Of Three Types of Game Developers, Two Are Going Extinct

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Of Three Types of Game Developers, Two Are Going Extinct

A cautionary essay about what it will take to be successful in the new Digital World Order.

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This seemed like a bit of nonsense really. Are all regularly priced games in the "Oldguard" category? The article makes it sound like only "free-to-play" games are the future, which is crazy. The only reasonable free-to-pay systems I know of are in multiplayer PVP (LoL, DOTA2, TF2). Free-to-play for single player games is amost always a problem since you can never get away from being asked for more money. There's hardly any immersion when you have to buy certain items with special money that you can buy with real money.

AAA gaming isn't going anywhere. Is it really shocking that sometimes big companies that are badly managed go under? There are plenty of AAA developers, just like there are plenty of blockbuster movies.

I wish free-to-play in the style of Zynga or "Candy Crush" would go away, but that probably won't happen for years.

Maybe I'm just missing the point here. Sure, free-to-play games should cater to their audience. They should be of good quality and not totally rip off their players. But, that's obvious, right? That's not some new era in gaming.

The whole thing seems predicated on the incorrect assumption that because a new group is making money in a new way, that means on old group can't continue to make money in the old way. It's like when you hear stuff like, "Consoles/PCs are dead since everyone will be playing games on their phone. Just look at the huge growth in mobile."

I don't think the categories are quite so black-and-white as Greg describes. For instance, while there are certainly plenty of 'Old Guard' that are screwing themselves over by hiding behind sketchy marketing practices, there are plenty of new and old that have taken that single most vital step he stated to be relevant for a long time: interaction with fans through-out the development process. The two examples I think of off the top of my head are CD Projekt RED and Carbine Studios. The former has absolutely mastered the 'packaged goods' idea for many years, with no signs showing of slowing down with the upcoming Witcher 3. The latter is newly formed but consisting of many old veterans, and they have gained a strong fan base by using the tagline "The devs are listening" and actually following through with it.

'New Innovators' are not successful because they innovate (many have actually returned to REALLY OLD game styles, while others are all re-re-copying new trends) but because most are smaller studios and thus can be very personable. Illustrated by the 'Old Guys' I pointed out, it's not that the only way to be successful is to innovate, but that you be incredibly transparent, or at least honest, with your customers. Marketing departments can still exist, but the successful 'Old Guard' usually incorporate a large percentage of them to Community Management.

Yeah AAA is dying the same way TV has killed off the summer blockbuster.

The reliance upon the retail business model requires the consumer's upfront faith, and the only way the Old Guard has found to scale up the engagement of passionate fans is through forced scarcity: pre-orders, special releases, DLC season passes, collector's editions, etc. Since there's usually no ongoing dialogue with the customer as games are produced in this fashion, corporate investment is poured into market research, leaving the Old Guard stuck with best guesses and survey averages, rather than knowing exactly who their customers really are, how they are really playing the games, and the exact reasons and timing they choose to stop. Isolated development combined with three year or longer development cycles and budgets often eclipsing $100M all lead to reduced risk-taking and the virtual elimination of new intellectual properties.

While AAA are heavily reliant on stuff like focus groups, don't they also collect metric data from their games? How long you've played, what classes/skills/items/etc you used, when you stop playing, etc etc. Personally I'm not a fan of this as it can only homogenize the experience. A simple example, did Bethesda take into account that only some small x% of people used spears in Morrowind, so dropped the weapon class from Oblivion and Skyrim? That's kind of shitty. But anyways the point is that big developers do know a lot of this stuff. They may not exactly know why, but they have the raw data.

Personally I'm a big fan of the newer creative indy scene over the old corporate big developers, but unlike what he calls the "online opportunists" I can't see them going 'extinct' any time soon. Yes they're in a bit of a tight spot right now with a number having gone under already, but there's still billions of dollars to be made here. They just need to figure out how to make those billions without requiring a >= amount of $$$ creating and marketing the games.

