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Perry: "Little teams making simple games" may not be sustainable

Gaikai, Naughty Dog, Remedy, Epic argue retail vs digital

Major developers have offered their thoughts on gaming's slow move towards digital distribution.

While it has been argued in many quarters that smaller, casual games for mobile and social networks are the industry's future, Gaikai boss David Perry claimed in an episode of GameTheory (published on GamesIndustry.biz today) that "I see a lot of little teams trying to make simple games, and I'm a little worried... that's not sustainable.

"People who making Kleenex games – ones that you can blow your nose on and throw away – that's not necessarily a safe place to be betting your money. If your game design is two pages, unless you've found the next Tetris, I would start to worry."

Conversely, Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin worried that medium-scale projects may be the most risky. "There are some traps in the industry now for developers – one is to grow into the size that makes middle games on console, bigger than $15 million, but smaller than $30 million.

"That middle gap seems to right now be a financial weak point, and a lot of games in that budget aren't big enough to compete with the Call of Dutys out there, but there's also not small enough to recoup with lower sales."

The general sentiment was that the industry has become much riskier in recent times – as evidenced by Activision's dramatic cull of multiple studios and franchises last week.

Claimed Epic president Mike Capps, "Chris Taylor and I have had successful independent game companies running for a decade or more. But neither of us would start one now – it's just so hard to get moving and really do something you're excited about. I don't know how to do it anymore.

"There's a reason FarmVille and Zynga's games are so successful – it's advertising dollars. Not because FarmVille's design is particularly brilliant or they put a massive investment into it – it's advertising dollars, followed by metrics, and watching what their users are doing. So we're all playing bigger gambles and that's getting scary – for a studio like Epic, I can't have a lot of failures at the $15 million level and continue."

Remedy CEO Matias Myllyrinne, meanwhile reasoned that "You're only as good as your last game... but now the stakes are even higher, and the failures are more visible." Remedy's last title, Alan Wake, was last year revealed to have sold less than 200,000 copies in its first month of release.

Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder co-creator Jon Hare, now working on mobile titles as Tower Studios, felt that the division between large and small companies was only growing. "Boxed product is only alive if you are EA or Ubisoft... everyone's been so marginalised from retail that there's nothing in it for us anymore.

"The other 90% of the industry has looked to online and now there's so many options that nobody wants to turn back."

For the full video, also including interviews with Revolution's Charles Cecil, Media Molecule's Alex Evans and Oddworld's Lorne Lanning, please click here.

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Latest comments (24)

Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 10 years ago
The answer is simple: project-based; free-agent based; stripped-down between projects.

Learn from the film industry. They've been doing this shit for decades now.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 15th February 2011 3:57pm

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Peter Warman CEO & Co Founder, Newzoo10 years ago
There always has been and always will be place for smaller casual games and rich experience high-end games. The way to monetize is the main factor that is changing. They are even often played by the same people, just at a different moment in time, place and social setting and to satisfy a different need. And do not forget, games without 3D and with an intuitive interface can still be quite complex to make. The games that are a result of the huge investments made in 2010 by VCs etc are still to come out. Where did the VCs put their money? Casual, Social, Mobile, MMO and innovative new platforms such as Raptr.com. The best games online are still to come.....
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Peter Warman CEO & Co Founder, Newzoo10 years ago
If you had insight into social games, consumer revenues you would not talk about social games as an ad-driven bizz model and being so risky. I know a handful of social games nobody has ever heard of who make millions through consumer revenues. Some are not even on Facebook..... yet.
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Christopher McCraken CEO/Production Director, Double Cluepon Software10 years ago
Summary of this: "Blah blah, Carrot and stick, Blah blah...ad revenue...blah blah, low design, cheap turnaround, blah blah"

Does anyone else see this as more saber rattling by proxy from larger entities...trying to dictate where trending in game design should go? I want to make money, but I also want to innovate. This whole notion of having to copy whats been done before seems to me like the antithesis of "design" and what the industry is about. I seriously don't give a snot what Zynga does. Little teams making simple games is what creates innovation in the first place. It's the engine of the game design world.
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I think in regards to small simple games they dont mean all smaller indie games, but more the simplistic dime a dozen type. Innovation is important and its absolutely feasible to survive and prosper making smaller, interesting and exciting games. Not every game needs to be comparable to a block buster movie.

