The Biggest Problem Facing The Games Industry Today
The games industry never sleeps. As you read this, new deals are being done, new games are being pitched and all across the world the upper echelon of the business is deciding what comes next.
But while the indusry top brass looks forward to the future, there are prevelant problems that are hitting the industry hard in the here and now.
In an attempt to understand just what concerns the world’s biggest developers most, we spoke to many key figures over a course of months to find out the answer to the big question:
“What, in your mind, is the single greatest problem facing the games industry today, and if you had total power, how would you fix it?”
Here are the answers:
Community strategist at Treyarch
Currently known for Call of Duty: Black Ops
“Personally, as a community manager who lives in the media or social media world every day, I think the social culture of video games is moving in a more negative direction as technology and social media continues to grow.
Rather than growing with it, the trend seems to be devolving. More and more gamers seem to forget what this industry is all about. It’s a creative industry – the most creative form of entertainment in existence.
Too many developers who try new things are getting burned by “pundits” and angry entitled fans who look to be contrarian, sometimes simply for the sake of being contrarian.
The only thing this attitude aims to achieve is stunt that creativity and innovation even further, which is something that no rational gamer looking to be entertained would want to do.”
Game director at Naughty Dog
Currently known for Uncharted 3
“Oh wow! Total power (laughs). I think the biggest problem today is that we’re in a little bit of a rut.I think it’s hard to innovate and make money, which is the same in most industries. Right now the public is rewarding building franchises like we just talked about.
There’s nothing wrong with that, as we’ve certainly benefited from that idea. But you know that idea where you can just sit at a computer and make a game? That’s not really true anymore; it’s almost impossible now for a small team to make a triple-a game.
Obviously there are exceptions, but I think you’re seeing people being slotted into two camps. You’re seeing big developers, and smaller social developers, like the guys who are shooting for the moon.
There’s almost no in-between, and that kind of sucks. But I don’t know what you could do about it. if people are going to buy the games they feel is fun, then there is always going to be a tipping point, where people are playing a game just because everyone else is playing it.
I think that we’re very media in that we’re like other medium. We’re going through the same cycles and we’re now at the studio cycle where the big publishers control access to most of the stuff.
What’s amazing is the indie scene where people make games in their garages, or where one guy makes a million dollars, and gets huge. But you know It’s a tricky question because there are more and more kids coming into the industry straight from college, and all they’ve ever done is game design.
I think that’s a mistake. I think the most interesting game designers I know never went to school and studied game design. I think the best advice I’d ever give to somebody is to just be a student of what interests you. I mean obviously play games and study them, but there is a lot more to life.”
Lead designer, Vector Games
Currently known for Amy, Flashback
“If I knew it, I’d probably be a millionaire. Well, seriously I think the challenge for our industry is to find a way to renew itself in the coming years.
The blu-ray next gen games are now so expensive to develop that very few publishers dare to take significant risks with original gameplay. This situation doesn’t help the emergence of new IPs.
If you have the feeling of playing the same game year after year, it’s because there’s not much room left for games with a title that doesn’t end with a number.”
Senior producer, CD Projekt RED
Known for The Witcher 2
“The increasing gap between small indie titles and huge AAA large-scale projects. Either you’re a blockbuster or a passionate and lucky guy (when I think about how many apps hit the Apple store daily for example, I guess one should also be lucky as well!).
I think it’s not totally fair. I’d hate that gap to increase and swallow the “middle-segment” developers. There’s just so many games that rule but not enough people know this!”
Project director, Digital Extremes
Known for The Darkness II
“For me, even though we’re on the cusp of digital distribution, I think the challenge in the industry is that, we do deal with a pretty huge ‘black market’.
We have to deal with used games and rentals which, I totally understand why people would want to rent, or buy second hand, but at the same time I look at how much work we put into our games and it’s disheartening.
I mean, take the first Darkness. I’m not sure of the final numbers, but although millions of people played, they did not sell millions and millions of new copies.
