Electronic Arts was on fire last year with a number of unique and stellar titles. This was a pretty pleasant surprise for most gamers since recently EA has been known for churning out sequels, roster updates for sports titles, and licensed games. In fact, EA suffered from something of a backlash at the hands of hardcore gamers not too long ago; many of them were tired of being bombarded with “safe” releases from EA who was the largest game publisher at that time. It seems the publisher has now found its way, and, although they still release lots of drivel, there are some risk-taking gems that temper their lineup from time to time.
Now, we face a worldwide economic recession. There are arguments from both sides as to whether or not the video games industry will be affected. Most can agree that the industry has not been affected profoundly as other sectors of the economy have. There is no doubt that things are at least tightening upâ€”developers are closing up shop, laying off workers, and halting projects. Companies across the spectrum are playing it safe and cutting back. Will this recession take us back to the all-too-recent days of sequels, updated rosters, and movie adaptations?
I, for one, don’t want to go back to those days. If they do return, I can assure publishers and developers that I won’t be purchasing many of their titles. Movie games are notoriously bad (in most cases). Sequels are easy money. Roster updates should never be anything but downloadable content at this point since all current consoles are capable of this.
The hardware makers have all been saying that this console generation will start a ten-year cycleâ€”twice the length of the cycle that has been in place virtually since the days of the NES. It is a smart move on their part. The platforms are all very mature and can withstand a longer cycle this time around. Our consoles are delivering a gaming experience that is very complete (with the possible exception of Wii online play). Why replace the platform when it is perfectly capable of delivering the experience users crave? This is also a sound strategy considering the current economic climate. Software developers could learn a lot from this approach.
If developers can stop thinking of their games as single encapsulated experiences, games themselves can also become platforms. We don’t need a new game engine every time a developer wants to tell a new story. We don’t need a $60 boxed title to update a years worth of roster shakeups. We don’t even necessarily need a new engine to deliver a new game type (proven by the modding communities that have blossomed around popular PC games). Most of all, we certainly don’t need an endless stream of easy-money titles from now until the economy is back on its feet. This strategy of games as platforms has already been put into practice by a few smart developers.
Harmonix has released two excellent music titles in Rock Band and Rock Band 2. Yes, the sequel was just released this past year, but Harmonix has already stated they will not be releasing a new edition in 2009. However, the Rock Band music library is updated weekly with new tracks that can be purchased and downloaded over Xbox Live. I venture a guess I have spent more money downloading new tracks than I have on the game itself. This is monumental considering the game with instruments was somewhere in the neighborhood of $180. I’m sure the development time spent on adapting a song to the Rock Band platform is minimal in comparison the time invested in developing a new sequel to the game. I speak for myself and many others like me in saying I do not feel a burning need for additional features to justify a new sequel to the game this year or even next for that matter. I am perfectly satisfied purchasing new songs.
Burnout Paradise is pretty much the perfect arcade racing game in my estimation. I am not a fan of racing games in general and definitely not a “car guy.” This makes it all the more amazing that I have poured hours upon hours into this game and still enjoy it immensely in spite of it having been released last year and my notoriously short attention span. Criterion, the game’s developer, has already come through with some free downloadable content even going so far as to add motorcycles to the game! Their plans for the upcoming year include some really exciting DLC that expands the game in ways that have traditionally only been done through new boxed releases.
All current-gen consoles are capable of receiving downloadable updates to games. They all have a marketplace setup to take payments for said downloads. In this time of economic strife, rather than devoting valuable time and energy to adding inane features and minor graphical updates, or worse still to adapting the hottest new family film, why not flesh out some of the fantastic platforms that are already out there in gamers’ homes. This model is cheaper for developers, cheaper and more convenient for gamers, and may just be the stimulus package the industry needs to keep it strong in this climate of counting pennies and cutting corners. Expanding existing games may be the best way to avoid the new gaming “dark age.”