As top titles in the console business continue to underperform and miss expectations, many developers have found themselves in a precarious position: stick with a declining and risky console business or move to a (potentially) more lucrative platform like mobile/tablet or PC (whether download or free-to-play). It's definitely a problem for the console space, as the industry prepares for next-gen systems, EEDAR analyst Jesse Divnich told GamesIndustry International.
"Breakout successes of numerous games including Clash of Clans, Candy Crush Saga, and Angry Birds gathered strong interest from the large pool of developers who had found themselves out of traditional gaming jobs as a result of industry contraction. The total amount of developers shifting focus to solely mobile and tablet titles is frightening," he remarked.
"As an industry that is addicted to pushing innovation and new markets, we often find ourselves reactively chasing whatever is the fad du jour"
"We will eventually be operating too far outside of supply and demand without consequence. Market shifts can be unpredictable, only in the sense of when they occur, not if. Independent developers must hedge themselves against market shifts by assessing all available platforms, both current and future."
As appealing as mobiles and tablets are right now, Divnich cautions against flocking to these platforms in favor of consoles or the PC. "As an industry that is addicted to pushing innovation and new markets, we often find ourselves reactively chasing whatever is the fad du jour only to come back a couple of years later and realize that there are very solid foundations across a number of verticals which continue to provide fertile grounds for developers to generate revenue," he said.
Divnich advises independent developers to keep an open mind towards all platforms, including the new systems launching later this year from Microsoft and Sony. These consoles may not have the installed base of an iPhone, but they have a core audience that's willing to spend if the quality software is there.
"Consider this - with the advent of new middleware technologies and a strong foundation of hungry consumers looking for next-generation experiences, creating content for future consoles could represent less competition. EEDAR is forecasting over 11 million consumers to transition to the next-generation by the end of 2014 (PS4 and Xbox). That's 11 million consumers who are willing to spend money to consume interactive entertainment. Those are 11 million of the elusive 'Whales' we continually hunt in the mobile market," he noted.
"By the end of 2017, this will balloon to over 50 million consumers, all willing to spend money to consume quality content. It's a market that independent developers shouldn't ignore and one that the console manufacturers must foster to gain independent support."
"Independent developers cannot afford to operate with blinders on... there are more opportunities than ever before to make great games that can also make great money"
Sony appears to be doing a good job of fostering that developer support, and Divnich believes Microsoft will follow in Sony's footsteps.
"Sony's recent press coverage represents an important change that could make consoles a thriving market place for independent developers. It's expected that the next generation of consoles will have connectivity rates in excess of 85 percent and Sony has already shown a new direction in terms of developer support that bodes well to create new experiences for this industry. This includes help with funding through programs like Pub Fund, discovery, development, marketing, and PR support, in addition to optimizing the submission process to court independent developers," he said. "We are still awaiting Microsoft's strategy for the next-generation, but it's natural to assume that Microsoft will have a similar strategy of bringing new games, business models, and development teams into their ecosystem."
Ultimately, developers must be prepared to support a diverse range of platforms. "Independent developers cannot afford to operate with blinders on," Divnich stressed. "Independent developers should be looking across every platform while they think about new game development. Just like how the PC industry changed, consoles are changing too and there are more opportunities than ever before to make great games that can also make great money."