I think, until we switch over to that digital age, I think the biggest challenge is getting people to buy a product for the fair cost that is proportionate to how much it costs to make.”
Mayor of Behemothtown at The Behemoth
Currently known for Battleblock Theatre, Castle Crashers
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of making sequel after sequel instead of coming up with wholly original content, especially when both your fans and marketing department are clamoring for “Super Army Mans 5”.
A question we often get is “Are we planning to make Castle Crashers 2?”, but we got that same question when we made Alien Hominid. We tell people that if we’d made an Alien Hominid 2 when our fans were asking for that, Castle Crashers may never have happened. It’s a slippery slope!
We think constantly coming up with new ideas and new IPs is important for the industry as a whole, to keep moving forward and not get bogged down in rehashing old ideas. We certainly hope to keep surprising people with every game we make!”
Co-founder at Sucker Punch
Currently known for inFamous 2
“What is the biggest challenge? I think the biggest challenge is making new IP, and that’s because it’s risky and expensive. So as a result, people don’t like doing risky, or expensive things.
I think that’s a big challenge because as production values go up – and I’m speaking specifically about home console games here – you’re seeing fewer and fewer titles, fewer original IP and you know, we’ve had good success in Sucker Punch’s history in introducing new IP. But it’s very challenging work, and I wish more people were doing it.
So if I could wave a magic wand and fix anything, I would wish that there were federally subsidised new IP ventures, and somehow there was a tax advantage for doing ‘new-ness’.
The notion of ‘new’ should be given a bigger reward than it already is, because then we’d have more new IP, and I think that’s one of the things that is getting harder and harder to do.”
Founder and CEO at Reverge Labs
Currently known for Skull Girls
“We’re in the online world now, and games on any platform need to be able to easily deliver new content and communicate across the internet in order to keep up with the highly connected experiences people have grown accustom to.
The wide range of capabilities and rules on all the different platforms for delivering games make it a challenge to create a truly modern online experience.
In an ideal world, all platforms would be more open technology and policy wise to enable the creation of more expansive and consistent online experiences, in order to expand our industry’s options.”
Designer, Telltale Games
Currently known for Back to the Future: The Game, Jurassic Park
“I’m actually more optimistic about our industry now than I’ve been in a very long time. Controller and platform innovation, the vibrant indie scene, and social gaming have massively livened things up in the last five years.
Not to mention downloadable episodic games. The biz is fun again! Our challenge is to keep up the momentum, break boundaries, and advance the art form in ways that connect with people and create joy, real joy. We’re working on it.”
CEO, Kung-Fu Factory
Currently known for Supremacy MMA
“There’s nothing that me, a simple small developer can fix – and personally I think the games industry is in a great spot at the moment. A single person can make a game, release it and find an audience – something we haven’t seen in a long time.
There’s a ton of new platforms (Facebook, iPhone, Kinect, Android) and there only seems to be more coming. So if you have an idea and good execution – there’s nothing stopping any of us. It’s a good time to be a gamer and a developer.”
Producer, Reloaded Productions
Currently known for APB: Reloaded
“It is very hard to create compelling interactive experiences. Too often we developers get lost in fancy explosions and good looking graphics, and forget that at the core we need to give users fantastic game mechanics first.
Pong, Asteroids, Pac Man, Space Invaders and Centipede are great games. Not the greatest graphics, but clearly killer gameplay. So especially in the MMO world, it’s incredibly hard to create that level of simple, engaging game activity, and doing so using a fresh angle.
For the most part we at GamersFirst have never really been afraid to try new categories of games. If you look at our lineup for 2011 we have APB Reloaded, a third-person shooter, Victory, a racing/role-playing hybrid game, Hailan Rising, our post-apocalyptic fantasy RPG and Taikodom, a space action shooter title.
If you look at some of our competitors all they are putting out are WoW clones. We want people to come play APB Reloaded, have a blast and walk away saying, “Holy hell, I don’t think I’ve played a game like that ever before.”
