Jimquisition: The Games Industry is Full of Cowards

In the latest episode of the Jimquisition, The Escapist Reviews Editor Jim Sterling looks at Bravely Default — a game whose success has caused Square Enix to think it should be making more of the games it has always been known for and have always been good at delivering.

From Jim’s perspective, it seems publishers like Square and Capcom (and everyone else) convinced themselves their popular games were going to fail, or that they weren’t actually all that popular, and that’s why we ended up with action-heavy Resident Evil, mainstreamed Final Fantasy, and a lots of other not-really-great ideas. It’s a pretty compelling argument.

What GameFront contributor Phil Owen pointed out to me, though, is that Jim might be missing a key element of what drove so many publishers to try to reinvent the wheel with their games: namely, Call of Duty money. It seems every triple-A title that comes out does so with the expectation of selling 5 million copies or more. Remember when Square Enix said Tomb Raider missed sales projections with the 3.6 million copies it moved at launch (it made money by the end of 2013, though)? What about when Electronic Arts said Dead Space 3 would have to move at least 5 million to be worthy of further investment?

Also at issue are inflating budgets and an expectation of selling crazy numbers of copies and making crazy money. It seems to me that ever since the Call of Duty franchise cracked a billion dollars in a single year’s sales, a great many decisions with rival game publishers have been angled in an attempt at finding a way to bake that kind of bread. So while an abject fear of imagined failure is definitely part of the story, with game companies often fleeing from niches even if they’re profitable, I can’t help but think it’s not the whole story — but then, Jim has said as much before as well.

At least the Bravely Default story is a positive in the vein of “this is what we’ve been saying all along,” though. Hopefully Capcom gets the picture with Resident Evil, because despite having reviewed Resident Evil 6 and liking it well enough, I’m still not excited for further games in that franchise until they start to tap what made them great to begin with.

What do you think? Agree or disagree with Jim (or me and Phil)? Let us know in the comments.

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4 Comments on Jimquisition: The Games Industry is Full of Cowards

Michael

On April 7, 2014 at 8:15 pm

You sir are a true gaming patriot. You just said everything I have been saying for over 14 years…I don’t know what happened to Jrpgs after the Psone. The PSone and the SNES are still the best consoles ever made when it came to Jrpgs. Speaking of horror, what ever happened to Dino Crisis?

bob

On April 7, 2014 at 11:05 pm

also the modern gamer is a total moron, followed by reviewers these days can not have the understanding to do their job

T. Jetfuel

On April 8, 2014 at 6:31 am

Well, much as I enjoy a good rant, I have to agree that Mr. Sterling is oversimplifying the issue quite a bit here. Game companies didn’t just conjure up a phantom menace of their releases not being popular enough out of thin air. As GF point out, their costs spiraled out of control, to the point where they can’t recoup the sweet moneys they burned in development with just the couple of million of loyal fans who made their “Intellectual Property” a hit in the first place. Sadly, this is a problem that’s more intractable than just having the companies wake up from a simple delusion.

In any case, attempts to CODify each and every game in quest of the big bucks is pretty obviously misguided. COD fans are not just going to to hop on every passing game that attempts to replicate that particular experience because of the very fact that the other devs are attempting to exploit: loyalty to the established brand, and the established community that goes with it. You know, that brand that they built up over time by NOT making drastic variations to the gameplay formula. That’s why COD is a big brand. It did not assume that everyone who liked Random Action Adventure 1 is now “in the bag” as it were, and under some obligation to continue supporting the series by buying RAA 2: This Time It’s Personal, no matter how much of what they liked about it in the first place gets tossed out to make room for appeals to the Wider Audience. You do not own “your fans”, so what happens with some frequency in these cases is you lose the old audience along with failing to steal the COD masses. And while having an audience is not a zero sum game, there is no way everyone gets to share those hypothetical mainstream hordes. There is not enough time and money for an unlimited number of Blockbusting Megasellers.

So clearly there is wisdom in not trying to cater for an audience of everybody by diluting what makes a game special. But that still leaves the problem of recouping costs and making a profit (unless you are a True Artist… hah!) So what’s the solution here? I wish I knew. Should game developers make a bigger effort at slashing the costs? Hmmm…. A major portion of the increased expenses seems to come out of the photorealism arms race that the industry has been engaged in. While I guess the high-minded ludophile opinion would be to denounce such worldly frippery and gilding as unnecessary to pure gaming goodness, there is the matter of immersion. I mean, I don’t really care how delightfully The Latest Indie Sensation references Horace Goes Skiing (look it up if you must) if I feel like entering an alternative universe. And the thing is, immersion works by contrast. I recall the original Thief being quite immersive back in the day, so that I played it despite how sick the 3D was making me. And now it looks… well, pretty crummy really. This is not because my eyes have evolved, it’s because of the stuff that we now have to compare it with. So it really is an arms race. You have to keep up or look pretty crummy.

‘Tis a vexing conundrum.

Phil Hornshaw

On April 8, 2014 at 9:23 am

@T. Jetfuel

Tech definitely has to be part of the story, but at the same time, there are great-looking games out there that also don’t seem to have broken their studios’ budgets (or at least, I don’t think they did). For example, Outlast looks pretty great, as does Slender: The Arrival or Haunt. It seems more and more possible to do great-looking games for less and less money. They might not be show-stoppers like Crysis, but at the same time, I think the belief that all games need to push graphical fidelity really hard in triple-A is also a bit of a fallacy. If we look at CoD, for example — it’s been basically the same engine for the entire run of the series.

But that’s just another part of it. Graphics seem to be a big money suck and there’s the chicken-and-egg question — is that what players WANT or what developers THINK they want? Probably a little of both, although I’m pretty certain most players are willing to sacrifice some fidelity if it means that not every franchise will be on the brink of collapse with each new iteration.

Anyway. Definitely an interesting aspect of the whole situation and a pretty nuanced discussion. I really do think there’s wisdom in suggesting that publishers go for variety in their projects, though — spreading out funding among smaller, profitable niche titles as well as a few big-budget hit-makers.