Go big or go home

I found this interesting, if not a bit cynical (full story needs registration…):

Q: How has the rising cost of making triple-A games changed production at Ubisoft?

Alain Corre: The games that are not triple-A are not profitable anymore. And that’s changed in the last 18 months. When you have a triple-A blockbuster it costs more money to develop, but at the end of the day there’s also the chance of a good return on it because there’s a concentration at the top of the charts. To a certain extent it becomes less risky to invest more in a single game or franchise than spreading your investment between three or four games. Because if those three or four games are not at the right quality level, you are sure to lose money. So the business model has changed and we’re changing our way of making hardcore games. With hardcore games that we’re not sure are reaching the right level, we stop work on them. And that’s why we concentrate more on key franchises, because that’s what the market wants – something new with huge quality production behind it. The market is not supporting the full range of product that it used to anymore.

What I find interesting about statement like that is it tells me that the mainstream gaming companies are now officially risk adverse. Take Two said the same thing about 11 months ago:

“The demand for top-tier products is okay. The demand for lower-tier products is not so clear,” Zelnick (pictured) said during an analyst conference call attended by Gamasutra today. “The safest place to be is in triple-A.”

Part of that is because triple-A games targeted at dedicated gamers can retain value, while lower-end games or titles targeted at less hardcore audiences are more likely to be devalued as retailers institute promotions.

This is the main reason why I’m really interested in what the indie studios are doing these days. The small guys who somehow seem to still be able to create great games that are a) profitable, and b) imaginative. The bigger studios, IMHO, have completely lost the reason why they make games…it’s become totally about the bottom line, which is the wrong place to be looking.

Making Triple A..what the hell does that really mean anyway? For them, it seems to be just a function of how much money you dump into the development of a product, because whenever Triple A is mentioned, the words “profit” and “revenue” are not far behind. Really? This is what great games are all a function of? Throw money at the game and that makes it AAA? Or is it the other way around, spend less on them so that your profits are higher?

Another thing that lends to this shift of “no risk” is the statement that they are starting to concentrate more on “key franchises”. In other words, the EA model of countless sequels with only minor iterations separating them. Apparently, this is what we want. “The market”, i.e. us, don’t want these gaming companies to take risk and create something new and exciting…no…we want them to develop the same thing over and over again. Why do we want this again?? I don’t know about you, but when I play a game I’m really not thinking whether it’s a triple A title or not…and I certainly do not think about how much money they spend on it.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at cynical crap like this. I just hope it’s a phase that these guys are going through. I think they are making a huge mistake with this mindset, but this will have to be something they need to learn with a couple of really hard failure lessons.

D out.

P.S. Thanks to the GWJ forum crew for bringing this to my attention.

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