Senior game designer, Codemasters
Currently known for DIRT3, F1 2011
“The cost of making the games and the timescales involved mean that it is becoming more and more challenging to make good games that include the content that people want at a price they can afford.
I want to be able to make great games with scalable content that can then be sold directly to the consumer at a price that is more suitable and desirable to them.”
International brand manager, Techland
Currently known for Dead Island, Call of Juarez: The Cartel
“That’s like asking “what is the most important issue the World has to tackle right now.” The biggest challenges don’t necessarily need “fixing”, they just need to be addressed.
The industry is obviously still trying to adjust to the current state of the economy. It needs to find a balance between the safer investments which appear to be established franchises and giving new IPs a chance.
There are also huge changes on the horizon brought by the switch to digital distribution: they affect the issues of piracy, used game sales and retailers.
It’s an earthquake trying to sneak in through the back door and there’s surprisingly little discussion about the long-term consequences.”
Producer, Platinum Games
Currently known for Anarchy Reigns, Bayonetta
“I think the biggest issue is that there is a definite sense that we can’t challenge new things anymore. There has been a sudden rise in development costs, which has made it incredibly difficult for game makers to try their hand at new things.
In the short term, the “power to fix” this situation is via simple economic clout; however, I feel it isn’t healthy for the industry to become a rich man’s playground, where you can try whatever you like simply because you have money.
From an overall industry perspective, I think that the “power to fix” with the situation will actually become the ability to push a publisher’s business direction in the right direction towards the future.”
Producer, EA Sports
Currently known for Fight Night Champion, FIFA 12
“If I really knew 100% what was wrong and how to fix it, I’d be telling other people and doing something about it right now. I think the perspective is going to be markedly different depending on whether you are a consumer, a developer, an executive or a market analyst.
That doesn’t prevent me from having moments when I like to think I know everything and rant about how its so simple and everything would be amazing if ‘these people’ would just do ‘this’ and ‘those people’ would just do ‘that’.
That being said, I am just smart enough, barely, to know that I’ll only look like an idiot if I purported to have viable solutions in hand and they made it to print.”
Executive producer, Codemasters Action Studios
Currently known for Operation Flashpoint: Red River, Bodycount
“In my opinion, the biggest challenge is genre fatigue, and market fragmentation. Core gamers want the next shooter to have new mechanics and a fresh look and approach, and many are bored with the run and gun shooter experience.
We need to take more risks with games, instead of walking the beaten path. Otherwise we’ll continue to suffer market saturation instead of giving gamers new genres and ideas to engage themselves with.”
Founder, Frontier Developments
Elite, Kinectimals, Disneyland Adventures
“Money. In these straightened times, funding games is hard. I think we are seeing a great deal of innovation at the iPhone/Android/Windows 7 Phone end of the market by individuals in their back rooms, and within first party development.
But there are now only a few independent developers that can afford to take the risk to do something innovative in the console space.”
Creative director, People Can Fly
Currently known for Bulletstorm
“Nothing’s changed here; it’s still the price of admission. By that I mean you need only the most basic skills to be able to enjoy a movie or a book, but you need to be able to handle two analog sticks and a button at the same time to enjoy a game.
It’s like games require you to have a certain game-playing degree, a license to play if you will. As much as my mom loves beheading hordes of evil, I can’t just hand her the controller and have her enjoy it.
We know how to make casual games now, all these awesome gems like Angry Birds or Bejeweleds, and anyone can enjoy that. But it’s weird that most of the multi-million mega-blockbusters like GTA can only be enjoyed by people with “gaming license”.
So that’s something we need to figure out, and everyone’s trying – with the Move or Kinnect – but we’re not quite there yet.”
Game designer, Ubisoft Montreal
Currently known for Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
“There’s too many to count: piracy, growing costs, splintering markets, keeping up with technology, the economy… I’d have to say long development cycles is the worst though.
That’s why it’s good to make a couple of smaller titles as well. They might not make as much profit as a larger AAA title, but the risks are lower and there’s always the chance it could turn into something big.”