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?