Industry turmoil worst since '80s crash, says Bleszinski

Ex-Epic designer ponders a downloadable-only future with Nintendo out of the hardware race

Cliff Bleszinski is at least semi-serious about his semi-retirement. The former Epic Games design director today is maintaining a presence in the industry--today he was named the keynote speaker for the 2013 East Coast Games Conference--but Bleszinski told GamesIndustry International that now would be "the absolute worst time" for him to come back, and that he was waiting for the dust to settle a bit before making his next move.

"This business has not been in a state of transition like it is right now since the video game crash of the '80s," Bleszinski said. "I really think we're in a massive state of turmoil. I think Nintendo could possibly be faced with the situation of becoming a company that only makes software moving forward. I think Sony and Microsoft are about to come to major blows. But at the same time, people love playing games on their iPad. The PC is going through a wonderful renaissance right now. I think we're ready to do digital download games all the time...I just want to see what happens. In regards to the industry, it's like the Super Smash Bros. of business right now, and I want to see if Peach or Mario wins."

If any of the console makers are to emerge victorious from that Super Smash Bros. melee, Bleszinski said they would need to embrace qualities from more open platforms like PCs and tablets while preserving the stability of a closed platform. Enabling developers to update their titles as needed was one such example.

"When Gears of War 2 launched and we found out that our netcode wasn't working right, it took us three months to get an update out," Bleszinski said. "By that time, the majority of users had moved on to the next game or had traded it in. If Microsoft and Sony are to do well in this next generation, they are going to need to reduce that time as much as possible, as well as continue to enable user-supported mods, independent games, and really just get rid of the wall that makes it incredibly hard to find those products, even if they're allowed on the console... All that red tape needs to be stripped away in order to create an ecosystem to allow for a product like Minecraft to actually happen on a console."

Part of that effort must enable and encourage a greater diversity in the offerings on consoles, Bleszinski said. Right now he suggested the console market is 80 percent $60 retail titles and 20 percent cheaper downloadable offerings, but it needs to embrace virtually all genres and all price points. That means $20 horror games, $40 shooters, $60 AAA blockbusters, free-to-play, and everything in between, all easy to find for the audience who would be most interested in them. (Microsoft has not announced its next-generation system yet, but Sony is positioning the PlayStation 4 as a developer-friendly machine open to alternative business models, and independent developers say Nintendo has made similar strides with the Wii U.)

While Bleszinski waits for winners to emerge from the current industry upheaval, his ECGC keynote will reflect more on the past.

"It's about what videogames mean to me," Bleszinski said of the address. "Ultimately, I want to take people on a journey through my 38 years of growing up playing games since the age of 6 when I first saw Space Invaders. And how throughout every major milestone of my life, video games have been there for me in a very positive way, and hopefully reminding people that this is a very wonderful medium. And to be frank, I'm kinda tired of it being challenged as some sort of demonic thing in pop culture."

The East Coast Games Conference is set for April 24-25 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Latest comments (30)

Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games9 years ago
spot on as always!
Not so sure about software only nintendo though, especially since the 3DS is so popular and its popularity keeps increasing but for the home console it seems like they have been pushed aside mainly by the media.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Yiannis Koumoutzelis on 25th February 2013 4:56pm

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Michael Revis Writer, NerdReactor.com9 years ago
I heard that Nintendo was actually more relaxed on updates for Wii U games compared to the other consoles now. If that's true, and Sony follows their promises of the PS4 being developer friendly, then it'd be a nice start for this generation.
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Martyn Brown Managing Director, Insight For Hire9 years ago
Yep, heard uttered out of the window of his Lambo. :-)
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Show all comments (30)
Kevin Patterson musician 9 years ago
Cliff is absolutely right on about the different price points. Most people rarely spend $60 on games anymore, it has to be something they really really want. MS and Sony really missed an opportunity, allowing Apple and it's IOS devices to come in and have all these cheap games available, when it could have easily been on their devices. PC gaming has made a resurgence which I am happy to see thanks to Steam and other download sites, MS and Sony should really take a good look at Steam and its ilk and price accordingly. I am excited to see the next gen consoles in action, but just as excited to see the Steambox when it finally arrives.
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John Scalzo Editor-In-Chief, Warp Zoned9 years ago
I respect CliffyB a lot, but anyone suggesting that Nintendo is going to be forced out of the hardware business (or that they'd go voluntarily) has a screw loose.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by John Scalzo on 25th February 2013 6:31pm

