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Csonicgo

Cash-cows killing the videogame industry?

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I've noticed something that bothers me: Have game studios become so cash-strapped that every game has to be a hit? The reason I saying this is because I've noticed that since 2000 with the release of Halo: Combat Evolved, companies that have found a successful cash cow proceed to milk it until it's dead, resurrect it and keep milking, rinse and repeat. See Gearbox with its Brothers in Arms series, or Activision's Call of Duty and Guitar Hero.

I know that people love these games, but it seems to me that there is a very large group of loyal fans that love them so much that game devs have decided to rest on their laurels and release clone after clone of their successful franchises, or a competing company releases a knockoff product in an attempt to get a piece of the franchise pie. Even mobile phone devs are guilty, making Mobile "games" based on popular bestselling franchises.

All the while, real ideas that could be successful are either only realized by indie developers, or left to rot in a programmer's mind as he codes the next game in a cash-cow franchise.

Is the gaming industry so set on profitability that ideas that could change the industry for the better left behind because of too much risk to the bottom line? I have a feeling that sooner or later, people will tire of the madden, the CoD, the MoH, the WoW,and the Final Fantasies and demand something new, and Indie companies will be the only ones that can do it.

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<devil's advocate>

If you can make lots of moneys from something that requires minimal thought and effort, why would you bother trying to do something fresh and new even if it turned out to be just as commercially successful?

</devil's advocate>

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Csonicgo said:

I've noticed something that bothers me: Have game studios become so cash-strapped that every game has to be a hit? The reason I saying this is because I've noticed that since 2000 with the release of Halo: Combat Evolved, companies that have found a successful cash cow proceed to milk it until it's dead, resurrect it and keep milking, rinse and repeat. See Gearbox with its Brothers in Arms series, or Activision's Call of Duty and Guitar Hero.

The film industry has been like this for years. Once they find a format that Joe Shit-for-brains likes, why deviate from it? It will eventually come to a point where the pool becomes so stagnant that a new "edgier" game will finally break the mold and the rest of the industry will, again, run it into the ground.

Also, Guitar Hero is pretty much dead.

I know that people love these games, but it seems to me that there is a very large group of loyal fans that love them so much that game devs have decided to rest on their laurels and release clone after clone of their successful franchises, or a competing company releases a knockoff product in an attempt to get a piece of the franchise pie. Even mobile phone devs are guilty, making Mobile "games" based on popular bestselling franchises.

Your assuming that these loyal fans are not the majority. It may not seem like it on forums dedicated to classic FPS, but every XBox fan-babby I've met all liked the same big blockbuster games your complaining about. They are not catering to the elite, but the masses.

All the while, real ideas that could be successful are either only realized by indie developers, or left to rot in a programmer's mind as he codes the next game in a cash-cow franchise.

I've played good indi games, but I haven't seen many breaking ground without using an already preexisting genre.

Is the gaming industry so set on profitability that ideas that could change the industry for the better left behind because of too much risk to the bottom line? I have a feeling that sooner or later, people will tire of the madden, the CoD, the MoH, the WoW,and the Final Fantasies and demand something new, and Indie companies will be the only ones that can do it.

Again, they are making shit to make money. If it sells to the masses, they will continue to make it.

It doesn't help that many franchise fanboys lap the cum of their favorite developer like manna from God. I like Final Fantasy, but everything from ten and up have just been interactive pre-rendered films.

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40oz said:

Do you just hate games? just go out and say it, dude.


I hate the business model that games have come to be. Let's look at Activision, since they're on my shitlist as of late.

Activision used to be one of the companies that broke the mold of these business practices, made programmers almost like geeky rock stars, supported their game team's efforts, and for the cherry on top, they could market them so well with memorable commercials that even if they sucked, they sold.

Notice how this commercial advertises the product:



While that still works, by 2009 Programmers aren't the rock stars they once were, advertising had become nothing but game footage and one-sentence review blurbs, and a rating stamp. Activision however, in 2011 decided to full retard and....





I don't even know. Somewhere in this, there's a video game.

