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Looks Like 2020, Feels Like 1980
by Benjamin Quintero on 01/29/13 11:15:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


[reprinted from my blog]

I recently watched a Kickstarter video by Chris Taylor, a gut wrenching video of a man who has bet the farm on one golden egg.  This video is very much a reality for a significant portion of the industry.  I have certainly felt this kind of failure in my own life and yes it feels as bad as it looks.  In full disclosure, I did choose to support this campaign.  Was it the game or the video?  I can't really say, but I know that GPG, like so many other studios, is one I hope survives the crash.  This video is also the inspiration for much of what I am about to say...


I am feeling somewhat melancholy these days.  Companies are having a massive shift right now, one that I'm not sure will result in a stronger industry in the end.  Publisher-owned companies are being picked apart, independent development studios are on the verge of closure, and major licensing parties like Disney are starting to retract on their promise to deliver first-party content. 

Even the iOS platform, the Shangri La of indie development, seems to be losing steam as developers complain about the saturated markets and lack of revenue potential.

The future may paint a picture with flying cars and brain jacks but right now it's starting to feel a whole lot like 1980 all over again.  The Wii U seems to have landed fairly soft and the shelves look to be in full supply.  The current generation of consoles are still selling but the adoption rate of games are declining. 

More people are using their Xbox and PS3 as glorified Netflix boxes than anything else these days.  Gaming media is hungry for anything that will excite them but the biggest news in months has mostly been a handful of $100 Android consoles that aren't likely to reshape the face of video games.  Either companies are holding secrets close to their chest or they are as clueless as we think they are about what to do next.

The world may finally be on the upswing of this whole economic collapse, but that might be exactly what turns the knife for games.  As the economy improves and people go back to work, they just don't have time that they did when they were sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.

It is entirely possible that many of the people we market to just don't exist anymore.  It is entirely possible that the market space has gotten smaller, not bigger.  Or maybe; just maybe, people aren't excited about games and their buying habits have shifted to widgets and gizmos that let their brains climax even faster than games can provide.

If people are shifting away from Facebook in favor of even shorter bursts of entertainment like Snapchat then what makes you think they are will to sit through the loading screen of your $1 App?  Perhaps what we need is to shift the way we think or take a step back and reconsider who the fans of games are and how we can appeal to them again. 

The "safe" bet for the future of video games is to continue on the path of even higher production cycles, resulting in even shorter but more impactful experiences.  I have no doubt that EA, Activision, and Ubisoft will continue the tradition but I wonder if the safe bet is the right one to make.  THQ was a mid-tier publishing house in a AAA world and it crushed them. 

Indie developers are the grunge-bands of the gaming industry, but unfortunately only like 2 bands ever broke out of bar scene and into the main stage.  For a myriad of restrictive reasons, it is entirely possible that the same may happen here as well.

We may not want to admit it but we are experiencing a crash.  And many of us will cite that the future is online and that NPD is a lie but real companies with real people are shutting down at an alarming rate. 

They are shutting down more frequently than you hear about new companies actually producing something unique and special and worth talking about.  And that is the real source of my concerns...  Does an industry lose its passion when it becomes so large, or is it just too noisy to focus on what excites us as gamers anymore?

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Kale Menges
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You're not crazy. I think we're definitely seeing some some symptoms of a crash. It scares me. As far as I'm concerned, I don't think there are ANY safe bets right now. There's no such thing as "too big to fail". The industry is either going to have to seriously reform or completely implode. It's unavoidable either way.

james sadler
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I've been seeing this decline happening for awhile too and it also reminds me of the industry in the 80's. Too many platforms with too much content makes the consumer wary and also just spreads the available consumer dollar too thin across the industry. Consoles have been re-envisioning their role for at least 2 generations already into more media center friendly devices and the next gen will only show that more. I doubt we will see the kind of crash that happened in the 80's though mostly because of the added value stuff the new consoles have. We will see more and more studio closures as the industry gets to the bottom of the economic barrel, but it will recover. The big publishers will start to put out good content which brings in money then mid tier developers will be able to show there is a hope for returns and they'll release stuff, etc. etc. etc. It is an ebb and flow industry.

