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Perry: "Little teams making simple games" may not be sustainable

Gaikai, Naughty Dog, Remedy, Epic argue retail vs digital

Major developers have offered their thoughts on gaming's slow move towards digital distribution.

While it has been argued in many quarters that smaller, casual games for mobile and social networks are the industry's future, Gaikai boss David Perry claimed in an episode of GameTheory (published on today) that "I see a lot of little teams trying to make simple games, and I'm a little worried... that's not sustainable.

"People who making Kleenex games – ones that you can blow your nose on and throw away – that's not necessarily a safe place to be betting your money. If your game design is two pages, unless you've found the next Tetris, I would start to worry."

Conversely, Naughty Dog co-founder Jason Rubin worried that medium-scale projects may be the most risky. "There are some traps in the industry now for developers – one is to grow into the size that makes middle games on console, bigger than $15 million, but smaller than $30 million.

"That middle gap seems to right now be a financial weak point, and a lot of games in that budget aren't big enough to compete with the Call of Dutys out there, but there's also not small enough to recoup with lower sales."

The general sentiment was that the industry has become much riskier in recent times – as evidenced by Activision's dramatic cull of multiple studios and franchises last week.

Claimed Epic president Mike Capps, "Chris Taylor and I have had successful independent game companies running for a decade or more. But neither of us would start one now – it's just so hard to get moving and really do something you're excited about. I don't know how to do it anymore.

"There's a reason FarmVille and Zynga's games are so successful – it's advertising dollars. Not because FarmVille's design is particularly brilliant or they put a massive investment into it – it's advertising dollars, followed by metrics, and watching what their users are doing. So we're all playing bigger gambles and that's getting scary – for a studio like Epic, I can't have a lot of failures at the $15 million level and continue."

Remedy CEO Matias Myllyrinne, meanwhile reasoned that "You're only as good as your last game... but now the stakes are even higher, and the failures are more visible." Remedy's last title, Alan Wake, was last year revealed to have sold less than 200,000 copies in its first month of release.

Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder co-creator Jon Hare, now working on mobile titles as Tower Studios, felt that the division between large and small companies was only growing. "Boxed product is only alive if you are EA or Ubisoft... everyone's been so marginalised from retail that there's nothing in it for us anymore.

"The other 90% of the industry has looked to online and now there's so many options that nobody wants to turn back."

For the full video, also including interviews with Revolution's Charles Cecil, Media Molecule's Alex Evans and Oddworld's Lorne Lanning, please click here.

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Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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