I think its the article title that is causing the reaction, deliberately of course.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Joshua Scott-Slade on 15th February 2011 6:01pm

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Christian West10 years ago
+1 Joshua

I was about to write the same thing myself.
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John Kauderer Associate Creative Director, Atari10 years ago
I have the feeling companies like Zynga will be end up having a hard time sustaining growth or even maintaining the status quo over the next few years. I could see social gaming filtering way down due to too much saturation and not enough variety. a lot of the big players could close shop if they don't diversify.

At the same time small companies like Rovio and Notch (OK more of a dude than a company) would be able to survive because overhead is tiny and distribution cheap (especially on PC) thereby reducing the traditional need of a publisher. Take a look at Notch turning down Microsoft and Sony for example. What we could be seeing in the casual and social space is the dawn of the one hit wonders.

Regardless innovation and ease of play will still dominate. And sorry, I just don't see Dave Perry as the greatest source when it comes to success in the games space. Maybe if it was 1996...

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I dont think we can really predict where the games industry is going.
Nevertheless, there will always be some good new upstarts which will lead to innovation and good entertainment titles. Everything else feels a bit like sabre rattling to a certain extent (and making a name for themselves by stating so)
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Dave Chan Product Manager, 3D Interactive Inc.10 years ago
So, the only long term viable options are AAA games? God, I hope not.
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Simply put, we just need to keep on producing good Entertainment.
Quality does not need to be AAA in budget.
Good gameplay and innovation is not limited to AAA.

Sometimes, having a bigger budget just means more VFX and large explosions, zero plot, zero script, zero soul or charm.

Look at how the filming & discussion that went into brainstorming Raiders of the Lost ark, it was fantastic pure creativity.

[link url=http://mysterymanonfilm.blogspot.com/2009/03/raiders-story-conference.html
]http://mysterymanonfilm.blogspot.com/200...[/link]

Big ideas, a good yarn and an enjoyable experience is the best viable long term approach for our craft.



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I'm now a strong believer in the "extreme" concept - either extremely small, a couple of people working from home, virtually no cost/minimal risk - or extremely big, with massive amounts of money behind you - projects will fail, and there needs to be a cushion to stop 1-2 failures from sinking a studio.
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Jason Bertles CEO, Studio Devils10 years ago
Dead right, Michael. In regards to the cushioning you mentioned, if you bet the house on a sure winner too many times you're going to lose the house.
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Private Industry 10 years ago
I don`t think that Kleenex example is very valid example, thats an App not a game. Cut the rope or Angry Birds is a different story. At least the small groups who make a little simple game for the mobile phone are not going to be completely destroyed if it doesn`t sell great because the investment was small anyway. The thing is if they are successful what do they want to do next, do they want to keep doing that or try to get bigger and break out of that crowded market. Angry Birds as example is now also in the PSN and ThatGameCompany made little simple games at the beginning they got some recognition and could secure some funding for bigger more complex games. Not every company is going to follow the same way, as it is also down to personal preference there are people who like to just make those small games and don`t want to start make bigger games. I started at a company that makes budget titles and some people are still there and are fine with that while others moved on to make bigger games. And for the small games 2 pages of game design are fine and nobody has to make the next Tetris and make 100 million with an app what you need is that you make a good amount of profit to make the next step. Would I bet money on an app? No, it`s a crowded market in regards to sheer size and you can make a great game, but that does not mean people will find it. At the same time I would not bet money on the next Devil May Cry, it has it`s followers but competition like Bayonetta and Vanquish it might have a hard time. What I would bet money on are download games for Live or PSN in a space thats a lot less crowded, with reasonable development costs and a good middle ground that lets you make bigger games and still the possibility of taking the risks of doing something new. And I`m sure I would not bet my money on Gaika that`s still not released compared to the competition, unless I missed it`s launch :)

