AAA Developers Are Causing a Market Crash. Who Will be Left Standing?


News today came across my desk about Resident Evil 6, and how it’s considered a financial failure at Capcom, despite moving 4.8 million units across two platforms (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360). Now, I, like many others, didn’t enjoy the game because it seemed to only further bastardize a franchise that helped define my childhood—but it wasn’t like it was completely terrible, either. Survival Horror was once a proud genre, and while other studios are making fair attempts to make it come back full circle (I’m looking at you, Ubisoft, with ZombiU), it’s clear this isn’t some isolated incident.

Top tier publishers, developers, and marketing teams are all pushing the industry in a direction that is leading to its demise. Forget Atari finally closing up shop and THQ biting the dust. Let’s forget about poorly-made games like Medal of Honor: Warfighter, which lead to the closing of its developer. The reality is that the top developers and publishers at the moment are trying hard to take their products and make them have mass appeal. This, however, is why indie  developers are starting to rise, because they still target a genre and create games specifically for the audience that enjoys it. For the ones with broader appeal, it’s a new franchise, rather than reinventing an old one into something it’s never been.

Dark Souls II will likely be a fantastic game, but we are kidding ourselves if fans of the first game aren’t a bit shaken by the fact the developers mentioned the second entry would be more accessible. This isn’t to suggest accessibility is always a bad thing. World of Warcraft was much more accessible then the rest of the Warcraft Real Time Strategy game series. Mario has been making himself more accessible for decades now with expansions in Mario Kart games, sports, and of course the reinvention of the New Super Mario Bros. series. All of this is forgiven with the more serious Mario gaming crowd because Nintendo still gives us experiences like Super Mario Galaxy.

Of course, in all of this, Nintendo is the exception to the rule. This is why they will prevail when the dust settles. Do you see a day in the future where Nintendo releases a top notch game for $60 and then restricts part of its content out the gate with micro-transactions, like Dead Space is beginning to do? What about game worlds where you can’t access an already-developed part of the map because you need to purchase the DLC? Did I pay $60 to see a message “you must buy the DLC”? Of course not, and Nintendo will likely never craft a game to work that way.

This isn’t saying micro-transactions are the bane of gaming’s existence. It works, but it works in games that are either already free, like free-to-play MMOs, or are very cheap, like many iOS games. The reason it works is because you are getting something for free as it is and if you want more, you obviously have to pay. That’s acceptable. So is DLC that actually expands the playability and replayability of a game instead of acting as “needed to complete the world”. DLC should really just be like expansions packs – Yes it adds content but it doesn’t make the original experience feel incomplete.

No one seems to grasp this properly. Many gamers feel Nintendo is “behind the times”, and while that’s true in some regards, that has afforded them the ability to see the long term effects of some of the current trends. This is why they approach DLC in a much more appropriate manner and why they don’t like the free-to-play model. Still, enough about singing Nintendo praise—any level headed person can see how Nintendo has set themselves up to buck the trends and remain relevant and profitable.

Instead, this is more an issue with what the rest of the industry is doing, including Microsoft and Sony. I am sure the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 are going to be fantastic devices with lots of bells and whistles able to produce even more realistic graphical styles. In fact, I will proudly own both systems and support any game for them that is actually worth the value. The problem is the focus these two companies keep instilling in the whole industry: That pretty visuals are more important than fantastic gameplay.

The focus on visuals isn’t because that’s what developers want to do—it’s the most expensive part of game development. Rather, it’s because that’s what the console makers and the marketers are pushing them to do. If developers spend more on visuals, letting other aspects of the game suffer is okay, because it will sell by virtue of appearance. Sure, Warfighter proved that wrong—it does look visually fantastic—but it will be a constant and continuing trend.

Not everyone feels that way naturally. Borderlands has a great visual style that bucks the trend, as did the mildly successful launch of Dishonored last year. Valve also always seems to nail it with their games. This trend isn’t prevalent in all companies, but it’s definitely found in many of the most well known.

While this may cause gaming as we know it to go downward, mostly after consumers stop buying into the garbage we are spoon fed, it doesn’t mean this crash is the end of the industry. Rather, it may be the rise of the indie developers taking center stage. If so, many of these developers will break away from the indie reputation and become full-on third party studios themselves. As Sony and Microsoft face several financial hurdles, the biggest downfall of console gaming as we know it is not the cloud. Rather, it’s the sustainability of profits for companies who provide the hardware. Unfortunately, Sony and Microsoft haven’t been able to do that.

That, of course, brings the question full circle back to Nintendo’s corner, but new introductions such as the Steam Box could prove fierce opponents. Maybe you don’t agree with any of these premises and feel the industry is heading for another golden age. However, I think the facts suggest otherwise. Between the various trends to make all games accessible even if they already were to the crowd initially aimed at, combined with the tight focus on visual fidelity over gameplay on new systems that will cost even more to make games for, the fact is the trends right now do not look good for the current industries health. What major studio has to go down before this trending stops?

Our Verdict


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