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Anthony Chan9 years ago
I agree with John. There is no way Nintendo will be forced out of the hardware business, when they are holding the handheld business with their 3DS. Mobiles are definitely coming along though. And Nintendo will most definitely be focusing on how Apple and every other tab will push their products. Meanwhile, they will need to find a niche with software for the Wii U because going head to head against PS4 and the next XBox would not be pretty tech wise.

I like Cliff's idea on how the console should evolve. Closed box stability with open box features. Imagine the next chapter of the Elder Scrolls for PS4 but with the capability to install user created mods for the game. I would love it!! Console has its advantage over PC being a stable system - games will play without the worry of the games getting ahead of the tech. No need to worry about adding more memory, upgarding the video card or processor. In addition, if cloud gaming becomes faster and more stable, I would be willing to pay for it - seeing then I don't even need to worry about upgrading my harddrive.

So other than the Nintendo doom, Cliff is pretty spot on in his comments.
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Patrick Williams Medicine and Research 9 years ago
Nintendo is in for another rough round on consoles, but they've always been the king of handhelds. The tablets are putting this to the test, but the 3DS is not performing badly. For example, it is the single most purchased gaming apparatus in Japan now. The DS had a slow take off and became the single best selling gaming device ever made.
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Ben Herman CEO 9 years ago
Let's back off from the ledge. In the 1980's crash the issues were that hardware could not support the full gameplay that arcade games offered. Pacman on the 2600 was a disaster. E.T. killed the category. When NOA and NES arrived just 3 years later the market exploded as consumers got the engine that was needed with an 8-bit machine.

Today the category is growing. THQ could not adapt. NOA blew it with Wii U (Pee-U). NOJ needs to embrace iOS and Android. Consumers want portable systems that work on tablets and mobile phones. Sony PS4 will have a chance. MS Xbox 720 has the best chance. MS has tablets that look good and work well. Sony? Not yet. Consumers want a new system that docks at the TV BUT can take a complete game portable and go mobile. Sony has Vita (Please rename to PSP4) when newer, stronger version arrives. MS has tablets and phones.

FTP, PTP and DLC games services all lead to a growing market. Yes packaged games category is shrinking yet total category dollars are growing. Retailers need to add downloadable game sales as Gamestop has done. Anyone need help? Just call me. Your first born is all I will require. 732 740 7120 32 years in this category. I will remain in this category for years to come.

New platforms like Wikipad and Nvidia Project Shield excite me about the future ahead. Stop the panic. Worry about 47 more months of Obama. The rest is OK. :) Ben Herman
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Nicholas Pantazis Senior Editor, VGChartz Ltd9 years ago
@ Anthony "Games will play without the worry of games getting ahead of the tech."

Did we just play the same games this generation? Heck, did you try Skyrim on the PS3? Did you notice most PS360 games this generation of "AAA" quality ran at sub-HD resolutions?

I don't think consoles are very stable at all these days, and well-optimized PC games run easily on many levels of tech (look at Blizzard and Valve games).

Edit: Wow, someone just posted Pee U. Great, Games Industry now has the userbase quality of every other forum on the internet. Time to find another site where tweens aren't allowed accounts. :-/

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nicholas Pantazis on 25th February 2013 10:19pm

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
I'd bet real money that the bulk of Wii U naysayers have not only never tried the system out, they simply refuse to because they've fallen into the trap of thinking that even the Wii was a "gimmick" for it's entire (and current) product run.