The new forms that emerged with the iPhone and Android are basically a new way of entry into the buisness, previously you had your people who made flash games for the PC or mods to get into game development and did that all for free. Now a group of people can make an iPhone or Android game and actually sell that and try to make a small company on their own without the need to hope some company sees what they did and offers them a job. It`s risky for all, the big ones have a bit of a smaller risk because of the money behind them while at the same time if they fail they fail hard and a huge amount of money is involved, but the competition is smaller. While for all others below that the competition is a lot bigger and the further down you go the less risky it get`s again because of the smaller amount of money involved. A mobile game not selling very well is less complicated than Alan Wake not selling well. Not a bad game and not a small game, but a lot of time and money invested and you can only hard say well didn`t sell who cares let`s do the next game. There are hardly any sure bets except maybe for things like Halo or the next Rockstar game going to sell a high amount of copies, but for games that are not that well known big franchises or developers it`s always a risk and the higher the investment the bigger the risk.
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Mbuso Radebe Producer, Electronic Arts10 years ago
@Tim - The Hollywood model is an interesting option...but I think we have a few factors holding us back. The biggest one being that the game industry needs to "build its cameras and equipment from scratch before every project" metaphorically speaking of course. Until we start using universally accepted middleware and processes for the entire industry, the change does not seem feasible.

Maybe Unity's progress with democratizing game development is the start to one such future. Let's hope...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mbuso Radebe on 16th February 2011 6:19am

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Kim Soares Lead Designer, Nitro Games10 years ago
@Tim&Mbuso: I have been thinking that movie production model too for many years. You could make a game just by having the money: There are companies and people who would design you a game from scratch, there are artists, there are programmers, there are companies specialised in game development project management...

Part of the problem is what Mbuso said. The other one is that game developers are scattered all around, there should be national "game production capitals" and Game Hollywood. Sure, you could make a game with artists residing in Philippines, programming in Finland and project management in Holland, but that has its problems.


As for the original news bit, I too think that it was mainly traditional big devs blowing their own horn. One might even go as far as to call them dinosaurs who have missed the evelotionary step. One of the persons cited told me 2008 that PC gaming is dead and blockbuster console releases are the only way to make games that sell... So, I would generally advice to take these kind of "universal thruths" with a grain of salt. Another thing is that people should avoid making decicions based on fairy tales. Angry Birds is a fairy tale: 99,99 percent of companies/people trying to replicate that are going to get burned.

I think that gaming has changed profoundly in last few years, thanks to high powered mobile phones. There is no going back, gaming will be more mundane and people do not have to be GAMERS anymore. Just like nobody is WATHCER OF MOVIES, or READER OF BOOKS. Mobile gaming is projected to grow some 250% in next few years. At the same time, it does not mean that consoles or PC are gonna die away. Hand held consoles might.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kim Soares on 16th February 2011 7:59am

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Krasimir Koichev Producer, Riftforge10 years ago
Games aren't a mature market yet, so there's a lot of room for different model being tried. I'm in favor of building an online game, as you are able to be constant contact with your users.

Look at World of Goo, they are a successful little game, not to mention Minecraft, built by a single person and sold over $8M.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Krasimir Koichev on 16th February 2011 9:30am

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Jonathan Greaves Studying Psychology, University of St Andrews10 years ago
Has anyone thought to look at perhaps a different price strategy for the middle runner titles? I mean Activition has realised that they can charge a higher price for their last two Call of Duty games than other titles in there. Perhaps if a publisher decides to lower the cost of their games that they don't see as their big blockbuster titles and generate more sales. Countess times I've heard friends look at a game such as Devil May Cry or Bayonetta and wait till it becomes cheaper in the pre-owned section because they just simply don't want to pay £39.99 for a title like that, leading to none of the money going back to the Publisher/Developer.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jonathan Greaves on 9th July 2011 11:12pm

