Now, I don't know how many people read this blog, and of those people who do, I don't know how many of you also listen to the Weknowgames.com podcast, but in episode 11 of WKG, Brandon, Michael and I had a serious discussion about the future of the gaming industry, and, perhaps more importantly, the rise of indie gaming in a game market that seems to be declining for major developers.
Back in 1983, well before I was born, the video game industry experienced a major crash. Over saturation of the market with low quality, hastily released games decreased consumer confidence in game manufacturers. One of the most well known examples of this was the game to go along with the movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. In this case, problems negotiating the rights to make the game, as well as a strict deadline to have the game ready by the upcoming holiday season, led to what is considered one of the worst video games of all time. Sales were so poor that millions of copies were reported to be disposed in a New Mexico landfill. (Only rumors up until April of 2014, when almost a million copies were actually confirmed to be buried in Almogordo, NM following an excavation.) The E.T incident was also parodied in the comedy cartoon Code Monkeys,a show presented as an old style video game. (It's very funny and I quite enjoy it, although it is by no means for children.)
The reason I bring this up is that we seem to be back on this slippery slope with today's market of games. Big name developers continually pour all the money they have (and then some) into these huge games, with no indication hat they will make their money back. One good example is the release of Aliens: Colonial Marines. This game was very high budget, very over-hyped, and was a terrible game. Okay, that was unfair of me. It wasn't terrible per-se, but it certainly didn’t live up to its hype and the developers could have done a lot more with their massive budget. With the upcoming blockbuster style release of Destiny by original developers of the Halo series, Bungie, I'm very nervous that, like Aliens, Destiny will fall far short of expectations, possibly killing Bungie as a company. A lot of developers nowadays are relying on big, Hollywood blockbuster games to keep their companies afloat, and if those titles fall short, they’re company killers. Even some companies, who have brilliant Ideas are signing their ideas over to a bigger company, like Activision or Square Enix, who take over the project completely and what gets released is a sub-par game, with the original developer's name on it. A recent example is the release of Murdered: Soul Suspect. The premise of the game seemed good. You play as a recently murdered detective, investigating your own murder from the afterlife and bringing clues into the light for the living investigators to see. The developers, Airtight games, put publishing the game into the hands of Square Enix, who made so many changes, it was barely the same game that Airtight had in premise. Airtight Studios has since closed for business, following the game's abysmal release. This is becoming a huge problem for all developers as consumers again lose confidence in the market. I can quote host of WeKnowGames, Brandon as saying that it's possible that if one more big developer like Bungie or Activision goes down, we're going to see another big video game crash.
But there is yet hope. While the big name market continues to decline, we have seen a big rise in sales for indie games, made by smaller companies for a fraction of the development costs. As a matter of fact, one of the biggest names in Indie development, Mojang studios, brags that they have more awards than staff. Seeing as how Minecraft continues to be one of the biggest selling games for the third straight year, this is hardly surprising. And as I've said before, Steam continues to be an excellent place to get indie games and support these small developers cheaply. Brandon, Michael and I have all said that our Steam Libraries are at least 80% indie games, whether they're mostly rogue-likes, (see last blog entry) or city building games that aren’t the 2013 release of SimCity (I'm still mad at you, EA) The indie game market is still alive and well, and if the the big name industry does in fact go down for a while, I'm confident these smaller developers will keep us in good games until the big name companies can recover.