Many people have been complaining about the app store almost since it came about. Many screamed about how amazing it was to have an open platform (though its only semi open) but others saw the dangers in it. In a business sense the app store has done far more damage to the industry than good. People fought so hard to get their game/app noticed and played that they didn't think about the consequences it would have; the inevitable race to free. Consumers just saw this as getting a steal on a product, and as such they've come to expect it. It was a good experiment, but its time to go back to at least mildly curated platforms. We aren't doomed, but it is going to really suck for awhile.

James Hofmann
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The other day I sat down and played a board game for the first time in a long while(Formula D), and it struck me how the experience was both very involving and minimal - some plastic pieces and cardboard with a few aesthetic nods to the theme. Extremely efficient design. In videogaming we've built up an edifice of rationalizations for budget that in turn serves to justify the industry's scale - the team sizes and specializations, publicly traded companies, expensive marketing campaigns, and finance-driven decision-making. It's become a very different business from the traditional roots, whether you're looking at the AAA or casual segments.

Simultaneously, the barriers to entry been coming down rapidly over the past decade. There's been a gradual accumulation and stabilization of consumer computing standards and cross-platform technologies; the technology for the "basic needs" of games has become mostly commoditized, and prefab asset collections are only going to get bigger. All that, in addition to the digital download revolution. Videogame creation as a hobby is a very realistic aspiration nowadays, and a major part of the industry's reformation seems to revolve around these low barriers. The recent history in other fields is very inspirational in that sense - print publishing, music, etc. have many stories to share. It's definitely not an easy market, but the history elsewhere indicates that creators are usually more empowered by the changes, if not particularly richer.

Maybe the surest bets will come from a combination of tool and service providers who can address the demographic trends or pioneer new ones, and creators who can tap into the traditions again and go "back to basics" on modest budgets - say, $100k to $3m, rather than $10m+.

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james sadler
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Reminds me of things I usually tell a lot of indies or people wanting to get into the industry. So many want to make games for a living but don't understand the business end of things. In the end people want to be paid for the work that they do and the market the way it is doesn't allow for each individual to do that. We all want to make the games that we want but the reality is that ultimately we want people to buy/play that game. As such there should generally be some research done to the market that the game is targeting to see the likelihood of said game selling. I'm not talking about cloning games or anything like that, but seeing what is out there and filling gaps that are there. It saddens me to see and hear about developers that spend their saving and years of their lives on a game that fails. Usually that could have been avoided by looking around and seeing what was out there. One of the reasons I laughed when BioWare announced The Old Republic and Sqaure-Enix with FFXIVas as paid MMOs. Paid MMOs have been dwindling for years, but they each though that they could coax people away from WoW and f2p MMOs.

Michael Joseph
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Over-saturation is like the pretty girl you ask to dance who is "waiting for someone." But when Don Juan reincarnate asks her she's suddenly available.

Make a more appealing product and over-saturation doesn't really matter.

This is something we hear all the time but for some reason there is still an arrogance out there and some developers feel if they have the technical skills, work hard on a product and release it, they're entitled to make money off it. It's one step up from the underpants gnome mentality to making money.

tony oakden
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Hey Michael,

Are you saying my gnomes need underpants before they can start making money?

Also saying that over-saturation doesn't matter if you have an appealing product is very simplistic. In fact many appealing products fail in the IOS/Android space because they are lost in the noise. Marketing games on those channels is incredibly expensive and way out of the reach of most small indies

Michael Joseph
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Well pantless gnomes tend to scare people away. Underpantless gnomes is just asking for the police to show up!

Appealing is obviously subjective, but I guess I'm coming from the simplistic old fashioned thinking that if you build something that is original, fun, high quality, polished or in other words well above average, then they will come.

I just don't think the overwhelming apps that are lost in the noise as you say, meet that criteria. They're kinda just... more noise. As is often said, 90% of everything is...

james sadler
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You have to think about the consumers behavior as well as the amount of content. On a platform like the app store where there are hundreds of new apps added a day it is unrealistic for the majority of the consumers of that platform to sift through all of that content to find something of value. As such they tend to listen to media outlets or friends for what is good. So yes a really well done app or game can rise above the noise, but that noise theoretically eats more than it spits out. So lets say a great developer creates a game that gets buried in the store. This developer loses interest in development and turns to another industry to use their talents. The more that happens the fewer "good" games/apps come up. Basic supply and demand.

Maurício Gomes
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I have a iOS and Android game company.

