Posted by jjnen (659 posts) -

Hello and welcome to the first edition of this experiment called ”Dialogue Options”. Here we put our collective minds together and share our toughts on a single issue each time. Hope is that by presenting wide spectrum of opinions like this we can leave our personal biases behind and think about the issues with an open mind. Without further ado, I present to you today's topic:

How to create successful new AAA IP? Boring terms ”AAA” and ”IP” are used here to express that we're answering this question from the publisher's point of view. Both commercial and critical success can be considered, but this question is mostly about when a publisher spends a huge amount of money, how does it get even more out?

Courting the Enthusiast

by mosespippy

Creating successful IPs takes time. New franchises are rarely ever a huge success at the start. The first instalment is usually the worst selling in a franchise. Franchises gain success over multiple instalments as they build upon repeat customers and attract new consumers. Those who purchase brand new IPs are the very informed gamer; they are the leading edge consumers. They will try any type of game as long as there is something to hook them. That hook can be good reviews, a good developer pedigree, previews that show off promising gameplay (whether it’s something old that is really well done or something new that we haven’t seen before) or something else entirely. Casual observers don’t see those sorts of hooks because they aren’t looking at the sorts of media that would expose them to it. The enthusiasts eat it up though.

Guitar Hero didn't reach a mainstream audience until they played it at a friends house.

If a company can sell the first entry of a series to these evangelical gamers then they’ve got a shot at having enough interest in a sequel that it isn’t a huge risk. The first game in a franchise doesn’t have to be the greatest thing ever. If the core of the game is fun or the writing is well done then there is a tolerance for the small annoyances from these seasoned gamers. They’ll want more of the good parts of the game. Streamlined improvements are expected to smooth out the small problems in sequels.

Brutal Legend performed poorly because it wasn't as good as they were promising.

Games like Saint’s Row and Uncharted: Drakes Fortune were moderately successful in their sales but their sequels greatly surpassed the originals. They weren’t the greatest games but they were good enough that people would buy a second one. These return customers are also tastemakers. Their friends wait longer into a generation to purchase systems and aren’t familiar with the range of franchises and developers that their tastemaker friends are. When their friend tells them that they should try Game X then they will likely give it a shot. That’s why the second game in a series needs to be great. The return customers can more easily sell their friends on a game if it is so amazing that everyone is talking about it.

Ultimately the developers need to deliver a product that is as good as what they are showing. If you get a crowd excited with previews, trailers and demos but don’t make a game that lives up to the expectations then customers can feel burned or deceived. Enthusiasts will try new things but this hobby is expensive; they aren’t likely to give you a second chance.

Franchise the Makers

by Rappelsiini

To solve this problem we first have to understand why the big publishers are relying on the same names year after year. Answer can summed into two words: Reliable revenue. To elaborate a little further, consumers keep throwing money to the same things over and over again because there is trust towards that game series. From buyers point of view it can't possibly be more than marginally worse than the previous entry in the series (which they loved) and what if it's even better? There are numerous examples of this like CoD and Halo.

I'M FUCKING DOUBLE BRANDED AND THAT'S WHY YOU BOUGHT ME!

That said, the simplest, and I'd argue most riskless, way to sell a metric shit-ton is to utilize a known brand name. You know, in the vein of Sid Meier's SimGolf, Bioshock Infinite. Just slap something people recognize on the cover and they'll buy it, right?

Actually implementing that idea isn't going to happen in a snap of finger because to be recognized you have to have done something from where people can recognize you from. Recognition has to be earned by producing something good, hopely even great. And like that wasn't hard enough there has to be the confidence to brand that game from day one so people can start to relating your name with quality. It's not enough to be Peter Molyneux or Ken Levine – your name has to be also recognized and move masses same way as Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp.

All that jazz also applies to development companies but that goes with out saying.

This talk doesn't obviously concern gamers and that's why I was using words like ”consumer”. Like Ken Levine explained in Wired's interview why the cover of the upcoming Bioshock Infinite is like it is, a badass dude on the cover will sell more copies than something more ”artsy”. Fact is that bigger public, who aren't hobbyist or experts, don't have a good level of knowledge about games and are ignorant about that ”nerdy” stuff. It applies to games and everything else, though games have it worse compared to movies for example since they have a lot smaller coverage in mass media. To get wider recognition beyond just gamers new, original games have to be stamped with a brand name which works like a seal of quality.

AAAs Doing More Harm Than Good

by Mirado

Would it be better if we didn't have AAA releases at all? Sure, I love big budget, blockbuster movies as much as anyone, but are massive CoD-like releases doing more harm than good for the games industry as a whole? For one, companies are starting to sink more and more money into each release; some estimates had Kingdoms of Amalur going through $5M a month. That type of budget carries a massive level of risk, and that kind of risk forces these publishers to only green-light games that are (in their eyes, at least) sure bets. This can help put a vice-grip on creativity; Double Fine's Adventure couldn't get published through the traditional model, and games that do make it through can sink a company if they fail to make sales targets or can be subjected to massive amounts of executive meddling, which is exactly what happened to Psychonauts and Homefront.