Activision has gotten desperate as of the late 2000s, throwing Mr.T and Chuck Norris into their commercials. Surely they're not that strapped for cash that they need to pull out 80s actors and place them in front of television cameras.

while I'm sure that the responses will be "come on csonig that was a cool commercial!" and I agree that it is, I still don't feel compelled to buy the game. There was nothing there to make me feel any more inclined to throw money at my screen, but the first commercial at least put a sense of wonder in my head. the second had slow-mo footage of a battle, some jeep, a helicopter and... some logos. And a dude talked. Other than that it was actionmovie porn. What were they selling me again? a Jeep? a game? Joining the army?

Not even soft drinks are safe!


When will we realize that this is probably unhealthy for the gaming industry? this forced saturation is reaching Pokemon levels! and how funny that you never hear about Pokemon much anymore: Nintendo pretty much fed us with so much Pokemon that we couldn't take it anymore.

Activision should know better.

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Csonicgo said:

while I'm sure that the responses will be "come on csonig that was a cool commercial!" and I agree that it is, I still don't feel compelled to buy the game. There was nothing there to make me feel any more inclined to throw money at my screen

The ad doesn't need to provide anything to make you feel compelled to by it, becasue the majority already wants it. The franchise name alone has enough marketability to bring in the bucks.

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Technician said:

The ad doesn't need to provide anything to make you feel compelled to by it, becasue the majority already wants it. The franchise name alone has enough marketability to bring in the bucks.


This violates so many well-established rules of advertising. The only "brand" at this point as saturated as this is Coca-Cola and Disney.

When does a brand become so saturated that it loses its punch? I think we all know this threshold and Activision's clearly passed it...

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Csonicgo said:

I don't even know. Somewhere in this, there's a video game.

i disagree. I've watched Modern Warfare 3, it is about as far from a video game as you can possibly get. It's basically a shitty movie; not even as entertaining as Michael Bay's Transformers films, but all the same cheap tricks are in it.

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Csonicgo said:

This violates so many well-established rules of advertising. The only "brand" at this point as saturated as this is Coca-Cola and Disney.

I assume there are well established rules to market products, but when a company is so mainstream that all it has to do is yell "The new installment is ready! Part your cheeks and open your wallets!", well, the ad has done it's job. It just needs to put the product in the consumers head, even if it doesn't require any kind linguistic strategy to drill it into said consumer's brain. It's every companies dream to one day become such a household name that they don't even have to put creative effort into advertisements to move product.

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chungy said:

i disagree. I've watched Modern Warfare 3, it is about as far from a video game as you can possibly get. It's basically a shitty movie; not even as entertaining as Michael Bay's Transformers films, but all the same cheap tricks are in it.

CoD SP is an interactive movie, for sure. The same can't be said for MP though.

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DoomUK said:

CoD SP is an interactive movie, for sure. The same can't be said for MP though.


Taken from "team Xbox forums" back in 2008 and cleaned up a bit:

I think I got tired of Call Of Duty very quickly because of the childish bickering that goes on online. As in:

You enter a match and then someone will pick a fault in you LIVE name for no reason.
They'll say something about your parents for no reason at all.

That's why I'm fed up with it. It just gets so annoying.

I've given up.

I don't see why we need a yearly CoD game anyway, Its over saturating.

2008.

Man, I wonder what that person thinks now! :P

I actually have a friend that plays MW3 and he says there's a little phenomenon called the "revenge spawn" where the game doesn't spawn a player farthest from a killer, and since there seems to be little respawn protection/nerfing( is this not mandatory anymore? I don't know) you can be killed by the same guy 3-4 times in a row before the game throws him in a safe place away to spawn. That's pretty frickin' laaaame.

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Csonicgo said:

Is the gaming industry so set on profitability that ideas that could change the industry for the better left behind because of too much risk to the bottom line?

What could possibly be better for the industry than being highly profitable? Being innovative and original is a risky and expensive pass-time, so let those poor dumb indies take the risks and buy out any that stumble upon a winning formula. While waiting for that to happen - scrape the verdigris of an old evergreen franchise, give it a fresh coat of bloom and a new mission pack then hand it over to the marketing gurus. At the end of the day all that matters is keeping the shareholders happy. </rant>

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GreyGhost said:

What could possibly be better for the industry than being highly profitable? Being innovative and original is a risky and expensive pass-time, so let those poor dumb indies take the risks and buy out any that stumble upon a winning formula.



You summed it up better in that small blurb than I ever could.

In business, this is a genius idea! It's about as moral as the mafia, but who cares? we gots money to make see?