I never had a bad review, most of my critic reviews are 4/5 ot 5/5, and my average rating in the stores summed is 4.8

Yet right now I am only throwing cash at a black hole, and getting only some hawking radiation back, not even my 100% free (the apps were made to show test some stuff in the market, it is not lite, has zero ads, zero IAP...) content is getting traction, specially on iOS. (on Android where the search system is better, and where a "new" section still exists, we have some downloads, on iOS downloads tanked on iOS6 update + new iTunes).

Alexander Brandon
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I'm not sure it's a full fledged crash but the market self corrects or rather goes into a downswing when it's too flooded, as it is right now. However I've been thinking "something's gotta give" for a good 5 years :)

Aaron Fowler
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First let me say I realize that most of the concentration of these discussions is focused on the Mobile platforms. That market segment for games may very well may be shifting away from mobile platforms.

But you say that you got your inspiration for this discussion after watching Chris Taylor's KickStarter campaign.

So let's talk about Chris Taylor's KickStarter campaign. I couldn't find anything unique or something that really grabbed me and said hey, we're trying to make something that's never been done before. Even though he actually said that during his video, but he never really explained what exactly that something "different" was. It was all vague information.

It wasn't until the Update video #4 that he sat down with his audience and went into a little more detail about what that something new was. That's when my interest really picked up in the project. In my opinion he should have brought this information more to the front instead of completely drowning it with vague terms in the beginning. I realize that you almost have to start out vague, but I think clarity should have come in much sooner than it did.

"It is entirely possible that the market space has gotten smaller, not bigger. Or maybe; just maybe, people aren't excited about games and their buying habits have shifted to widgets and gizmos that let their brains climax even faster than games can provide."

I think people are really excited about games still.

The Games category of KickStarter had the most pledged in 2012 with $83,144,565 pledged. It also had the most pledges at 1,378,143. I realize that encompasses all games and not just video games but it's still substantial figures when compared to the other categories.

Benjamin Quintero
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Aaron, I agree that his pitch video was not the strongest but the content was there to read. I think his design of blending ARPG and RTS is pretty cool, and the idea of looting technology could be a nice game-changer for the MOBA-ish genre.

On the other hand, I've seen some pretty terrible and boring video pitches that shoot past their goal on reputation alone. I think maybe Chris might have felt a little betrayed perhaps, though I can't speak for him. Supreme Commander and Dungeon Siege have obviously sold more than 7k copies, so where are the fans? Why aren't they supporting this on his reputation alone? I think maybe that is the question that has yet to be answered.

How did Project Eternity or Star Citizen scream past their goals on just a pretty screenshot and a man with a plan? It's a strange world, ya know?

Aaron Fowler
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Feel free to disagree, but I still think even the content that was available to read was extremely vague. Really the only thing that was explained to me was it's an ARPG with some mixed elements of Real Time Strategy thrown in. How exactly these 2 genres are planned to blend together was the part that I felt was really vague in the pitch video and the description.

Based upon the pitch video and description, at first I thought it was just another ARPG.

What the game is really about is actually explained better in the Update Video #4. But you really don't want potential backers to have to go through the trouble of finding what the game is really about, when those potential backers already think it is something else.

I realize several KickStarter campaigns have greatly succeeded with reputation alone. But at the same time, there have been others still, who have tried to rely heavily on their reputation to be successful on KickStarter only to find they didn't have the support or backing they were hoping for. Chris wasn't the first.

I do feel badly for both Chris and his team and can't even imagine the disappointment they must be going through.

I'm going to back the project and I really do hope it reaches its goal!

Bart Stewart
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All industries are constantly rocked by multiple changing waves. There's not much demand any more for Linotype machines or horse-buggies.

Some of the waves buffeting the game industry right now are:

* More of the general public play games now. The kinds of games that get made are already changing to adapt to the kinds of people who've started playing.

* The economy is improving but still bad, suppressing general sales.

* More new platforms all the time. Success is not guaranteed (PS Vita), but opportunity nearly is.

* There will still be many, many PCs in the foreseeable future. It remains a viable target market.

* The older non-gaming generations are slowly being replaced by younger people who've gamed all their lives.

I don't know which of these is most influential over the next 2-5 years. I'd guess that last one, and would consider making games that parents could feel OK buying for their kids (which does not imply looking or playing like a Teletubbies episode).