Monthly Archives: March 2013

The State of Gaming

For many years, I despaired, for videogames had taken a route that was no longer of any interest to me. Following the decline of isometric games, wildly expensive sandbox games, first-person-shooters and MMORPGs became the norm. Almost excessively so. And those of us who came of age during the RPG renaissance of the mid 90’s weeped, for there was little room for our particular palette.

There has been some discussion in the last year or so, on various gaming sites, discussing how games have changed in the last decade – the unbelievable budgets, name-brand focused approaches, the importance of sequels, the necessity for graphical improvements…the list goes on.

That all seems to be changing now. The games that I grew up loving, like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, System Shock 2, Anachronox seem to be slowly returning to the market, but in highly unorthodox ways. Kickstarter. It’s making it easier now for game developers to take stock of the situation and ask: “Are $100 million dollar budgets what we really need? Isn’t that excessive?” For many, myself included, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the article posted on TheWertzone, about the contemporary nature of the gaming world. I’ve a few friends who work in the industry, and know – through them – that it is a difficult one. Especially in Australia. It’s a difficult industry in which to be involved, when living here. Fortunately, there are tablet games and smaller, smart-phone games, that are keeping people employed. However, the big studios, one after another, have over the last decade, faced increasing financial difficulty, and it’s unsurprisingly related to the spiraling budgets and excessively long development times of computer/console games.

As Adam Whitehead points out in his article:

How times have changed. Today, it takes teams of several dozen people anything from two to six years to make a game, with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars. Dozens of game development studios have closed over the course of the last generation of gaming (which began in 2005 with the release of the X-Box 360), in many cases despite selling millions of copies of games. It’s no longer enough to be successful. Now you have to produce a fast-selling megahit from day one, otherwise your company might go bust.

When budgets are massive, and one’s employment hinges on whether or not a game is successful, it’s hard not to stress, and lose one’s joi de vivre. Many studios seem to have forgotten that making more modestly-budgeted games means that they don’t *have* to sell as many copies to make a profit, and there’s less risk involved. Of course, what might get sacrificed is the quality of graphics. But videogames were never about that to begin with. Rather, they were about the gameplay, and the story. Some of my favourite games were immersive not because the characters in the game were lifelike, but because the storylike sucked me in. Anachronox, Planescape, System Shock, Deus Ex, all these game featured less-than-amazing graphics. But what they lacked in that department they more than made up for by having incredible writing, memorable characters, interesting storylines, and some wickedly excellent music.

They were immersive.

With the rise of Kickstarter, the opportunity to return to that style of gaming is returning. The spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment (Torment: Tides of Numenera) is now officially in development, and they’re asking for all of $900,000 (a paltry sum when compared to the budget for the Call of Duty games). The spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate – Project Eternity – is now also in active development. Like Numenera, the developers have asked for a relatively small sum of $1.1 million dollars. To date, they’ve passed the $2 million dollar mark in funding.

It appears to be a good time for gaming. Alternative revenue sources have appeared, which might, at the very least, lead to a bit more stability for those involved in the development of these games. And it might just very well lead to an industry-wide reassessment of how games are made, how much they should cost, and how the current publishing system could be restructured in order to facilitate the transition to a more economically sensible method of developing (and marketing) videogame content.

 

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