The current generation of gamers wants to play these great games across all of their devices, bringing the fun with them just as they do with books, music, and videos.

No, I don't. I don't want a game made for PC/console to also work on a tablet. I want to play games that take advantage of modern controllers or kb/m.

They don't want to fight a steep learning curve around UI and UX,

Yes, I do, although I'm not sure what "UX" is. I don't want to play games that I understand in five minutes. I want to play a game that is interesting.

and they don't want to spend hours downloading or installing a game.

If, by magic, you could make a great looking game immediately start, that would be nice, but I understand that all that cool stuff happening on my screen requires a little time to download. That's not really a problem.

They want them to be free to play

No, I don't. I want to pay a reasonable price for a complete product. I want to know that I'm supporting the developers of a game that I enjoy. I don't want to do this by buying a hat or some "gold" to imbalance the game. I don't want to have to continue paying more to see the rest of the game or overcome a grind.

and for whatever investment they make in game to be met with a corresponding increase in the fun they receive.

Nope, I'd rather pay once and have as much "fun" as I want. I'd also like games that are challenging or meaningful; gaming isn't solely about "fun".

Criticism. "Wanting it all" is not the basis for many games, and also contributes to feature creep if it is not managed properly. The writer may consider replacing it with freedom of choice in game design, which is the closest thing I can come up with. Also, while free to play opens up opportunities which I will underline as POSSIBLE TO BE POSITIVE FOR PLAYERS if handled responsibly, these models are also very susceptible to the same types of abuse engendered by the previous two categories that are described. Additionally, baseline difficulty of accessing game interfaces will vary based on their systems, and are not a solid indicator of success if they are targeting a niche market with, say, a highly detailed flight sim, although efficiency in interface design should always be a factor. This extends to platform availability. While increasing the accessibility to the experience through wider platform distribution can reach more audience members, the platform itself also factors into the experience and may change it beyond initial recognition, so this may or may not be detrimental to what the developer wants to deliver, and should also be considered carefully instead of blanketing the market with subpar shoehorned products.

The new games are being led by folks who have honest expectations of their own capabilities, and specific intents for their creations, and the experiences that they want to create with them. The experiences that are delivered and distributed the most efficiently and effectively to the audience that they are designed for will be the most "successful" in terms of intent and profit, but the real "winner" must be the user (specifically by enriching their life experiences), as this is the intent of the medium, and will continue to be such, save for experimental projects which might introduce new, unexplored factors into the mix.

You know though, the New Innovaters are missing something that the two others have. You know what that is? Capital. I hate to say it but it's all well and good to start talking about how the New Innovaters are the game development master race but without the money to back that up, they won't get very far.

The New Innovaters have to worry a lot more than the big publishers about whether their game they devoted a bunch of time and money into (money that they might very well have to borrow) will even get them to break even. If not, then they will be hurting. A lot.

This seems more like Rumble Entertainment's mission statement then an actual article.

With new innovators I am guessing you mean the indies? The people that mostly ride on nostalgia? The people that are innovating by bringing back old gaming concepts? Yeah...

Like I asked in regard to Johan Andersson's article last week: Is there a reason behind featuring these particular developers' take on the video game industry? Is there some context that I'm missing...?

This article has made me not want to buy/play/put money into KingsRoad, congratulations. Anyways, the ginormous publishers aren't going away anytime soon, at least not while the world sticks with capitalism. Stop wanting them to go away, too. The whole "fuck the richest one percent of people" shtick got old halfway through the Occupy trend, and it's not like they have nothing to offer in the first place.

Why are you praising Riot for their strong community? I've heard nothing but disdain for the LoL masses. Also Nexon published Scarlet Blade with a straight face.

Mr. Richardson, by claiming that F2P/online games are the inevitable future of interactive entertainment and claiming to be an esteemed member of the innovative elite, you are acting just as ignorant, blind, and ridiculous as the companies you denounce.

albino boo:
Yeah AAA is dying the same way TV has killed off the summer blockbuster.

