Game Changer of the Next Generation

DualShock 4

So the PS4 announcement was a thing and amid the hype, the backlash to the hype and the reasoned deconstruction of what was revealed I keep seeing the same things focused on. The PS4 is showing more of the same, the PS4 has a share button that could do things, the PS4 has or hasn’t set itself up as a new generation system. I’m not going to argue or dispute any of that. Though I will give a general shame on you to those spreading their bile. Not to those being snarky, a time honored tradition from the peanut gallery, but to those actively spitting on the people watching the press conference either with sincere joy for what they were seeing or the spectacle of the presentation. I don’t know when it became “cool” for spitting on people who are enjoying themselves, but its utterly sickening.

Anyway. One thing about the PS4 that seems to get a drive by mention before being relegated to the uninteresting camp is that fact it’s using x86 PC architecture. I know it’s not flashy or super marketable as a bullet point, but I can’t help but see it as possibly the most important feature of the console. The console market as we know it is very much in danger of going belly up commercially. For the most part it has already done so artistically. With games like Dead Space 3 and Assassin’s Creed III needing to sell multiple millions of copies to break even, there is a problem with the budgets of AAA games. I believe the numbers were 4 and 5 million respectively. Ubisoft’s franchise dodged a bullet by being in the top 10 selling games last year with 7 million copies.

I wrote those few sentences on the sales numbers so the modern reality of AAA game development would be understood. A game had to be one of the top 10 sellers of the year to come just ahead of breaking even. For all the amount of money that some titles make, the records they break and the headlines proclaiming their success the audience for them isn’t that big. The combined total for the consoles it was available on is north of 145 million. That’s not including PCs. It sold 7 million.

38 Studios went bankrupt and took their subsidiary developer Big Huge Games with them because Kingdoms of Amalur: Awakening was a failure having only broken a million copies. 1,000,000 copies wasn’t enough to break even. It was a third of what was needed. Most games never hit a million copies. The problem isn’t the market which has grown massively over the last decade. It’s the budgets.  We all know this. Every time we read one of those ridiculous headlines of how much this or that game cost to make or how many copies it needs to sell or how the companies are getting around it by monetizing other aspects of the game. Games that don’t perform have their franchise’s killed and their studios shut down throwing many people out of work. All because of the astronomical, unsustainable budgets.

The other consequence of this is that it creates a make it or break it type of environment where games have to be made. Games cannot just be a success anymore, they have to be a record breaking blockbuster. It has to chase the Call of Duty dragon.

Now what little programing experience I do have has taught me that I should not be doing programing under any circumstances. What I do know is what is done with the various platforms. An easy to develop for architecture is inherently cheaper to work with than one that isn’t. What I also know is that with the same processor architecture as a PC means that developers wont have to specialize for a single system and can work with comparable versions of the same game for multiple systems. (It also has the added benefit of no more second rate PC version.) This much is obvious, but glossed over. It’s taking the thinking to the next step where I see real possibilities.

Developers on Kickstarter are creating or should I say recreating the mid range titles for a fraction of the budget of their console AAA counterparts. Nearly all of these high profile kickstarted games are on PC and good many of them are using the Unity engine for development. Now Unity may not be Unreal 4 or whatever other new for sale engine someone has in the pipeline, but with some of the screenshots and demo videos I think we can reasonably say “who cares?” I can reasonably see a lot of studios using Unity or the like working off of the x86 chips in the PS4 to create high quality mid tear games at price the market can return on. Of course it requires dev teams and publishers to actually move in this direction, but even they have to be looking for a ways to cut down costs.

We can have our blockbusters, but every game cannot be a blockbuster. Every game cannot be the one to shatter sales records or be a top 10 seller just to break even. The reality is, and this is true for every medium, the blockbuster’s purpose is mostly to offset the losses made throughout the year with the company’s profits mostly coming from the cumulative of mid tier projects making a little more than they cost to create.

Now all they need is to announce an easy way for indie developers to publish on the console and we’re set.

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