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Murray: It's "really risky not to innovate" on consoles now

As current gen winds down, Hello Danger boss insists risk and experimentation helps indies shine on the market

Hello Games' Sean Murray believes that risk-averse publishers and their penchant for safe-bet sequels at the end of a console cycle means fertile ground for indie developers willing to try something different.

Speaking to GamesIndustry.biz at the Eurogamer Expo, Murray said that publishers who aren't willing to endure a little risk for the reward of innovation are short-sighted, calling a lack of innovation "dangerous".

"The thing that I see is that we're approaching, strange though this sounds, the end of this console cycle. I think in the next three years we're going to see the end of this console cycle and the beginning of a new one. I think whenever that happens the last few years are filled with a lot of licenses, sequel etc," Murray stated.

"I'm really excited that there are these new ways to create games, like digital download, XBLA, PSN. A lot of the stuff on Steam is way more interesting to me than a raft of new sequels at next year's E3 for example. I'm a lot more excited for that stuff, and I think a lot of people are."

"You see the way that Minecraft, for instance, is on fire at the moment, you know? People want innovation, it's just that at this stage, publishers don't want risk - and that's what they're saying. I think that's really short sighted, to me, but then I'm a small developer. I think it would be really risky not to innovate at the moment. "

Ubisoft European MD Alain Corre summed up the attitude among AAA publishers last month when he told GamesIndustry.biz that Ubisoft feels safer investing big budgets in one solid franchise rather than spreading money on varied, smaller titles - precisely the gap that Hello Games and its contemporaries are filling.

"The games that are not triple-A are not profitable anymore," said Corre. "When you have a triple-A blockbuster it costs more money to develop, but at the end of the day there's also the chance of a good return on it because there's a concentration at the top of the charts.

"To a certain extent it becomes less risky to invest more in a single game or franchise than spreading your investment between three or four games. Because if those three or four games are not at the right quality level, you are sure to lose money," he added.

This has, however, left plenty of opportunities for smaller developers to fulfil the needs of gamers craving innovation and new archetypes. Hello Games own Joe Danger, a PSN exclusive made by a four-man team, broke even on its development costs on the very first day on sale.

Read the full interview with Sean to hear his thoughts on self-publishing, the death of boxed retail and Hello Games' plans for expansion.

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Latest comments (12)

Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany6 years ago
Really wish everyone in the industry would agree with Murray's words. That way we would have less "Rock Band" clones, generic party games and WWII/Modern combat FPS's.
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Unfortunately, PSN&XBLA for download games is still a very small market and the growth don't even seem to match the growth rate of the console installed base! As a developer of three original IP games ("Dead Nation" PSN coming soon, "Outland" PSN&XBLA in 2011 and one unannounced), one of the main problem seems to be consumer awareness, in other words, marketing and PR. Very few gamers are really aware of these downloadable games and platform owners or publishers don't seem to do that good a job to promote the service and games.

There are only a handful of games that have sold over one million on PSN and XBLA and we are talking about a combined installed base of around 80 million consoles. It feels like it currently isn't in Sony's or Microsoft's interest to promote download platforms and I kind of understand that, because only a tiny fraction of their business comes from digital sales and services. If only those giants would devote a fraction of their Move&Kinect marketing budgets to promote downloadable games and improve the usability of the services, it would make a huge difference.
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Mario Rodriguez Gonzalez Game Evaluation Analyst, Electronic Arts6 years ago
I wish people in Corre's positions would stop viewing AAA games as the be all, end all revenue makers. Most of these games draw on a series of points and ideas that work because someone, at some point in time, decided to something crazy and crank the established patrons up another notch. Kill that off, and you'll eventually find people will grow off AAA titles and go elsewhere for their kicks.

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Michael Hall Studying Computer Games Design (Story Development), University of East London6 years ago
Don't get me wrong I love innovation and I do agree with Murray that more needs to be done especially at the end of a console cycle, they should be rolling out the ideas. But unlike little developers like Murray, but games have huge budget cost and aren't able to break even on costs the first day.

As you will have noticed with game like the onces were increasingly seeing on social sites such as Facebook, there are a lot of unique ideas that are being turned a blind eye to, but as their small indie developers a flop, doesn't cost them as much as a AAA title.

Take Okami for instance, that game was completely original, graphically outstanding, yet it didn't do as well as it should have, the sales were no where near where it should have been. If your a big AAA developer you cant afford to keep a huge team of people on when your new ideas are not bringing in the same amount of profit as a sequel would.

