Downloadable games need bigger audience, says Housemarque CEO

Super Stardust dev co-founder Ilari Kuittinen says next-gen could see "the end of" smaller console titles if things don't change

This generation has seen downloadable console games go from nearly non-existent to Game of the Year contenders, but they have further to go before their continued survival is secured, according to Housemarque co-founder and CEO Ilari Kuittinen. Speaking with GamesIndustry International, the Finnish developer behind games like Outland, Dead Nation, and Super Stardust said at the moment, success in the downloadable field is being shared by too few.

"Eventually, games need to generate more sales, otherwise we see the end of these smaller games on console platforms and that certainly would be a big loss for [the] core gamer crowd," Kuittinen said. "During this console generation, there were only a handful of million-selling downloadable games, which is surprising to me as the console installed base for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade games is well over 150 million today. There are probably between 300 and 400 retail titles that sold over 1 million units, if not more."

While the cost of producing downloadable titles is generally less than for retail efforts, Kuittinen said it is still escalating rapidly. To keep up with constantly growing consumer expectations, developers increasingly need to license costly engines, support physics simulations, and include multiplayer support or persistent online worlds in order to stand out from the crowd.


Housemarque is working on a successor to Super Stardust HD.

"All these things are going to add to the cost," Kuittinen said. "Calling downloadable games smaller is true, if you compare them to the big production games, but I believe that cost of some of the bigger downloadable games has already had a budget in the range of several millions of dollars, so there needs to be quite a lot of sales to even breakeven at the given price point of $10 to $15."

As for what Housemarque is doing to stay ahead of the market, Kuittinen said the company has focused on improving the online experience for players, and treating each game more like a service than a one-time sale. The goal, he said, is to make games whose lifecycles can be measured in years rather than months.

"We hope that more and more gamers find these smaller, high-quality downloadable games than during this generation of consoles," Kuittinen said. "It is crucial that the next-gen downloadable console titles find a bigger audience and we need smart ways to support our gamers with additional content and provide ways to keep them playing our games longer."

Housemarque is already working on that plan, as the developer has announced that it is working on a spiritual successor to its Super Stardust franchise exclusively for the PlayStation 4.

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Latest comments (11)

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development6 years ago
Downloadable games are already the highest proportion of supply method by lightyears. If you want to make downloadable games, do it on the right platform and you can start now.

I am of course talking about mobile, that awkward annoyance that large companies don't really get. Massive devs/pubs need to once again catch up with what the tiny indies have been doing for years.

And if you start now, you'll find that come release day they no longer have to be "small". Have you checked out the latest phones? it's getting a bit stupid tbh. Mine is already more powerful than a laptop of not long ago.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 6 years ago
Platform exclusive.
New generation console.

If you want a larger audience, is there another method to kneecap yourself?
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Obviously context here is downloadable console games, which offer different game experiences than mobile can. I think it would be shame, if there wouldn't be games like Journey or Limbo, which were released on console platforms. Housemarque has nothing against mobile as we were involved in that space in one form or another earlier than most (well, way too early) since we founded a spin-off company concentrating on mobile back in 2000.

As a smallish game studio, we are involved in both mobile and console development and I think the experiences these platforms offer are more or less mutually exclusive. It´s really hard to see that suddenly every consumer would like to just play games that mobile is offering and they would ignore all the other platforms.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development6 years ago
I wasn't trying to suggest that, of course they are different. But if you want to make download games, mobile/tablet is where it's at.

I think the wider public don't really get downloadable yet tbh, which might explain its slower take up on console. They probably wouldn't like it on mobile either but its not something you tend to think about with it being the default and (practically) only method. And especially given the prices there!
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I really enjoyed the stardust games and I think there should be more games like this. It does need support and promotion from the platform holders, though. The much asked for price flexibility and presence of non AAA console games can be had right there, but it must be in the best interest of platform holders for them to support it. The payoff for them would be avantgarde critical successes winning lots of prices, like journey, a ps3 exclusive.
I was at the ceremony during gdc and I don't recall many mobile games winning prices.
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital6 years ago
Just like it was said - a few years ago, there were no downloadable games on consoles. Now we have a few that sell in millions and give AAA games a run for their money when it comes to critical acclaim.
We are focused on console downloadable games and we see a steady raise in downloads and revenue with each new game. The market is growing.

@Paul: You are right about mobile being the place for downloadable games, but from our perspective, for every successful game, there is at least 10 that never even breakeven. And I am not talking about garbage, but solid quality games.

Consoles give you a steady, solid and almost assured income. Mobile is like a casino - you can win big, or you can end up losing your pants. I am surprised that I don't see more games that appear on consoles as well as mobile. That's the best way forward, I believe.
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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee6 years ago
Whilst I can agree with the above that mobile is 'where its at' in terms of downloadable titles right now, I don't think we should ignore the potential for the same model on home consoles as I believe it could be incredibly important for unique titles like the ones already mentioned in this thread.

Yes its nice to target mobile and provide experiences enabled by the hand-held technology and the distribution model, but it would also be nice to continue seeing a rise in experiences enabled by the console platform and its technology with this type of distribution model. I agree with Mr Kuittinen, downloadable titles could do with (and need) a bigger audience on consoles.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development6 years ago
I'm not convinced yet, though I heartily agree in principal. My own company started with consoles first so it's not like I loathe them, but you have to compare like with like.

A few millionaires were made on XBLA and even XBLIG when that came along, but those top games should be compared to Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja in the mobile world - the top earners of each platform. Nowt more really needs to be said here.

In terms of the middle ground that's a responsible place to target, I don't have much data tbh. But. Our one XBLA title makes about $90 a quarter whilst every one of our mobile titles makes proper "I can pay wages" money, without any of these "flops" so our experience is 100% the inverse of Jakub's.
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Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital6 years ago
Outland and Dead Nation both had a publisher, if I am not mistaken (Ubisoft and Sony), so it's hard to tell how much did Housemarque actually made. But both were great high-profile games, so they must have had solid downloads.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 6 years ago
One simple solution: target console users who simply CAN'T download these games. Release a compilation on disc for PS3, 360 and Wii U, price it fairly ($19.99 or so, depending on the number of games), get it promoted properly and watch the numbers jump up a little on each platform. You HAVE to win over skeptical gamers who have zero to limited access to high speed and those who doubt these games are "good" by letting them in on the fun.

Just my opinion, but I think it would help.
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Success in every area is an exception and this applies to any segment of games market as well. I think mobile is a really brutal space at the moment as you would need to have a massive customer acquisition campaign to find any success in the marketplace costing you hundreds of thousands, if not millions. We´ve have here in Finland several successful small mobile developers that have sold millions of units of their previous games, but the recent ones, even the sequels to million sellers, haven't performed at all. Obviously, there are exceptions, but it is a really scare place.

When you hit the jackpot, you can make a lot more money on mobile than on downloadable console markets and I am certainly aware of this. On the other hand, consoles can offer deals that put food on the table and the competition is certainly smaller. Also, I think that games similar to League of Legends would work on console as well, so I predict that some games are going to very successful on console as well, when new business models are applied . It´ll be interesting to see how many PSN or XBLA games we are going to have on PS4 and Xbox One during the first year or two as I suspect that there aren't going to be that many.
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