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@Jonathan
Hey, don't reveal my strategies. My list of games to buy off the bargain bin is considerably longer than that of the games I'm willing to pay full price, pre-order and do the full works. DMC4 was like that, and Bayonetta certainly is on that list as well. CoD is on the surprise steam sale equivalent of the bargain bin sale, though
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Matt Molloy Game Designer 10 years ago
Simple games with small teams are the way to go for sure. Thinking in terms of dev cycles from a simple prototype to a working product with good gameplay for example gives the solid foundations to create a masterpiece...as long as features aren't bolted on like homer's car. The modern team grows around an ever expanding and changing game and theres no reason why a team of 3 can't become much larger further down the line if a game is promising enough. Flexability will be crucial as the industry continues to mature. We'll see smaller teams and more and more contract work.

Synergy is key and you can get much more from a simple indie game than from high budget AAA titles nowadays. What does AAA even mean anymore? That it cost millions to develop and ship and then flops on the market regardless of 9/10 scores from the media? Yes, because people want to play farmville and simple engrossing games on thier mobile phones and motion devices. Although, I would also say its a bit too late to be jumping on the 'hot trend' bandwagon...iphone and facebook have unfortunately already left some quite talented developers way behind - hence the frenzied restructuring we're seeing the UK right now.

For those who follow the simple game, small team innovation route however, with games ready to ported to handhelds, facebook, mobile phones...I'd bet they're doing just fine when compared to huge dev teams releasing less games. The console market % share is dropping as we speak.
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Private Industry 10 years ago
I would not be worried about the console market, it`s just a complete different market and audience that iPhone or Android games target compared to what console games target.

The middle games are still not cheap Jonathan and companies have their expected sales depending whats your targeted audience. They are still full games on a high level. For Bayonetta you can say your target the DMC audience the last game of them sold X amount and we should be able to get X% of those sales with our game and you add some other things into the calculation, but since nobody is releasing a big middle game at a lower price so far there is no data at all. You don`t know if you would make more money because of hugely increased sales if you launch your game at 45 instead of 60 bucks in that case you need to sell 25% more units to make the same amount of money and way more to make at the end more profit than launching with 60. If you get an increase of 10% your lose more money than with the higher price tag. And that requires that all the deductions such as retailer share, console manufacturer share and so on scale with the retail price, because if MS, Sony or Nintendo get the same amount of money no mater if you launch at 60 or 45 bucks than that 25% more sales would not cut it anymore.
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Eventually the battle lines between the socasual, middle & cosole and mobile platforms will balance themselves out. One just need to ride the waves when it comes about
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Twas the current curse of FB farming games, that normal gameplay is non existant and instead, the new type of gameplay being that of how virally fast you can promote your game in hopes of a 1% conversion of MAUs
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Jonathan Greaves Studying Psychology, University of St Andrews10 years ago
I understand what you are saying and unfortunately, as you said, there is no data for this or at least no data I can find.

My argument stems from the action publishers are taking against the used game market, by introducing costs for content only accessible through first hand purchase such as EA's Online Pass and Activisionís map packs for Call of Duty. However, i can't see this working for games that don't have a strong online component.

Alan wake had something similar with the free DLC you get for buying it at retail but it only sold 200,000 in the first month? It just seems for these games that arenít seen as "AAA" the consumer just glances over them and puts them in the "Iíll wait till itís cheaper" list. My hypothesis is that if people didnít think that a certain title wasnít worth full price, would they buy it leading to a significant increase in sales?

It would be very interesting to see the results of some market research on this and make these mid runners less risky to publishers and maybe even see the development of some new IPs which when established as popular, publishers can then raise the price again.
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J. Goldmaker Community Management 10 years ago
Little games are like Harlequin romances and Space Operas.
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