Wednesday, 23 September 2015

High Development Costs do not equal High Enjoyment

I'm fairly positive that most gamers who keep up with the gaming headlines or the output of long-standing developers/publishers will have read the news about Konami announcing the end of triple-A software development for home consoles. This is a galling blow for veteran gamers who held some hope of seeing the likes of Contra, Castlevania and Gradius receive new sequels but put that in conjuction with the departure of Hideo Kojima (and the dissolution of Kojima Productions) and you have to wonder what the future is for Konami. Will they ever produce anything in the way of essential ever again? Is the Metal Gear series finished? We don't know the answers to these questions but what we DO know is that the recent Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain reportedly cost Konami $80,000,000 to produce!

That is a staggering figure whichever way you look at it but it got me thinking: do these astronomical development costs always translate into a must-have title that will guarantee a great gaming experience? Obviously the age old issue of personal preferences will ensure that there is no concrete answer but it's not hard to imagine that there are countless gamers out there who would dismiss MGS V as tosh but get hours and hours of enjoyment from an endless runner or Flappy Bird clone on mobile devices. So you can certainly ask yourself if Konami's logic was really all that crazy. After all, there are a lot of people who disliked MGS4 and openly slated the game and I'll bet that game cost quite a packet to produce also. Additionally, that $80 million wouldn't even account for marketing or distribution so will they even make any profit on the game? The point is that gaming is a business like any other and us old-school types gagging for a Contra 5 or new Mystical Ninja game are an increasingly extreme minority. Aside from the fact that there aren't enough of us to warrant green-lighting a multi-million dollar project with little chance to make a profit on, we are probably the savviest buyers used to waiting for a title to hit £15 before we actually buy it.

Is there $80 million of enjoyment in this?
The big waves made by indie titles on digital services such as PSN, XBLA and Steam - produced by small teams on comparitively miniscule budgets - prove that spending the same money on a game that a Hollywood studio would on the latest blockbuster isn't always necessary to gain critical praise and good sales. Yes, you can argue that there are fan expectations and a certain standard that some franchises need to continue to meet but the actions of companies like Konami prove that they are willing to risk the wrath of their fanbase in pursuit of safe, sensible business decisions. Today, we might think it would be unimaginable to have a gaming industry without Solid Snake but back in the 8 and 16bit eras, it would have been madness to suggest that series' such as Gradius, Final Fight and Bomberman would ever disappear into irrelevance and yet they have. These series' and too many others have gradually been phased out over the decades and if it secures the financial future of a major publishing corporation then history will certainly repeat itself.

But enough of business; what is the truth for us, the gamers? Well, from a personal viewpoint I would find it difficult to deny that I get just as much enjoyment from small projects and more modestly-produced games as I do from a 'big' release. I enjoyed Hotline Miami far more than any modern, shiny FPS for example and I'm currently enjoying Luminous Arc 2 for the DS - an RPG which was evidently developed on a much smaller scale than the last the last few PS3 JRPG's that I've (figuratively speaking) binned out of boredom or apathy. There is a certain 'something' that games need to turn them into an endearing experience and big budgets can't necessarily buy that 'something'. This is how smaller projects can take on established names and defeat them in the popularity ratings. Put it this way: you can dress up a really unattractive woman in the most expensive lingerie on the market but Holly Willoughby slipped inside a load of dirty bin bags would still be a billion times more attractive.

Looking into the past, you can argue that the games we still revere today were probably developed in budgets out of reach of bedroom coders or small studios but the fact is that there was a lot less riding on the industry as a whole in the 80's and early 90's. It feels that the videogame industry has grown too big for its own sustainability and we can see this when proflific studios such as Bizarre Creations get closed down for one 'failure' of a game following a string of hits or when the likes of Konami and EA don't dare to stray outside of their core franchises because taking the risk on something new or something old could tank the entire business. Perhaps this lack of creativity only stimulates more formulaic sequels that satisfy the senses but don't excite them.

If gaming is to survive in the long term, I believe we will see the end of the traditional home console and the end of big budget releases. If this is the only way to stablise what I see as a bloated industry on the verge of imploding and maybe tempt older franchises out of retirement with reduced development costs then so be it. Maybe we should think positively about Konami's recent announcements and hope that the smaller risks on ios and Android (and more importantly, smaller development costs!) might mean that we see some more side-scrolling shooters or platformers in the palms of our hands. I personally cannot stand mobile gaming but I would be happy to know that the names I knew and loved were still going strong.

But then again, we would complain about our beloved characters and games being watered down for digital and mobile releases wouldn't we? Gamers eh?

1 comment:

  1. If theyd made a new 2d Castlevania for download, a New 2D mystic Ninja, and a new 2D Contra and charged around £10 to £15 each Id have been tempted to get all 3 and it wouldn't have cost them anywere near what MGS 5 did I bet and I didnt buy MGS 5, just not my cup of tea at least not for full price.