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Csonicgo said:

stuff

Just because 12 year olds hurl insults at you through their microphones doesn't mean you can't like, turn that whole feature off and get on with playing the game. And spawn killing? The same happened to me in Q3A and just about every other MP fps I've ever played, to memory. Certainly not an exploit that's exclusive to CoD.

Though I do agree that the series is stale, and completely emblematic of the lack of imaginative spark in the gaming industry. I could never stand the games in SP but even MP is becoming a little dull after the 8th game.

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Milking franchises to death has always existed. What's different these days however is how the industry is becoming increasingly polarized. You either go the AAA $60 route where anything under 3 million sold is a failure, or you regress to making super cheap downloadable games on a shoestring budget. There's little to no middle ground anymore.

You see this pattern very often lately where "middle class" tier developers suddenly try to make an AAA super smash hit, often with all the cliches that come with it. They either fail spectacularly and close/downsize like hell, or get lucky and join the big leagues. The Japanese international developers seem to be hurting the most from this, they've had a real fall from grace this generation.

It's a very sad trend really. Middle class type games are probably the ones I enjoy the most. they usually have the guts to stand out from the blockbuster frat boy market everyone is chasing, but their budget is modest enough so the production values don't feel closer to Angry Birds. Dark Souls, Stalker, Vampire the Masquerade etc, these games are part of a dying breed.

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Csonicgo said:

I've noticed something that bothers me: Have game studios become so cash-strapped that every game has to be a hit?

Yes, because AAA games are fucking expensive to make. The manpower required, and diversity of talents needed, as increased nearly exponentially. The race to realism (photorealistic graphics, physics engine, etc.) means that you can't just have a coder, a painter and a musician: you need a huge team for each of these parts. The modeling/animating/physiquing/texturing part is especially huge -- one reason I think why games have moved mostly away from huge bestiary diversity to instead have tons of same-like humanoid NPCs. You also need voice actors. There's not any single genre that can do without voice acting now. Tons of stuff like that.

Even then, there are still attempts at innovation. Like Mirror's Edge or Portal, which deviate a bit from the run o' the mill FPS. But it's a lottery. Portal was hugely successful thanks to Internet meme retardedness, ME wasn't as lucky. It didn't flop, but they expected it'd make 3 million sales and it only made 2 millions.

Combine that with huge piracy numbers (not all of which can be waved away with the usual "I don't have money so I wouldn't have bought it anyway/I only get it as a demo and I'll buy it if I like it" excuses) and you can see why it is so very important for business-like game companies to make as much money as they can. Remember we're currently in a worldwide economic and financial crisis, the cost of living is increasing, unemployment is on the rise, social spendings are slashed in the name of fighting national debts, so keeping a steady stream of cash so as not to get fired is a very important thing for everyone working in any industry, the video game industry being no exception.

GeckoYamori said:

Milking franchises to death has always existed.

Early CRPGs were infamous for that. By the time Doom was released, there was Wizardry VII, Might and Magic V, Ultima VII part 2... And I'm too lazy to count how many AD&D games by SSI.

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Anything from Valve can be regarded as an exception. They're a fully private owned company and don't have any shareholders to answer to, which is what makes them unique among the big players. They can do whatever they feel like doing.

I think one example that perfectly shows how the industry has changed is Dragon Age. This game was originally announced in 2005, when the non-blockbuster market was still a pretty healthy place. It was a PC-exclusive "back to the roots" CRPG from Bioware who were enjoying increasing mainstream success since Knights of the Old Republic released. Development went silent for a bunch of years. Inbetween Bioware managed to pass the AAA threshold with Mass Effect. In 2009 Dragon Age resurfaces, announced for consoles with the infamous "this is the new shit" marketing. And then Dragon Age 2 happened, this time they went full dudebro and the game conveniently released in March right before the end of the fiscal year (this seems to be a recurring theme among the less-than-admired EA sequels, like Command & Conquer 4).

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Gez has hit the nail on the head - the reason those cash cow games are the only ones being made is because they're so expensive to develop. Not many compaines can get away with a long development cycle, as there's a risk of underperforming at release and not getting back your investment.

