There used to be a time when we all had a steady flow of money to spend on video games. During this time, the rise of the AAA video game occurred. Game developers saw that the more money they put into development and the more epic the game was, the more people would buy it. We all had enough money to buy all the big action packed games we wanted. Game companies could be creative in what they made with sufficient funding from the amount of money coming in from their other games. Now most large game developers are struggling, and studios are closing more frequently than ever.
Major publishers like EA seem to be trying to make their different IPs into one standard type of game that appeals to the most amount of people. Some examples are Mass Effect 3 and Dead Space 3. Both IPs were once very loved by a certain type of gamer, but by the 3rd installment the gameplay for both games become very similar in terms of gun use. They have added semi paid for weapon mods and a very similar weapon system for both.
The problem is, the quality of both these games have suffered under the stress of trying milk more money out of them than they can give. Dead Space 3 sold so poorly that EA canceled Dead Space 4 (I don’t need to bring up Mass Effect 3’s problems.) A separate example is that Dragon Age 2 had everything that the cult following loved about it taken away from it, and had a one year development time. This was to cash grab from the IP with a good reputation that would hopefully make the casual gamer want to play the game with the more “action” gameplay. EA’s consulting company projected that it would sell over 4.5 million copies. It sold less than Dragon Age: Origins.
The problem is that the business model of having gigantic game publishers try to make games that will sell millions copies every time is just not possible anymore. Most people can only afford to buy 1 or 2 games a year for the big titles. In desperation to have better sales, games IPs from Resident Evil to Dead Space have had everything special stripped from them and streamlined for mass appeal. The people who used up their 1 or 2 game purchases on that one game, and found out that it was bland and boring are going to be pissed. They are going to tell their friends not to buy it, and no one will buy the game.
In today’s social media, you cannot stop viral opinions. It cannot be done. EA has tried the “vocal minority” tactic on two games; Mass Effect 3 and Sim City 4. Both times the tactic failed miserably because press statements are moot against twitter, message boards, and facebook.
On the other side of things, with the ease of distributing and obtaining indie games the quality of more simple games has increased. Indie developers have been able to branch out creatively with smaller budgets and simpler graphics. In the last few years we have gotten games like Braid, Minecraft, Journey, Amnesia, and many more. Each bringing tons of money in and making jobs. Additionally, they are cheap. You can buy all the games I listed for less than the cost of one AAA game, and yet they are more creative and more immersive than most AAA games out these days.
And what made these games successful? Their quality. The reason being that viral opinions have become stronger than actual paid for marketing. People don’t trust major website game reviews anymore. They trust their peers. If you make a good game with a decent way to distribute it, people will find out about it.