A reader blames the currently barren release schedules on publishers making too few games that are too big and too risk adverse.
I have been reading a lot lately about how bad 2020 has been for games and how frustrated people are that publishers seem intent on destroying the tradition of E3. With no major new game out for three months so far, I don’t think anyone can argue against the fact that the last few months have been one of the driest in recent video games history. But I think the root problem is simply that: that there aren’t enough games being made anymore.
All through the history of the industry, the number of people and the amount of money needed to create a game has been rising, as well as the average length of games. At the same time the number of games, not counting indie, has been falling, to the point where some major developers can end up only releasing one or two games a generation (or sometimes none at all, naming no names WB Games Montréal).
The most positive spin to put on this is that companies are investing in quality rather than quantity. But the real truth is that not only are they following the old logic that graphics sell (good graphics take a lot of time and money, of course) but that microtransactions are the most lucrative way to make money. And the best way to add microtransactions, and make them seem non-intrusive, is in a games as a service title like Overwatch or Destiny, that has far less frequent sequels than is normal.
So while it may be true that publishers are sabotaging E3 because they don’t want to pay for it, and don’t like competing with others, it’s also true that they simply don’t have enough to show off anymore. For years Activision has been getting by on just one or two major franchises but even EA’s portfolio has greatly decreased in recent years, to the point where they only have three or four big titles a year at most.
This has had the knock-on effect that nobody wants to risk releasing their one and only chance at success at a quiet period of the year. If you’ve put all your eggs into one basket, and spent eight years making a new game, would you release it in the middle of February? So that logic combined with an unfortunately high number of delays has left 2020 looking like a wasteland.
When you put it like that the dangers seem obvious: just one flop and suddenly your whole company is in serious trouble. But as seems to be the norm nobody has done the sensible thing and wound things back a bit, instead the situation has only got more and more extreme, until we end up with this year’s ridiculous state of affairs.
I actually think Microsoft might be the most aware of the problem though as they’ve done a lot of sensible things lately, including using their spending spree to pick up a bunch of medium-sized developers rather than just one or two superstar ones. In theory that allows them to put out more and smaller games more quickly.
They’re probably doing that because they lack first party games anyway but hopefully they’ll also realise it allows them to have lots of games coming out all year long, instead of just one or two at Christmas. They’ve also bought Ninja Theory, who famously only have a few dozen people working on their games and yet put out stuff of the quality of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Their method of making games needs to become the industry standard, not least because what they made was original, had great graphics, and wasn’t full of bugs.
Companies always complain that making new IP is a big risk, but that’s only true if it’s a mega budget blockbuster. But wouldn’t three or four smaller games, be a better bet? That way you get to experiment more, you increase the chance of one of them being a huge hit, and you don’t go three months without having a single new release…
By reader Alternate
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