Personally, I think the day console patching was allowed to happen (and games getting rushed out the door before they were fully optimized) was the day console gaming kind of went off a rail. Sure, product HAS to arrive on some sort of schedule, but not at the cost of some games not even running or being so riddled with bugs that anyone with a crap internet connection is basically throwing their money away unless that hold out for a cheaper Game of the Year version (that MAY still force DLC on buyers that SHOULD be on the disc)...

Eh, whatever - I don't think Nintendo will get out of the console business.If anything, we're a cloud crash or big hack away from anyone with a digital delivery system not being able to deliver anything but apologies and excuses...
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Daniel Hughes Studying PhD Literary Modernism, Bangor University9 years ago
I think Cliff has some very insightful thoughts here. I'm not sure if turmoil is the right word, though, or perhaps it's too negative when used alone. A period of turmoil, sure, but also huge opportunity.

I have to agree with others, though, Nintendo aren't going anywhere this generation. Tough times ahead, but by no means out of the hardware race. It's just a popular narrative to turn too when we forget software is the ultimate defining factor. Funny we can assume how successful Nintendo's software could be across multiple platforms, while simultaneously denying that that same software could sustain a platform.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Daniel Hughes on 25th February 2013 11:34pm

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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up9 years ago
The tech companies of the past failed to connect people via software. All caught napping on innovation whilst google and apple built decent eco systems. Music should have been an indicator of what was in store for games. It was, but there was no response. Its a monumental task trying to stop that crusade now. Developers just cant ignore those install base numbers so will have to be tempted with better deals in future. That power shift will be the good news that comes out of it for content creators.
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Cameron Lourenco Studying Business Managemant, Conestoga College9 years ago
Nintendo is trying to cater to the fickle casual crowd, and the Wii U is being outsold by even the 360 in North America. Nintendo may not have what it takes to compete with PS4 and whatever Microsoft is dreaming up right now. I don't think Nintendo will be out of the console business. With Broadband internet being still limited around the world, a cloud service or digital only future is pie in the sky right now. More broadband or fiber optics internet will need to be made available before that future can be realized. Retail will always fight back against this, particularly those whose business model is only successful because of the used games market. There's no profit in selling new games, or any other medium, be it CD's, DVD's etc, so you aren't going to see retail disappear without some backlash. They can easily refuse to sell your system if you decide to hurt them by taking away all physical media, and creating that kind of antagonistic atmosphere could result in the industry imploding on itself.
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Adam Coate CEO & Founder, Coate Games9 years ago
People said the same thing about Nintendo (leaving the hardware market) after the Gamecube did so poorly. Then the Wii came along and everyone pretended like they never lost faith in Nintendo. If anything I'm losing faith in Nintendo's ability to create compelling, innovative software. Wii Sports was the most innovative game they made in the last 10 years and it was essentially a horrifically ugly tech demo. I guess Miyamoto is working on new IP finally, so hopefully that materializes into something great.

As for the industry as a whole, the Atari crash is a bad comparison because the industry did in fact crash, NOBODY was making any money. Right now the industry has had year-on-year growth that will probably not stop until a worldwide economic collapse (which is in the foreseeable future). As others have said though, it's a time of great opportunity for visionaries who really want to disrupt the market. Personally I would like games to become social again and for gamers to lose the stereotype of being manchildren who play Halo in their mom's basement.
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital9 years ago
If there is one thing that Nintendo taught us, it is "Never ever underestimate Nintendo". But I think that they made a mistake with positioning of the Wii U.

We are seeing an interesting tectonic shift between the console manufacturers. A few years ago, Nintendo was the most casual player centered one. XBox was the hardcore "Call of Duty machine" and Sony stood somewhere in between. Now, Microsoft is clearly targeting the casual audience and that will only get more intensive with the Next XBox. If 720 is really all about Kinect and Netflix, a lot of hardcore audience may flock to Sony. And Nintendo will stand somewhere in between with some casual heritage and Bayonetta 2 and Watch Dogs.