This, too.

Like I asked in regard to Johan Andersson's article last week: Is there a reason behind featuring these particular developers' take on the video game industry? Is there some context that I'm missing...?

We think it's interesting to see what the people making the games (and making the games happen) are thinking. I'm not sure that they're more right than anyone else, but they do have a unique insight that's not always shared outside the exclusive circles of themselves and other devs. I'd like to share that with you all. No more, no less.

Even if it's coming from the little guy, this is basically advertising masquerading as an article.

There's something offensive about seeing this presented as if it were journalism.

If The Escapist is going to run this sort of material, why doesn't it open an Op. Ed section? That's where this stuff is valid.

With new innovators I am guessing you mean the indies? The people that mostly ride on nostalgia? The people that are innovating by bringing back old gaming concepts? Yeah...

I'd say it's innovative if the 'old gaming concepts' have been long dropped/forgotten by mainstream publishers and the game adds something new. Like I've been playing Rogue Legacy recently, and despite the 16-bit like graphics and platform gameplay you won't find anything quite like it for the SNES.

Basically the big publishers have become experts in homogenizing the experience, indies are filling the gap for niche specialization. You talk about nostalgia like it's a bad thing, but there's a significant enough market out there for it to exist.

But I'm defending indy developers here, I don't think that's quite the same thing the article is talking about. After all from what I can tell at a quick glance they're pushing a FTP browser based diablo-like MMO.

I did find if to be an interesting article but when I got to the end and I saw it was written by a guy in charge of one of the places he said was so great it felt like the guy was trumpeting his own horn.

addendum. isn't nexon kind of the poster child of companies that adopted, if not partially responsible for inventing, abusive monetization?


Like I asked in regard to Johan Andersson's article last week: Is there a reason behind featuring these particular developers' take on the video game industry? Is there some context that I'm missing...?

We think it's interesting to see what the people making the games (and making the games happen) are thinking. I'm not sure that they're more right than anyone else, but they do have a unique insight that's not always shared outside the exclusive circles of themselves and other devs. I'd like to share that with you all. No more, no less.

Don't worry, I don't mind you featuring these articles. I'm okay with a media outlet dedicating both time and space to particular vocies that (in the outlet's opinion) deserve to be heard. In fact, if you guys weren't doing that, I'd argue that you weren't using your outlet to its fullest potential. The articles just appeared out of nowhere - I was merely beeing curious. =)

There's always going to be a healthy amount of suspicion of any type of article that says 'there are three types of people in the world, and the two that aren't me suck'

...and yeah I don't know if I was really convinced beyond that. The categories seemed pretty fuzzy and more than a little loaded. Particularly with the online opportunists, it feels like you're defining a category by it's negative traits and then saying 'you know these pile of negative traits? They're bad.' I'm not convinced it would be a lot of help telling an Online Opportunist from a New Innovator.

I'm also not convinced that the Old Guard are going anywhere. These games sales only seem to be going up. We can afford for companies and studios to go bust because the ones that succeed, succeed so well that they can buy up and hire the people who were unsuccessful. Someone is going to make a return on their investment as long as people carry on buying AAA games, and I really believe they will. Even the hardcore indie lovers enjoy some Witcher or Battlefield every now and then.

The only argument the article really makes is that one studio went bust, a few others have been outcompeted (and even then Nintendo seem to be doing fine to me. It's a Wii game that's the bestselling game of all time, and Konami have had some hits too) by other studios which are doing better than before, and a couple are having financial troubles (Whilst others have a net profit of several billion every year). AAA games are dead in the same way blockbuster films are dead (another industry which spends 100's of millions on the risky chance of a hit, but seems to be doing fine)

I suspect that the author is more than a bit biased in terms of his hypothesis. Hmmm? Anybody want to guess where he probably pictures his company on a list of the 3? I think its more a case of the Old Guard must evolve or slowly die. But the Old Guard isn't the 'Old Guard" without reason. In many cases they have done this before. and unlike the "New Inovator" the Old Guard has a huge degree of capital and resource backing them. They have the ability to change the rules of the game to some degree. Those entrenched deals with retailers, etc. Those only exist until they are no longer of a benefit to the more solidly capitalized old guard. And yeah some of them will die off as they are unable to adjust, or are too far extended to make the needed changes. I don't think we are in any danger of seeing Activision, EA or Nintendo go anywhere.