Though this doesn't mean that big companies like Activision-Blizzard aren't exempt their raking in enough money to be able to risk time and money on new ideas.
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Tom Keresztes Programmer 6 years ago
@Michael,

Budgets should be adjusted to match revenues.
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Filipe Duarte Pina Director, Nerd Monkeys6 years ago
I agree with Ilari. Regardless of inovation, PSN, Steam and XBLA games need promotion too and right now it is up to the Developers to do it.
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Christian West6 years ago
Oh. Does that mean we won't be seeing "Joe Danger 2: Dangeresque" any time soon? :(
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games6 years ago
Mario i agree with you, and that guy you mentioned is me :)
my colleagues here are pressing me hard to keep playing our favourite AAA titles.
(i have played them all, and a lot, but i often find myself searching all over the place for something small and fresh. those sweet niche\cult games with unique, strange even, gameplay elements)

I believe that you can make AAA quality games with smaller more flexible but experienced teams. Unless the idea behind a AAA game is volume and not quality. For me, AAA is quality.

Not every game is worth $50-60 only because it cost so much to be made.
And not every game needs so much to be made just because it is made by a huge studio\publisher. I still remember ET:Wolfenstein. Great game. And free! I bet it didn't cost that much to make either.

It is not the developers that need to make different games, developers are more than willing to. However it is the publishers that expect them to make something like that other thing that sold big and is hot. Hence, clones. If a developer offers a fresh high cost IP and it fails, then the whole idea is easily abandoned.

New IPs can come out of smaller in scope but high quality games on PSN XBL, iphone, windows7 phone, 3DS whatever capable of pulling a modern game and then scaled up if the idea proves to be successful. Similar to how portal came to be. Valve is showing the way.

Full fledged AAA titles must be there. Blockbusters drive our industry, but smaller high quality titles sustain it. Why go for a game with 120 different characters and 40 different levels when experimenting on a new IP?

Ilari is right too.
I think Agility, Modesty and Method are the key. Easier to be accomplished when you are a small studio but harder to reach the surface and be heard if you don't have a large publisher supporting you :) Times are changing lets wait and see!

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Yiannis Koumoutzelis on 13th October 2010 4:25pm

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James Ingrams Writer 6 years ago
End of a cycle 3 years away for 6 year old 360 and PS3? Will nobody admit we are in unknown territory here, and that no one knows what the hell will happen in the next 3 years! 85% of AAA titles do NOT make money. I doubt that is the case for indie games! Then we have GOG.com and Steam, along with DOSBox, making retro PC gaming the fastest growing 'genre', and sales on X-Live and Sony Arcade are ever rising.

This tells me gamers are already walking away from bland, shallow, done-to-death AAA games/franchises, and what they will do in the next 3 is likely to be moving further away from AAA gaming unless some major changes happen in our industry and media.
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Jelle Schut Managing Director, Only Network6 years ago
It's funny how people talk and think about triple AAA vs. indie and the size of a budget. It almost seems like there people feel only one can exist. For me, I love a lot of the big budget triple AAA games and I can see a publisher like Ubi putting their eggs in that basket. But on the other hand I play a lot of the smaller games as well. They can coexist, especially as platforms like XBLA/PSN get bigger and bigger.

As far as getting PR for these games I think indies should look at themselves a lot more. We hardly get approached by indie devs for upcoming XBLA/PSN/WiiWare/PC download titles. But we are more than happy to cover those.
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Phil Weeks CTO/Owner, Wreck Center Games LLC6 years ago
In regards to PR and Marketing...it's naive to think that Sony or Microsoft should do the marketing/pr for your game if you want to own the IP and receive the majority of revenue. The Indie model ala Hello Games is entirely different than the work for hire model used by publishers. If you google for Sean Murray and/or Hello Games, you'll find many interviews with them where they describe how they self marketed. You can't have your cake if someone else is baking it.
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Tony Johns6 years ago
Funny that you mention that publishers lack innovation.

I have been one of the few gamers downloading a few innovative and interesting titles for myself both on PC and on the consoles.

And every once in a while, I also get games from the Japanese Indie scene. I also look at PSP games from Japan and find there is a whole lot of other games that are different and individual compared to the bigger AAA titles.

Also with most casual gamers who only started this generation because of the DS and Wii, I don't think they ever realized that you could connect your console to the internet and have access to downloadable games they can get for a (sort of) cheep price depending on what you like.

Allot of the retro games from the past are also on the downloadable systems too wich adds to the interest of downloadable games.
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