Obviously they could spend less by making a simpler or less graphically intense game, but then the guy with the shinier graphics will get the attention and you're still less likely to make much of a profit. This where the whole "follow the leader" thing in the games industry has come from, and this is why it's still massive after so many years. Remember how many "Doom clones" there were? Cheap cash-in sequels and expansion packs like The Ultimate Doom and Final Doom? Lots of sloppy porting to every console going? Things haven't changed one bit since then aside from the general ante being considerably upped.

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Having to currently develop a AAA title now, I would like to admit that I really prefer to work on small/indie games. Especially when you don't have big-time publishers breathing down your neck.

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Gez said:

You also need voice actors.


I've noticed expectations for voice acting have been increasing over the years too. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's only a matter of time before developers are expected to have famous actors like Brad Pitt doing voice acting.

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It's sad becasue I find professional voice actors better than movie actors.

Again, the name brings in the cash regardless of quality.

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Games are now overly expensive to develop. You kind of have to keep churning out AAA titles just to stay in the black. They're also expensive to buy retail and support, so it's sort of senseless to throw away $60 at something that's not going to return dozens of hours of playability.

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Gez said:

... And I'm too lazy to count how many AD&D games by SSI.


I own at least 6 of them on C64.. :P

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Craigs said:

I've noticed expectations for voice acting have been increasing over the years too. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if it's only a matter of time before developers are expected to have famous actors like Brad Pitt doing voice acting.

It really wouldn't be a good idea using big-name movie actors in place of career voice actors.

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Csonicgo said:

Taken from "team Xbox forums" back in 2008 and cleaned up a bit:

I think I got tired of Call Of Duty very quickly because of the childish bickering that goes on online. As in:

You enter a match and then someone will pick a fault in you LIVE name for no reason.
They'll say something about your parents for no reason at all.

That's why I'm fed up with it. It just gets so annoying.

I've given up.

I don't see why we need a yearly CoD game anyway, Its over saturating.


2008.

Man, I wonder what that person thinks now! :P


Since no one talks in lobbies anymore, I'm guessing he would find it more tolerable. Everyone just sits in their stupid fucking parties because they're obviously too good to talk to the people they're actually playing a game with and instead want to talk to their buddy playing something else. I enjoyed the old Xbox Live banter. It wasn't nearly as bad as people act like it was. There weren't as many loud young children as people seem to think, and even when they were there, most of the time they were actually kind of cool.

As for the namecalling? That happened like once to me

"Hey! Why's your name DickReconMajor?"

"Because I'm gay."

"Oh."

My guess is people getting joked on should either stop being such pansies or not name themselves xXDIckPuMP778Xx.

Actually I do remember the first Xbox Live match I played. Some guy's name was "F Hucker" and people were calling him out on what he was obviously doing. It was hilarious.

Csonicgo said:

I actually have a friend that plays MW3 and he says there's a little phenomenon called the "revenge spawn" where the game doesn't spawn a player farthest from a killer, and since there seems to be little respawn protection/nerfing( is this not mandatory anymore? I don't know) you can be killed by the same guy 3-4 times in a row before the game throws him in a safe place away to spawn. That's pretty frickin' laaaame.


I hear spawns always suck at the beginning of a CoD game's release, then improve over patches.

As for the actual topic? I used to act like the whole "big budget has to be a hit" bugged me, just to be all indie-supportive and hip. But honestly I don't care. I think Call of Duty and Doom are pretty much the only games I've played lately. People gave me shit when I told them I was buying Modern Warfare 3. "It's just Modern Warfare 2 with new maps!" they said.

Well that's exactly what I wanted.

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I don't see the problem. Every single medium has had a problem with slipping into formula and cliche throughout all of history. Ever wondered why there are about three Greek tragedies anyone cares about? Same reason. Most of those were lost, and as far as entertainment goes, little of value was lost (obviously such things are historically valuable).

Games have always been like this too. I keep having to point out to people that there used to be 1000 different Pac-Man clones. There were also Mario clones (Sonic was an example that did something new with the genre and became more fun for a lot of people), Pong clones, Wolf3D clones, etc.

The same is true of sequels. Of course people make sequels to their popular games that are barely different. Why wouldn't they do that? Id did it more than once and nobody here complains.

I think a big source of frustration for some gamers is when they see all those production dollars funneled away from the thing they like. This was less noticeable when even AAA games were produced by one or two people.

The industry will be fine. If it suffers a massive crash it will still be fine, so ultimately I don't care very much.

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