What happens is the succesful members of the "New Innovators" become new members of the Old Guard. It's that simple. Heck where does the author consider Valve on his list? How about Notch, who is now acting as a well capitalized games publisher?

You know, I already found this article hard to take serious... But this last bit near the end?

We're already seeing the first of this group emerge as leaders. The proof is the new guard: Riot, Supercell, and Nexon represent companies that tirelessly prioritize gameplay quality, happy players, and strong communities. As a result, they have all been incredibly successful

Priceless. Nexon is far and away from this idealized, almost self-stroking thought of "new innovators", and have been epitomizing the idea of abusive RMT focused cash shops since MapleStory came out. There is no "if", "ands" or "buts" to that. Unless, of course, charging $15-$80 a month in a game just to keep your character in Vindictus wearing cosmetic gear, 80% of which you'll never see under their armor, is a great thing to do for gamers and the community as a whole. They did rescind on that though, mind you, but only after months of demanding it from the player base.

Supercell doesn't exactly seem to escape that either, considering most every game of theirs appears to have a "pay to advantage" feature within it, indicative of any cash-squeezing cheap facebook/mobile game you see everywhere else.

And well... I've never even heard of Rumble before, and I'm not surprised when looking at their list of "betas" as opposed to actually released titles.

Then there's plenty of other, rather painfully laughable statements made in there. It completely ignores the fact that many of those "Old Guard" types have already done half the crap he spouts on about them never doing, and the biggest reasons that any "cracks" are forming are less a result of them not going "OMG MOAR FACEBOOK GAMES!" and more about crapping all over their consumers, which his list of "innovators" aren't free from. Namco and Konami both aren't exactly leaders I'd put on the same level as Capcom and Sega in their haydays. They had a presence, yes, but they were definitively smaller than those two. Capcom and Sega are starting to get hit hard because, unsurprisingly, they continue to crap and insult their fanbases for their games with lazily done titles and more.

He completely ignores any of the actual good in the industry, just so he can pander to his own company. This is almost just as bad as the Red5 lead over on MMORPG.com using blog post after headlined blog post to go on about how awesome his game is, and how everyone else is doing games wrong and Firefall is the only one doing it right. At least he managed to do a post or two though that didn't mention his own studio or game.

albino boo:
Yeah AAA is dying the same way TV has killed off the summer blockbuster.

what exactly is "AAA" ?

because one of my games of the year last year (The Witcher 2) pushed systems to the technical limits, was fairly well received both by the critics and gamers (who like that sort of thing), didn't "dick anyone around" in a business sense and it only cost $9 million to make...

the thing about "AAA" that i think people have to understand is that these businesses largely seek to justify their own existences on the basis of a circular argument that basically goes:

"we need 1000s of highly paid people to make these highly expensive games because if we don't make these highly expensive games these 1000s of highly paid people won't get highly paid"

...also shareholders...who want as large a profit margin as possible (and for it always to increase) and who do nothing...but lets not mention those...think of the poor developers and your supposed potential lack of "spunkgargleweewee" games...

they tell outright lies about hard content creation is (and completely side step ever mentioning "tools" advance at basically the same technological rate and you actually don't need a very large group of core "creatives" or indeed underlying technical staff to write a killer looking and playing game ESPECIALLY if you use a pre-existing game engine (WHICH btw the Witcher 2 didn't do) and use a whole load of "third party plugins" to handle other parts of the sparkles.

the difficultly of making something like an online mode FPS in particular is VASTLY overplayed.

seriously online FPS is one of the lowest content and gameplay system 3d game types there is. ever.

the fundamental programming, tools and core systems of which were nailed to the wall literally decades ago now.

