The future of the blockbuster $60 title?

Posted: 2010/11/30 in Indie Games

I’m a big fan of Bill Harris over at Dubious Quality who has been following the trend towards the big publishing houses making only AAA games, and the danger for them and for the industry in this strategy. I agree with his analysis but, building off of some of the points I made in my previous post about “The end of AAA “first-party” game development?”, I have something I want to add to it that’s relevant to Indie Games. They have the opportunity to step in and fill the gap that’s being left as the big publisher ditch their smaller, second-tier, and riskier titles. First what Bill said:

“Are you seeing a trend here? I am, and it’s disturbing. With almost everyone (EA, Take-Two, Ubisoft, etc.) following the Activision strategy of releasing fewer games, watching these franchises die off like honeybees is positively alarming.

Let’s take a look in the DQ wayback machine, from March 30 of this year:
With fewer games from everyone, it becomes a marketing arms race. Much more is riding on each game, and even one failure is a disaster. Remember, too, that these games have to sell over a million units to even have a chance to break even.

In the “old” days, maybe a “AAA” flop would be recouped by a lower budget game that exceeded expectations, a game that could grow into a top tier franchise. With the big publishers, though, that second tier is essentially gone now. There’s no fallback, no surprise hit.

For us, it means that these companies are going to flog existing franchises until their coats are foaming and they break down. Then they’ll be shot. But there will be nothing to replace them, because there were no lower-tier franchises being groomed to eventually take their place.”

What’s the take-away from all this? As budgets get bigger, and as the second-tier titles get squeezed out of the retail marketplace, there’s an opportunity for Indie Games to fit into the niche where the second-tier titles were. Games like MX vs. ATV, or Kingdom Under fire: games that didn’t have huge marketing pushes behind them, but commanded decently-sized fanbases anyway. There will always be people who want more in their annual gaming calendar than Call of Duty and Madden, virtually everyone needs more variety than can possibly be offered by the current hit-driven blockbuster mentality of the major publishers.

And if the music game genre is abandoned by Activision and EA, as neither Rock Band nor Guitar Hero seem to be guaranteed smash hit franchises anymore (despite solid quality, at least for Rock Band still), then that too will present a strong new opportunity for Indie Games developers in the future.

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