Game talkThoughts from the LA Games Conference

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Apr 202013
 

This past week I was on a panel at the Digital Media Wire LA Games Conference.

The big thing that I wanted to get across to people attending is that many publishers are really caught in a bind. They aren’t willing to take on speculative projects, which is what smaller indies want and need. They ask for vertical slices or even profitable titles before they are willing to sink money into something. But developers are starting to conclude that if they can get a title to that point, they may as well just ship it and make money for themselves. Stuff like the recent financial postmortem of Dustforce shows how many folks are quite willing to trade higher income for creative freedom instead.

With over 50% of developers now describing themselves as independent, and showing a marked preference for platforms with as little publishing friction as possible, we’re going to see a lot of smaller games, a lot of “at bats” for a lots of developers. And odds are greater that some chunk of those will establish a new franchise successfully than a big publisher will. I tossed some guesstimates for team sizes for next gen console development at Chris Early from Ubisoft, and my guess of six studios and 1500 people for a single game was too low for even current gen Assassin’s Creed (he said it took eight studios (!) which is a stunning feat of coordination).

So 1500 people for three years and one game; or half the active industry — let’s say 15000 people — making a game a year in teams of five. That’s a lot of smaller bets. That’s where the next Valves, Rovios, Blizzards will be born. And as predicted, there will be a lot fewer big AAA titles out there than in the past, as their manpower falls and risk aversion continues to rise.

Here’s a few bits of coverage of the conference:

  • Examiner.com

The only real takeaway that can be gleaned is a new trend of a huge number of low risk forays into the market with the hope that eventually one gets noticed and is hugely successful. As you can imagine, with this type of market saturation, the chances of creating a new brand is increasingly difficult. A better opportunity does seem to lie in what is called mid-core games, which could best be described as similar to last gen console games.

  • Home Media Magazine

“People who get hooked on casual games are important too,” said Raph Koster, a game designer and author about the gaming industry. He said what the gaming industry needs to realize about people playing Angry Birds is that their platforms for playing are vastly different than in the past.

“It’s important to understand that we’ve been used to thinking of the big three consoles [as our platforms],” he said. [But] Google is a ‘console,’ Facebook is a console.’ They operate as consoles.”

 

 

  2 Responses to “Thoughts from the LA Games Conference”

  1. God I hope this happens. I’m skeptical because, the world is a terrible place full of disappointment, but I am measuring out a tiny portion of my remaining hope that this mythical event comes to pass.

  2. I think you’re right, but I also believe as tools become more powerful, accessible and affordable, the lines between a AAA game and an independent production are going to get increasingly blurry.

    We’re already seeing AAA titles with integrated toolsets for adding user-generated content like Cryptic’s Foundry, or channels for submitting externally-created content like SOE’s Player Studio (with profit-sharing, no less).

    I don’t think it’s much of a leap to release a tool kit, provide style sheets, sketches and design documents, and let the fan base build most of the game world from scratch. There’s no shortage of high-octane talent that for various reasons isn’t booked in the industry, and they’ll work for a future piece of the action… if you’ve got an easy-to-access platform and a good pitch.

    Metaplace was the right idea. It just had a few pieces of the puzzle missing.

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