COD's engine is a direct descendant of the Quake engine...

and yet no, we're told this has to cost 100s of millions to make...

most of which they usually end up telling us was spent on "marketing"...

do you know who does activisions "marketing" ?...

"activisions marketing department"...that's who.

it's all utter bullcrap.

look, there will never be a day when this market goes unserved.

people will always get their "spunkgargleweewee" fix.

but the existence of "AAA" (whatever that supposedly is) is a whole other matter...

yes the big studios will continue to make their check box product.

so did the film studios.

but no would claim the likes of Police Academy or Friday the 13th led the film industry.

this is what happens to big media corporations because they basically become risk averse.

it's "easy listening" and/or "lowest common denominator"

it's a mediocre Adam Sandler film beating Pacific Rim.

but both cinema and the music industry have something else.

they have "the independents"...

...and it's those that lead artistically most of the time...

in gaming this is basically due to happen and indeed is happening if you look around.

the big conglomerates we see now were born out of the fish eats fish turns into bigger fish feeding frenzy at the start of the mediums history.

this is also exactly what happened in music and film.

and just like "the big four" and "the majors" their names are likely to fade into the background.

the won't die ofc.

but they won't dominate the industry in quite the same way either.

and what's more in gaming, with the internet, "producers" don't even need "publishers" or "distributors"...

albino boo:
Yeah AAA is dying the same way TV has killed off the summer blockbuster.

This. The AAA isn't going anywhere. Yes, there are going to be quite a few casualties along the way, but this is just like the couple of periods in the film industry's history where the old guard had to die before the new guard took over. The old people running the show will die off, but they'll be replaced by new people and the AAA industry will continue. It's going to be rocky for a few years, but eventually there will be new blood in the industry.

And then give it another twenty or thirty years and we'll be right back to this point again, because apparently media companies, like history, go in cycles.

I'm sorry, I really am, but this is a dystopian future that is being painted as a desired one here.

Who the hell wants games to all turn into free to play milk machines that you play on your browser? That's the most horrifying vision of the future I've ever heard and I'm an avid Fallout fan here...

This doesn't sound aimed at our group/culture/whatever you wanna call it. It's aimed at STRICTLY non-gamer or casual-gamer style people who have just begun gaming in the past maybe....4 years or so. That the old guard doesn't appeal to those people is obvious since they weren't gamers back 15 years ago but now they are and the old guard has been making games for that entire time. It has made games without these peoples contribution. Awesome incredible games that these peoples existence did not affect in any way whatsoever.

What are the implications of a whole other entirely irrelevant group of people now playing games too? Why does that mean anything at all in respect to us that have been playing and enjoying those old style games (or, you know, games) and the people that made these games? Why can't they just go do their own thing in their corner and leave us alone? Of course they will have a period of comparatively awesome growth, it's a new market that's being discovered, it's supposed to work this way. It doesn't mean that all games that are not for free on my browser of phone will be failures or bad games or that should go extinct.

Innovation is good but so is tradition and fusing the two, respecting the past while looking forward, is the true way to be creative.

Hey. Just so you know. I really hate it when somebody writes a huge long opinion piece (slash rant) and tries to pass it off as fact/journalism. It's a waste of internet.

Less of this sort of "sponsored opinion", please. What a ridiculous post. I'm off to watch more Top 5s.

Summary: "We're not Zynga!"

And it also seems like he completely missed the boat I'm riding: pay-up-front indie gaming (FTL, Mark of the Ninja, Minecraft, etc.).

I have no idea who these "new innovators" are but frankly I don't find the shift to phone and tablet stuff an improvement in any way. And on top of that I don't see if being financially viable.

