While the indie development scene has shown a tremendous amount of growth over the past few years, the triple-A console titles are still king. But, even though triple-A titles typically get the most recognition when it comes to success, the development and publishing surrounding those games might not be as healthy for the industry as it once was. Or at least that’s what Christofer Sundberg, Founder and Creative Director for Avalanche Studios (Just Cause), believes.
According to Sundberg, almost everything about the games business has evolved, save for the way games are approached from a business standpoint. In other words, where there is money to be made, there is little room for experimentation or creativity.
Moreover, where a movie or a TV show might offer a little flexibility in terms of last minute changes to meet the needs of producers, games do not. In the triple-A space especially, publishers need to project a product will be financially successful very early on.
“It’s really not healthy at the moment. Games have evolved, technology has evolved but as businesses we’re still stuck where we were 15 years ago. As budgets grow, risks increase…Very few traditional $60 games make any money, and what used to make sense doesn’t any more,” he said. “Publishers and developers very rarely see a return of investment from a 5-8 hour long game.”
Sundberg also brings up an interesting point about $60 games with a 5-8 hour completion time. In his mind, very few games that fall into that category end up turning a profit, which actually may be true. Titles like Tomb Raider and Hitman: Absolution, for example — games that were somewhat successful critically and sold well by traditional standards — failed to meet their publisher’s very high expectations.
At the same time, Sundberg is not saying the industry should abandon triple-A development, only that the 15-year old approach publishers still use needs to change. He obviously has a lot invested in triple-A development, with both Mad Max and (potentially) Just Cause 3 in the works. While we don’t know much about Just Cause 3, we do know that Mad Max is targeting a next-gen console release, and even that is scary to Sundberg.
Luckily, Mad Max is going multi-platform and likely won’t be out until Microsoft and Sony have sold a few million more units around the world. Nevertheless, Avalanche has just as much of an investment in publishers changing their perspective as any other third party developer. They typically work in that sweet spot where a games’ value proposition and its financial success toe a very thin line. By that we mean their games are unique and well liked, but they aren’t cheap to make.
While there is no question that the risks inherent to video game development are there, it’s unclear whether or not those approaches will ever change. Much like the film industry there are a lot of double-edged swords at play, where sequels dominate all else and original creations are risky bets, but maybe in this new generation of console things will change.
Do you think that triple-A development is unhealthy right now? How should publishers change their approach in your opinion?