Fairly Messy Rant: Burn The Ship Before It Can Sink?

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Howdy, I just read an article that broke down what could very easily lead to a second gaming crash.  Now, I am a very rash and gung-ho individual when someone brings up something like this and has numbers to prove it, much like the Spectrum Crunch, so I am probably overreacting, but if you want to see me get angry while channeling a Cold War though process, hit the jump!

Okay, to bring in any newcomers, a normal AAA title, nearly any game with a nice budget and $60 price tag, costs upwards of $30 million.  But then you have marketing, getting console manufacturer’s approval, along with developer kits, promotional at gaming events, transporting journalists to report on demos you have, and get a team to work on a demo that will be made outside of the actual game.  And for the sake of argument, let’s say that the publisher only gets about $40 for every new copy.  Taking in all the expenses, it is not surprising to see how most lower end AAA games of the current generation need to sell a million to break even.  

Eyep, lower end.  Nowadays, game budgets are costing up to $100 million, and due to marketing and all that jazz, you have games like Resident Evil 6, which plans to sell 7 million units.  Or Dead Space 3, which I talked about having an absolutely moronic goal of 5 million units to warrant another go with the franchise.  But why would anyone even buying a game that was aiming for a broad and unfocused appeal?  If you simplify your game until every unique feature is gone, you are no longer advancing the industry in any way at all.  If something is unique and fails, you can learn from it.  If something is unique and succeeds, you can try to improve upon the groundwork it set up.  

But if the norm of the next generation will be games that are guaranteed to succeed, and therefore lack any innovation, then you really do need to rethink your plans.  I believe that the phrase, “You can have the nicest bumming in the world, but if it is for the same game I played three times this year, then you deserve to stagnate!”  About sums it up.  Now, I love Skyrim and Mass Effect 2, but games like Reckoning and L.A. Noire left me lukewarm at best.  And this, not surprisingly, reflected in terms of sales.  However, if Skyrim’s world was a third of the size and had half the polygons, or if Mass Effect 2 had visuals no more advanced than those in Ghost Trick, I would still love those games.  But if Reckoning had a wonderfully vibrant and generic fantasy setting, more so than it already had, the game is still boring to play.  Or if the faces in L.A. Noire did not look like ham and were perfectly replicated popular actors, I would still dislike it do to the repetition of the game and dodgy vehicle controls.  

Or, how about this, would Rayman Origins benefit from anything that sells, as in grit and guns?  No, I feel awful for even typing that moronic question.  But I still find Rayman Origins to be one of the best games this generation, even if I have yet to beat it.  There is not a single time that I can recall when broadening has helped a franchise grow.  Now, things like Pokemon Conquest, which could have been more complicated and less appealing, simplified themselves to appeal to a wider audience.  Simplifying is taking out the busy work and making the core easier to chew, while broadening is pressing the core into a larger shape, so that everyone can get a bite, but it is hardly a mouthful.

You know why the modern film industry gets a bad rap?  Because who is going to put down several million on an investment, unless they can expect to see a return?  It is simple economics, you don’t put a lot of eggs in a basket unless you think the basket is sturdy enough.  But if we put our eggs in more baskets, then we have a greater chance that the chicks that hatch from those eggs will become good chickens, and a bunch of them will not crack or there will not be enough of the basket to eat when they are becoming chickens… What?  Sorry, tortured metaphor aside, if you took a $30 million dollar budget to make 30 small games, you have a far better chance to get your money back, even if their appeal is not broad, you will capture several niches upon their release, creating an overall broader appeal for all the $30 million you invested.  But there is still going to be a niche that only big AAA games can scratch, so we can’t just leave them to die.  There is no such thing as a manually crafted 3D sandbox indie title, or a graphically intensive one that gives your processor a good kick every minute.  

But if we want that AAA fix fed, we need a unique game that uses its budget well, so I say test out as many elements as you can in smaller titles, and then combine them into a massive title that expands upon countless elements and uses its $50 million budget well.  Or, y’know, we could just stop advancing visuals.  We could wait until it becomes easier to create a title with the scope of a modern game, and just stay where we are for a few years, throwing around new ideas while the budget per polygon keeps on decreasing.  I never made anything more complicated than a WarioWare minigame, so I am not the best person to listen to, but unless you want to be living in two industries, indie and AAA bland-fest, the industry needs to aim itself in a better direction than this.  

Thanks for reading my ventings, I really just needed to get the word out there.  The internet is like a great big stress ball at times, but like a ball of nails the other 90% of the time.

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