Microsoft is smartly going where the money is. PlayStation may become a niche market (but full of whales, nevertheless). But being the one in the middle never really worked well for Sony and it won't work well for Nintendo. Nintendo won't stop making hardware for as long as the DS and 3DS are doing as well as they are, but my guess is that Wii U is their final "big" console.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
Turmoil = opportunity
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
Honestly, Hardware tech is so advanced right now its flatlining. Nintendo right now has a lower power system but I think at this point its about the games. And Nintendo has a really strong line up, 3DS is going strong and they have plenty of exclusive IP so they dont need to put out yearly iterations of them to stay afloat. Some IP's can rest while others enter production. The have a new Zelda coming, New Xenoblade, Bayonetta 2, Fire Emblem. Im completelly extatic about there line up. And SONY's offering is also great. I love the PS4 conference. I think its a great time to be a console gamer. I bought crysis for the PS3 at a fraction of what it would cost me to equip a PC and own the game. And even SONY ruled out the downloadable only scenario. They said there main delivery mechanism would be through disc media. And with the next iteration of Blu-Ray being 100GB and games possibly reaching that amount, I seriously doubt the internet or the cloud will be ready to deliver the AAA expiriences found on console games. Nintendo has good hardware a 25GB optical disc storage medium and a fairly developer friendly enviroment. I think the internet will be used in other ways like seen in the PS4 conference. It will allow for different ways for players to interact with each other and enjoy the games in more versitle ways. Nintendo has Fire Emblem and I love that game. Belive me Ill be getting a Nintendo console. Its not about harware anymore, its about games... ITS A GREAT TIME TO BE A GAMER!!!!
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David Serrano Freelancer 9 years ago
The first time I've agreed with any of his opinions, let alone all of them. Proof positive that removing yourself from an isolation bubble allows you to see things much more clearly.
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Daniel Amofa Account manager 9 years ago
Absolutely right!

Nintendo have only been dismissed by the internet media who seem to think they speak and people listen.
Media is proving bad for the industry as a whole if you ask me with the whole console war and fanboyism.

They should be more responsible and write news that help the industry/have a more positive outlook but if things carry on this way they need to realise they will have nothing to write about either.

Nintendo are not broke enough to go and unless my info is correct they have the only cash rich games division unlike Sony/MS who's gaming division are in the red.

We shall wait and see!
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Peter Dwyer Games Designer/Developer 9 years ago

"Turmoil = opportunity"

What are you a super villain! O_o
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Kevin Danaher Associate Producer, EA Mobile9 years ago
Some might say...

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Kevin Danaher on 26th February 2013 5:12pm

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Anthony Chan9 years ago
You quoted it best. "Well Optimized PC". My quote refers to the fact that with a console you never have to check a system requirement ever again. And yes you mention Skyrim as I did. On PS3 there were issues playing but that is not a problem with PS3 stability - but more an issue at Bethesda. Also you are right AAA games ran at sub-HD resolutions, but they ran, and again no need to update your drivers, check your hardware, optimize performance.

Sorry, but at the end of the day, gaming is not going to be set by the PC despite all the doom and gloom for console. This is simply because there is a much larger market than the typical nerd/geek PC gamer. I have said it before, gaming is not just for those who understand how their computer works. Even though games look best and run best on a PC, the machine is still harder to manage than a console. Gaming is and will always be an activity that crosses knowledge levels, income divides, culture, and social backgrounds. Because of that, there must be a variety of platforms that exist - be it mobile, PC, or console.

As long as console can maintain their draw by keeping a system that plays when it should, while opening certain aspects (such as user end development or modding); AAA developers will continue to make games for them.
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Matt Ernst Studying Culinary Arts, Hennepin Tech9 years ago
@ Greg

"I'd bet real money that the bulk of Wii U naysayers have not only never tried the system out"

You better pay up.
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Aaron Brown BA Computer Science Student, Carnegie Mellon University9 years ago
@ Bruce
I agree. Turmoil does equal opportunity but who will lose out.

