Monday, February 06, 2006
State of the video game industry
The New York Times reports (via news.com) that the video game industry is having some problems with sales. The stated example was that True Crime: New York City only sold 348,000 copies, which was less than expected, in spite of the following quoted features: "It was the sequel to a well-received game, it had the violent aesthetic of the popular Grand Theft Auto series, and it featured licensed songs from name acts like DMX and Public Enemy. Activision promoted the game heavily, with full-page advertisements in mainstream magazines."
Okay, so we got a game which is a sequel of a game which already was a ripoff of GTA, and *surprisingly* it doesn't sell half a million copies? Doh! Wake up, video game industry! It is 2006, GTA has been around for some time already, and there are numerous sequels, clones, and sequels of clones of it. All developed in the same couple of year, using about the same standard of graphics. There is simply a limit of how many copies of always the same you can sell, even with full-page advertisements. And no, the World of Warcraft clone you plan to bring out in 2007 isn't going to sell 5 million copies either.
There is some hope that online console gaming will bring huge profits to the industry. And some day in the next couple of year that will most probably happen. But *not* by taking one of the classical PC MMORPGs, or a clone, and putting it on a console. Console gaming, lying on a couch with a dual stick controller in hands, has a totally different dynamics than PC gaming in an office chair with a keyboard and mouse. A PC MMORPG is very much based on chat, and neither menu-driven canned texts nor USB keyboards for consoles will create a console MMORPG that sells a million copies. For the console market you will need to create a MMORPG-lite, with a much reduced social interaction between players, easily playable with just a gamepad. A bit like WoW for quests and soloing, but without the raid part, and a lot less complicated. Maybe some automated interface for finding a group for a certain zone, but with little or no "group-only" content.
In general the video game industry needs to realize that they are approaching market saturation. The previous strategy of combining old successful ideas with some brand, hyping the thing with lots of marketing, and having a sure hit is over. To sell well a game now needs to be either a very, very good implementation of a known idea (World of Warcraft), or be based on a totally new idea (Spore, probably). Muddling through with just another me-too game is not going to cover the development costs any more.