15
May
11

Comment: Risk Taking

In an interview with MTV Multiplayer, Brink Developer Splash Damage was asked the following question:

What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?

1% of the games make 99% of the profit, leaving everything else to wither on the vine. This can be bad for innovation. We’ve got to find ways to get people interested in some of the other stuff out there, because a lot of it is REALLY good and deserves to succeed, otherwise risk-taking will become rarer and rarer.

Developers aren’t the only ones assuming risk in this equation.  I am probably driving this point into the ground, but supporting a video game means sinking $60 into it, many times without even having a chance to demo it first.  Most gamers can’t afford to buy multiple games each month, and many times that’s facilitated by turning around and selling the game to people who want to play it, but don’t value it at it’s full price.  The cost of gaming makes us risk-averse.  The cost of game consoles compounds that further by encouraging gamers to seek out safe game purchases to return the investment in the console.   So if Splash Damage is asking gamers to be more open with our wallets then I say it’s about as likely as Mario and Master Chief teaming up to stop Metal Gear.

If you’re a developer taking a risk with a project, then you need to make sure that your game’s marketing highlights what makes it different with bold letters.  You can’t go halfway and build a game that’s innovative and market it as like it’s any other game out there then be surprised when gamers don’t acknowledge what makes it unique.  I’ve watched the trailers for Brink and all I can tell about the game is that if I bought it I’d be shooting guns and killing dudes and should be feeling cool while I do it.  Naturally, I’m going to ask myself, should I be spending money on this game that I could be otherwise spending on Call of Duty content, which I already know I enjoy when it comes to shooting guns/killing dudes.  The internet says “not quite“.  I understand that there’s more to Brink that makes it unique, but still don’t understand what exactly that is (nor do I have the confidence it will even work.)

I’m willing to share the risk of a project if I understand what I’m risking my money for.  In particular, I risked my money on Drakengard and Drakengard 2.  Neither of which were well received, but based on the marketing for these games I felt that I’d enjoy them for their consistently dark and twisted themes.  They stood out from other action-fantasy games with its morose atmosphere, bizarre monsters, tragic plot, and game play that looked fun enough for me to decide to purchase them when released.  They weren’t fantastic games, but because I understood what was going to make them different, I knew I would enjoy them in spite of their shortcomings.

This isn’t the best way for unique games to go from the drawing board to the living room, yet games are beginning to find other ways to get to their audiences.  New and interesting games don’t have to cost millions of dollars to produce, and we’re starting to move past an era where gaming required expensive consoles or strong computer knowledge.  Game related purchases are becoming more impulsive in markets such as Apple’s app store.  You don’t buy an iPod for gaming, so there isn’t the same need to purchase games that justify having one.  The same goes for consumer computers: you don’t need to purchase a high-powered computer for gaming anymore.  Independent developers can quickly, easily, and cheaply deliver games of all different stripes online to anyone that can use a web browser.  It’s certainly sad to see deserving console titles go under the radar, never to be seen or heard from again, but I can’t blame gamers for passing them up.  Console games that take risks may become more rare if they aren’t marketed effectively, but there’s always going to be a place for these games elsewhere online.

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