I think that Cliffs pessimism is justified. The games industry saw a 22% decrease in total sales last year, and there were plenty of quality AAA games out there. Yeah, digital sales has a lot to do with this, but the truth is that the Industry is in a transitional period for a myriad of reasons. Notably the emergence of tablets, new monetization schemes, the rise of indie success and many others.

The next 2 years will be tumultuous for the video game industry, gamer's will undoubtedly be satisfied with the quality and sheer volume of choices in the market but the hardware and software competition will be cutthroat; with dire consequences for many.

It will work out in the end for the select few. but such is life.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Aaron Brown on 27th February 2013 3:09am

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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
@Matt - five cents is coming your way, but it's STILL too early to be digging a grave for the console. Kick your sense of wonder in the groin gently and pick up that Gamepad again, I say.
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Dominic Jakube Student 9 years ago
Don't see Nintendo going 3rd party, the 3DS is at 30million and still going, even if the Wii-U is only a Gamecube size "success" their portable business will sustain the company.

What may happen is that if the Wii-U fails then their next console maybe a handheld but with a tv-out capability, sort of the opposite of the Wii-U, both a true portable and a console in one.

Since with the Wii-U they are not making money on the hardware doing a deal with Micro-Soft for exclusive console games but with no or very little licence fee's could be beneficial for both parties. Nintendo would get a "free" platform to sell their games on and MS would get a massive exclusive 2nd party publisher and finally a good chance at the Japanese market that has eluded them for so long.

Unfortunately pride will see this never happen even if it makes fiscal sense.
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Adam Coate CEO & Founder, Coate Games9 years ago
I like the idea of Nintendo's next console being a handheld that can output to a tv/monitor. Essentially the Sega Nomad, but better strategically positioned. If the Wii U was a tablet that wasn't tethered to the tv then it could possibly compete directly with the iPad instead of cornering itself as an expensive games-only device. It seems Nintendo's biggest problem is its inability to accept Apple as a legitimate threat to its core business. The 3DS is keeping them relevant to some degree, but only because it's piggybacking off the success of the DS with a new gimmick.

As for Nintendo putting its games on other hardware, it will never happen. They sell hardware specifically to sell their games. This is actually the reason in the past they've seemed so apathetic about helping third party games succeed on their platforms.
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Ben Campbell Graphic Designer / Freelance Games Journalist 9 years ago
I think people are focusing too much on his statements about the consoles and Nintendo being out of the hardware business in the future. What I DO think is the main point that SHOULD be discussed is the part of the article about his suggested pricing of games:

Right now he suggested the console market is 80 percent $60 retail titles and 20 percent cheaper downloadable offerings, but it needs to embrace virtually all genres and all price points. That means $20 horror games, $40 shooters, $60 AAA blockbusters, free-to-play, and everything in between, all easy to find for the audience who would be most interested in them.

What constitutes "AAA Blockbusters"? What is a non-AAA Shooter? Who decides what games are put in what category? Is it based on triple pre-orders? A studio's previous track-record?

THESE are the questions that should be discussed.

I know for the last two questions at least three examples I could cite for the last two questions, and one I could cite that covers all but one of the questions:

Journey - Great Debut game for an indie developer that became a phenomenon, who had NO previous track record of which to speak.

The Walking Dead - Great indie game that became the best [or one of the best, can't remember which]-selling and most-talked-about non-sequel games of the last year, from a developer who's track record has been....checkered between quite good [Sam and Max] and awful [Jurassic Park]of the last year.

Aliens: Colonial Marines - Enough said by the title alone.
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Matt Ernst Studying Culinary Arts, Hennepin Tech9 years ago
I'll give it another chance when there's a Pikmin 3 demo.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam9 years ago
Ben - "Journey - Great Debut game for an indie developer that became a phenomenon, who had NO previous track record of which to speak"
If you've not played their previous game, Flower, I highly recommend it. It's a much simpler game, but looks stunning, is pretty much unlike anything else out there, and has that same sense of wonder and canny use of pacing to direct the player's emotions.
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