Blockbusters Leaving Less Room for Indie Games

blockbusters_1000It is hard to look anywhere online and not be bombarded with promotions for and reviews of the latest blockbuster games.  Currently, Grand Theft Auto V is the reigning champion with a nearly constant stream of videos and news. Unfortunately for the game’s developers, the current news about the difficulty with the online multiplayer is the dominant message of the day.

My point is that It is difficult for smaller, independent developers to get noticed.

In his article, “Shrinking List of Video Games Is Dominated by Blockbusters” published in The New York Times this week, Nick Wingfield explains why:

The biggest console and PC games — usually those games that are part of an established franchise and have the slickest production values — are posting spectacular sales figures. This month, the latest in the gritty urban adventure series Grand Theft Auto took only three days on store shelves to reach $1 billion in sales, faster than any video game ever, its publisher said.

The richest games are getting richer partly because the industry makes fewer games over all, concentrating players’ spending. Publishers are also squeezing out a little more money per game sold by selling add-on content and other digital goodies. And the legions of players eager to do battle with one another online create a sort of virtuous cycle, as players are attracted to the titles with the biggest pool of opponents.       

Now, the most popular games, like Call of Duty, Halo and Assassin’s Creed, or top sports games, like the FIFA soccer series, have the biggest development budgets and fan bases and are getting a bigger portion of sales. The top 20 games in 2012 accounted for 41 percent of total American game sales in stores, nearly double what they did a decade earlier, according to the NPD Group, a market research company.

The lower output of publishers makes the stakes higher. In 2012, only half as many new games were released in American stores as in 2008, NPD said. Electronic Arts, the publisher of the Madden football series and other sports favorites, sold 67 different titles in stores in the fiscal year ending March 2009. In its last fiscal year, it sold 13. Because fewer games are released, game makers must get more sales out of those games that do reach store shelves.

The development costs on Grand Theft Auto V were likely to have been more than $100 million, and its marketing $50 million more, said Evan Wilson, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities. He estimated that a typical console game would break even at about four million units, while that figure would have been one million a decade or so ago.

I have no issues with the popular big-budget game series and often play several of them but I want to be sure that their success is not at the cost of smaller games that try to do something new.

While this feeling has been increasing for me recently due to the hype around the launch of these huge franchise games, in truth I have come to this thought quite late. Nearly eight years ago, Stephanie Barish, the chief executive and founder of IndieCade, started thinking that the gaming industry had become unbalanced towards the blockbuster games. In his article “Where Indie Game Producers Come Out to Play“, published in The New York Times this week, Harold Goldberg explains:

IndieCade is the brainchild of Stephanie Barish, a former digital media producer. In 2005, after becoming convinced that the game industry had tilted too much toward blockbuster franchises, she began brainstorming with friends in her living room about how to correct the imbalance. After some smaller showcases, IndieCade really established itself in 2008 with 20 games in an art gallery in Bellevue, Wash.

Digital distribution has been driving sales of independent video games for nearly a decade. But the rise of the indies can be traced in no small part to IndieCade, a quirky, artful gathering that attracts people from around the world to an event that’s known as the Sundance of games.

IndieCade, which will showcase over 120 games and is expected to draw 5,000 enthusiasts to Culver City, Calif., this week, features creations made by eager college kids with something to prove and youngish professionals disgruntled by the assembly-line anonymity that can come with working on big-budget productions.

This year the games Myst and Doom  will be honored on their 20th anniversaries. They are two of my all-time favorites and each represents a seminal moment in a game type’s history. Although each started small they proved to become huge hits, true precursors to the blockbusters of today.

Posted on October 3, 2013, in Gaming and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Very true, but look at Minecraft a perfect example of an amazing game. There are still smaller companies that make great games. Personally I have been very disappointed with quite a few of the big blockbuster games released lately.
    The Tomb Raider that was released earlier this year was a great disappointment for me, it was not as much fun to play as some of the older games. The last Black Ops II was horrible, and almost unplayable, due to the lag and server problems. And Grand Theft Auto… still doesn’t work on line. What fun is that? If the blockbuster game does not play the way it is supposed to, it is a greater disappointment because of all the hype beforehand. I am always on the lookout for the smaller unknown games, they are more innovative and usually a lot more fun to play.

  2. I agree, with great budgets and hype comes great responsibility not to disappoint. It is up to the consumer to seek out smaller newer productions. Creative, original games exist out there if you look for them. Let’s just hope that they remain economically viable.

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