Free Radical founder: "Pretty much every FPS loses money"

Steve Ellis says that most studios are too risk averse to stray from the Call of Duty template

The modern first-person shooter has swiftly become a study in the monotonous, says Free Radical founder Steve Ellis, who believes that games that stray too far from the beaten path of an FPS are going to lose money. Ultimately, no one is "[buying] any FPSes unless they're called Call of Duty."

Ellis argues that game developers are too risk averse to move away from the tried-and-true method that Activision has been able to blaze with Call of Duty. Working on multiplayer for Goldeneye for the N64 and eventually founding Timesplitters developer Free Radical, Ellis believes that titles that try to innovate are simply going to lose money.

"I spent the whole of 2008 going round talking to publishers trying to sign up Timesplitters 4," said Ellis to Edge. "There just isn't the interest there in doing anything that tries to step away from the rules of the genre - no one wants to do something that's quirky and different, because it's too much of a risk. And a large part of that is the cost of doing it.

"Nobody really buys any FPSes unless they're called Call of Duty," he declares. "I guess Battlefield did okay, but aside from that pretty much every FPS loses money. I mean, [look at] Crysis 2: great game, but there's no way it came anywhere close to recouping its dev costs."

Though Ellis has recently started up his own mobile development team with Crash Lab, Ellis and Free Radical were purchased by Crytek, becoming Crytek UK. That team is currently working on an unannounced title while the rest of the company is putting time in for Homefront 2 and Crysis 3 on the shooter side. Ellis left that job to focus on a different path, stating his dissatisfaction with the current trend in triple-A development.

"We've been through more than a couple of console generations and seen things grow and grow to a stage where it's not really the business we got into. It's not really what we signed up for at the start," he says.

"There are plenty of people coming out of university who are dying to do that, so let them find out what it's like and we'll do something different!"

Crash Lab is currently working on several titles for iOS.

For a telling account of the collapse of Free Radical, please read our special on the developer with more insights from Steve Ellis.

Latest comments (2)

Dominic Jakube Student 5 years ago
Well according to VGcharts Crysis sold a bit over 2.5 million all up, surely thats enough for at least a small profit.Plus their allready hyping up a sequel if that means anything.
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Richard Gardner Artist, Crytek5 years ago
Its always the same problem, AAA developers fight tooth and nail to make great games. Some publishers are easier to work with than others, just looking at last years games. Many of the great ones came from none major publishers like Square and Warner. A games quality in my opinion still the major factor in game sales, people will buy a 9/10 game. Its just very difficult if your not the latest and greatest. But then again both Deus Ex and Batman came from already established brands.

Its almost second nature now to brand yourself, something people are aware of, not just to improve sales, but also to establish a community. Even if you are making a new IP with great ideas, I still think you need to look at yourself as a brand.

Just look at mobile, its pretty much impossible to make profit from a single game. You have to build your brand and establish yourself. The Zynga way... so although it may be a different market, there are always small choices made to effect profitability.

Games profitability these days are very much a marathon and not a sprint, no matter what platform your in.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Richard Gardner on 3rd May 2012 1:30pm

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