Thursday, September 18, 2008

From sad to happy

The level of quality in your product or service is a direct contributor to sales and profits. This goes without saying. But when it actually needs saying, you know something is definitely wrong with your industry. This is from Michael de Plater, creative director on Ubisoft's forthcoming strategy title EndWar, quoted by Phil Elliott:

" there is a relationship between the quality of the games you make and the sales," he said, although he did concede that other factors, such as marketing, were also likely to ultimately influence the sales figures.

In order to convey the ridiculousness that this state of affairs corresponds to, allow me to reconstruct this statement as if it were spoken by some other expert from some other industry:

"Milk bottles that are actually filled with milk tend to sell better in the milk market, compared to those filled with water," the senior milkman said, although he did concede that they were regularly able to sell large quantities of water to consumers, under the guise of milk, thanks to marketing.

You developed what?
Earlier today I was looking at the R&D expenditures of EA and Ubisoft, wondering just how much of that was actually value-added for the gamer. Someone tell me if I am wrong, but I am assuming a large portion of their R&D goes for graphics/physics engines. This is the conclusion one reaches after seeing no major innovation in gaming experience when the total R&D spending of these two companies reach almost $1.5 billion together.

While some people might count the sheer graphical prowess of these game engines as major innovations, the question that stands out in my mind is this: have they run out of all other less costly venues of value innovation?

Some people know the fact to be far from that. In my previous post I gave the Taleworlds example, but there is more. Introversion Software in the UK claim to be the last of the bedroom programmers. I will dare say they are, instead, one of the first of a new generation in gaming.

PC gaming is dead
PC gaming as we knew is dying. Console gaming owes much of its success to the fact that many PC gamers were simply burnt out by the crazy hardware race that made you upgrade - if not buy an entirely new computer - almost every year in order to get the most out of the titles you purchased. When you pay $60 dollars for a console title, on the other hand, you know it will work seamlessly on your machine. You know this will be the case for any title for the entire life span of the console which can be up to four or five years depending on your time of purchase. With the PC, there are no guarantees for tomorrow.

Although many companies are on the transition to the console market these days, their mentalities are still locked on to that arms race. It is as if they have been running for so long that running is all they know now.

Long live PC gaming
The exodus leaves a lot of room, however, for independent developers who are sweeping the remaining venues of innovation left unexplored by the biggies - and they have left a lot in their crazy run.

The immensely positive response shown to games like Mount&Blade, Uplink, Darwinia and others, proves the demand for originality in games. This is a demand that does not need billions of dollars to meet. All it needs is creativity. The internet has helped with the big hurdle of distribution for the indies. For the gamers it might just be the cause of preference over consoles where the only content digitally delivered to your drive is the one that pays the royalty fees. Devs and publishers who can realize their new options and advantages may have a good chance of enjoying a second golden age in PC gaming.

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