The gameplay of these mobile games is basically a new version of those old 900 number scams. Hey, this game is free, yeah its incredibly basic, prone to tons of errors, and you are limited to grinding again and again in the same small area until you spend $5,$10, $20, $100 for which you are then treated to additional reskined small area where you repeat this process again and again.

These free games are designed to trick you into continuing to make payments on a game you would think was overpriced garbage if you could just buy the whole thing unlocked for $40. But its "free" so thats all right.

Then all these "innovative" games are copied by 10,000 other companies so there is huge mass of shoddy grinding minigames out there drowning each other out, with some malware mixed in for the suckers who only care about "free".

Not to mention they are killing real games by making everyone think $60 is expensive and everything should be $5 or less. And almost all mobile gamers have now taken that to mean free. Only a tiny portion of them ever spend any money at all.

Mobile games aren't the future. They are the parasites we'll all be infected with once they kill off real games.

Yeah Angry birds made a lot of money. Probably less then the thousands individuals or small groups lost trying to make a game themselves only to be lost among the mountain of dreck that constantly gets released.

This isn't an article, it's an advertisement for Rumble Entertainment.

Join Rumble Entertainment and save the galaxy. Service guarantees citizenship. Would you like to know more?

The criticisms of the AAA studios and F2P Skinner box makers presented in this piece are well taken, but if you want this sort of article to sound like anything other than ego-stroking you have got to have a criticism or two for these New (my God but they must have enormous penises--are they single? But how could they be: they're obviously too ruggedly handsome) Innovators. Y'know, in case somebody might be concerned about bias or something.

This isn't an article, it's an advertisement for Rumble Entertainment.

while its very interesting reading articles from developers and industry insiders, i loved the last one about paradox interactive this came across as something they would read to potential shareholders to drum up investment.

can you imagine the future shown in the article where the only games released are are browser and tablet based and are completely limited to that scale of technology?

hell if that happened people would be asking for the worse modern militry shooter AAA games to come back

What about all those crowdfunded studios? The InXiles, Zeboyds, Perihelion Interactives, Comcept USA's, KING Art Games, 5 Lives Studios, Yacht Club Games, Uber Entertainment, and Crate Entertainment?

They don't exactly fit into your F2P on all the things mentality and some of them are ancient beings from before yesteryear.

I would put those 'new innovators' into a sub-group of as ones who understand business in the 'On-line Opportunists' rather like how the likes of Obsidian Entertainment, CDProject, and Valve would be smart 'Old Guard'

The ones free of publisher control and not shackled to a single point like F2P or online connectivity would be the innovators. Becuase lets face it F2P tends to be largely derivative.

The future painted in this article was told to be fascinating, unique, and a haven of video game greatness.

I found it to be completely horrifying, an ever unfurling nightmare of fee-to-pay and browser garbage.

I mistrust anyone who claims to be the "future" and representative of "progress", but this guy just seems full of it regardless of the nonsense labels he uses.

Free to Play is only good for MMOs, and I don't want the games industry to be full of MMOs, because they're not exactly my favorite genres.
And tablet games, why? Why would any gamer want all their games to be tablet games?

If anything all my favorite devs aren't people who try to "innovate" all the time. They're the people who use a similar formula to what they've always been using, because you know what? It works, if a system ain't broke don't ruin it by trying to "fix" it.

I wonder who the writer of the article is trying to convince, it sounds like he is trying to convince himself more than anyone else.

There's always going to be a healthy amount of suspicion of any type of article that say 'there are three types of people in the world, and the two that aren't me suck'

This also.

This seems more like Rumble Entertainment's mission statement then an actual article.


No, really, I finished the article and that exact sentence went through my mind.

The best part of this article will be in 3 years when Rumble is closing or merging because their innovation didn't keep them alive on their own. I've read great pieces from CEOs of companies like CD Project or Stardock. This article did nothing to inspire me or think "yeah! This guy gets it! I might buy something of theirs more readily than before."

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