When the economy started its downturn, the game industry didn’t seem worried. Everyone thought that like movies, games were recession-proof. Now that there have been several shut-downs and buy-outs, it’s obvious that’s not the case. What do you think the industry needs to do to help themselves out of this rut? Also, let’s not turn this into a console flame war. We’re all above that.
Jenni: I think there are three ways to get people to keep buying games, even when money gets tight. The first thing to is fairly obvious – cut prices. Even a $5 price cut can make a huge difference. With Xbox 360 and PS3 games regularly costing $60, people are going to cut back and go for a cheaper DS, PSP, PS2 or Wii game.
The second is to make quality games. Enough with shovelware titles, or sequels that barely improve upon the original. If you’re going to make a port, remake, sequel or IP, make it something people won’t mind saving up for.
Last – add multiplayer. Look at Halo 3 and Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Both games are still in the top 10 forum list at GameFaqs, and part of that is because even after the main game is completed, you can still enjoy playing with friends. If a game has substantial single and multiplayer modes, people will be more likely to invest in the game because they can enjoy it alone or with friends.
Louise: I agree with Jenni on this issue. With the current climate the way it is, a $60 game isn’t a casual buy anymore. People are actually starting to plan their purchases and weigh the pros of one game over the other. Because of the cost of 360 and PS3 games, more people, parents at least, are taking a look at DS, PS2 or Wii games which are more inexpensive.
It’s risky to develop an original IP right now, and this may be unpopular, but it’s smart for companies to produce remakes or ports. The meat of the game is already done in a remake, and the only work left is to port it and do quality assurance. Players are already familiar with the brand and those who haven’t played the game already may be interested in it on the new console. The money that companies make from those ports can then be filtered to new games once the climate changes.
Ishaan: This is a touchy subject for many and something too many developers are afraid to embrace even when faced with the prospect of losing money: developing for Wii. People severely underestimate the time, resources and finances required for high-definition game development on the PS3 and 360. It isn’t easy or cheap, people! Now obviously, developing solely for Wii is not the smartest decision in the world, but one really wonders if it would have killed Capcom, for instance, to develop a Wii version of Street Fighter IV given that most people who would care about the game probably own a Classic or Gamecube controller, or would have bought one for the game specifically.
Considering how well simultaneous Wii SKUs like Shaun White Snowboarding and Call of Duty: World at War have done on the system, the “third-party games don’t sell” nonsense isn’t an excuse any longer. All it takes is a little pride in your work – by, you know, actually putting some effort into it – and marketing your Wii game appropriately instead of trying to sweep the fact that it exists under the rug. It amazes me sometimes how strongly our so-called “next-gen” developers are trying to oppose the only thing that makes the games industry even remotely “recession-proof.” Luckily, developers are catching on, and we’re going to see the fruits of their labour this year and the next.
Spencer: I don’t think any industry is “recession-proof”. When people have less disposable income they consume less and that includes video games. One simple thing publishers can do is space out their releases better. This past holiday season there was a flood of high budget games released around at the same time. People can’t pay attention to and snap up every $50 or $60 title at once. In the aftermath some games get overlooked and fall into the bargain bin prematurely. Unfortunately for publishers and development studios sales typically spike in the first few weeks after a launch. This is partially due to planned marketing pushes and partially due to gamers moving on to the next hotly anticipated game. In the coming few months RPG enthusiasts are getting an explosion of localized games mostly from Japan’s holiday season. How many $30-$40, 20-30 hour games can a person realistically play at once?
From a business perspective, big publishers invest heavily during development and expect big returns. This model can be a risky proposition, especially when investing in a new franchise like Louise said. Large publishers probably can’t break from this pattern much since shareholders want big profits and the amount of money a studio can make from a downloadable game is limited. However, small studios and indie developers have a chance to fill a gap in the marketplace with relatively cheaper niche games. A fair number of big budget games try to appeal to the mass market by including something for everyone. In the end you’re left with a product that many people can relate to a little bit. Niche publishers can do the opposite: make a “boutique” or specialty game that appeal to a smaller crowd, but relates to them a lot. The best part about boutique games is you can tinker with a new concepts which could lead to new genres in the future. And in the end new genres and styles of games push video games forward.