on their reactions. Not only would detective work be the key focus of the game but it would take place in a setting that is rarely touched: 1947 L.A.. It was published by Rockstar Games (known for Grand Theft Auto, Bully, and Red Dead) and took seven years to make. The game sold over 4 million copies. So surely Team Bondi went on to bigger and brighter things right? Sadly that couldn’t be farther from the reality of the situation. This article goes into the whole story: http://ps3.ign.com/articles/117/1178844p1.html If you'd like the short version: working conditions were hell, hours were ridiculous, debt was owed, Rockstar had to step in and fix things which led to Team Bondi resenting Rockstar for taking over creative control, and sadly there's more to it but that's enough to start painting the picture. After a downward spiral of setbacks and debt, Team Bondi had to close down the same year they released L.A. Noire regardless of the financial success of the game.

Here's a list of over 100 studios that have closed since 2006 (many of which attempted to innovate):
http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=459131


Now let's hop into the past for a moment. Anyone remember Clover Studios (one of the many Capcom development teams)? They were the people behind Okami, the Viewtiful Joe series, and God Hand. All of those titles were nothing but new and original ideas that sadly didn't meet sales expectations and the studio was closed years ago. The reason I bring them up is that I don't want to be a speaker of purely doom and gloom here as things did in fact turn around. That studio managed to get a happy ending in the fact that the majority of Clover studios eventually went on to form Platinum Games where they continue to make new and original titles such as MadWorld, Infinite Space, Bayonetta, and Vanquish. The majority of those titles still don't get the attention they deserve but we can fix that.

The bottom line: don't be so quick to blame the gaming industry for playing it safe. Literally tons of studios have tried to take risks and it has rarely been a worthwhile investment to do so. When every title can make or break your studio, you can't exactly be avant-garde in the gaming industry. Making games is more expensive than most people realize and even if a game sells millions of copies, that doesn't guarantee success. It doesn't help that the numbers prove that consumers aren't exactly buying new ideas and instead keep paying for the next Halo: Call of War 9 (Fun Fact - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and the upcoming Halo 4 are actually the 8th installment in their respective franchises.)

The good news? You can make a difference. Get out there and pay for those games that are trying something new. Take a look at the lesser known studios like Platinum Games, From Software, Gearbox, Level-5, Grasshopper Manufacture, Double Fine, ThatGameCompany, etc. (and I apologize in advance that I simply can't keep listing every other studio that deserves to be listed) If you're trying to save up and can't buy their games just yet then get out there and spread the word.

*EDIT - Here is an edit added in before I even published the post so I imagine that needs a little explanation. I originally wrote this three or four weeks ago but had it scheduled to post for today (yes, many articles are written well in advance). Then something crazy happened and I had to add it in. It kind of breaks the tone but it falls in line with the topic and so rather than editing the entire post to make it fit, I figured I would just add it in with this edit note.*

Okay, so this probably deserves its own post entirely but I'd just like to point out the success of Tim Schafer's Double Fine Adventure and their Kickstarter page. Double Fine, the people that brought us Psychonauts, Costume Quest, Grim Fandango, The Secret of Monkey Island, etc. couldn't get a single publisher to give them the money for a project to make a new point and click adventure game. They knew fans have wanted one for about a decade now so they decided to try out Kickstarter and attempted to raise around $400,000. Within a day they earned over $1million and currently they're getting close to $2million. I think we can all agree that this is just spectacular. They managed to cut out the middle man (the publisher) entirely and create a game fans have wanted. This isn't going to suddenly mean that any studio can attempt using Kickstarter as a means to make whatever game a possibility but it does open new doors and let's hope it wakes up a few publishers with this metaphorical kick to the nuts.

Even more crazy wonderfulness is that Notch AKA Markus Persson AKA The guy who made Minecraft is offering (the key here is offering since they've only exchanged emails so far) to help publish another of Tim Schafer's dream projects: Psychonauts 2. Tim Schafer warned Notch that the original Psychonauts cost around $13million to make but Notch basically said, "Yeah, I can do that." Then there was an update that understandably it would cost about three times as much as the original (for all the reasons you can guess that making a new game in this generation would cost more than one made during the PS2 days). Regardless of the fact that it would be around $39million, Notch has reported it would be a worthwhile investment.

This is Kylak signing out and hoping you help break the trends.

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