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.
"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.