A brilliant game that nobody wanted.

Psychonauts is, by most metrics, universally loved. A quirky platformer with a unique story, great voice acting and solid mechanics, it should have done well in the market...or it least showed no signs of winding up as a massive, monumental failure Publisher Majesco banked heavily on both it and Advent Rising to help them post an expected $18M profit and wound up posting a $18M dollar loss. This crippled the publisher, forcing them to cut projects (including the nearly complete AAA title Black 9), caused their shareholders to sue, and eventually pushed Majesco into the "casual" games market. Psychonauts would eventually go on to sell in greater numbers on Steam, but by that point Majesco no longer held the rights.

The desire for "CoD-like" levels of success killed any chance that Homefront had.

Homefront was another example of AAA dreams gone wrong. THQ's gated green-lighting process forced developers to keep sending them prototypes without their committal to full development, so developer Kaos (already teetering on the brink of closure due to Frontlines) kept cramming as many bullet points as they could onto the back of the box until they won THQ over. When CoD hit, it started the tailspin. Orignally pitched as "Lost meets Red Dawn" to the THQ management (who loved the concept) Kaos spent eight months building throwaway code for a five minute E3 demo. The team didn't gel, the THQ audits went bad, the GM got thrown out...trying to keep up with the Joneses resulted in a mediocre shooter that killed a studio and ultimately contributed to THQ's demise. I encourage everyone to read Polygon's Homefront post-mortem; it goes into far greater detail and describes the incredible amount of pressure that a game of this size places on all parties involved.

Could these studios and publishes have survived if they aimed for smaller releases? Could we see more creativity at the top if these games didn't have $50M dollar budgets and executive babysitting? In the case of Kaos and Majesco, we'll never know. They were smitten by the AAA dream and were killed for it. That doesn't make AAA titles inherently bad, but I'd argue that this eternal drive for bigger budgets and larger releases is trampling too many studios (and recently, publishers) underfoot.

The Multi-Million Dollar Question

by Gamer_152

Perhaps it’s rather blunt, but I think the basic answer is that there is essentially no way to say “Here’s what will make a new AAA IP successful for publishers”. You can suggest methods of creating, marketing, publishing, or doing whatever else with games that may be potentially safer options than others, but even these often carry a far greater risk than I think they’re given credit for by most of the gaming audience.

Ultimately there is no secret formula to a good IP.

On its surface, creating a new IP may not seem that difficult a feat, but a lot of the gaming community seem to look at the popularity of games or the number of units sold, and take these alone as reflections of how successful the game was for the publisher. We have to remember that this data must always be balanced against how much money is put into developing the game in the first place.

According to a 2010 report from Ibis Capital, the average Xbox 360 or PS3 game costs $15-30 million to develop, meaning that they would have to sell 500,000 to 1 million copies to break even. To put that in perspective the population of Luxembourg is only 524,900 people. If Polygon is to be believed, budgets for AAA games often spiral into the hundreds of millions (thanks to for bringing that article back to my attention, it’s well worth reading), and a game that cost $100 million to develop and sold at $60 a pop, would need to sell 1.6 million copies to break even. These costs aren’t going to go down either, they’re going to rise.

This is exactly why there have been so many people recently worried about the state of AAA gaming, and the practicality of even continuing to fund and develop what we know as AAA games. When a publisher like THQ can go bankrupt, when Ubisoft can lose $67 million in a year, or when EA can lose $276 million in a year, I think it’s clear that we’re very far from publishers finding a sure-fire formula for creating successful games full stop, let alone when you add the risk of trying to introduce something new to the market, and I remain sceptical of our ability to fully answer this question when it’s clear much of the industry have been falling over themselves because they’ve not had definite answers to this question.

Duder, It's Over

That's all for this time and I would like to thank you for reading this. Note that this is still an experiment in development so some changes might happen in the format in the upcoming weeks. If you are interested in reading more about this has a couple days old blog post of his own which loosely touches this topic as well.

Also I'd like to thank for creating that awesome banner and everyone else in our small group who got interested in this idea in the first place.

For now we have crew big enough to accomplish things I've set to the horizon, but if you are really interested to joining in, PM me. Also if you have ideas for new topics of discussion just post them here or send a PM.

#1 Posted by jjnen (659 posts) -

Hello and welcome to the first edition of this experiment called ”Dialogue Options”. Here we put our collective minds together and share our toughts on a single issue each time. Hope is that by presenting wide spectrum of opinions like this we can leave our personal biases behind and think about the issues with an open mind. Without further ado, I present to you today's topic:

How to create successful new AAA IP? Boring terms ”AAA” and ”IP” are used here to express that we're answering this question from the publisher's point of view. Both commercial and critical success can be considered, but this question is mostly about when a publisher spends a huge amount of money, how does it get even more out?

Courting the Enthusiast

by mosespippy

Creating successful IPs takes time. New franchises are rarely ever a huge success at the start. The first instalment is usually the worst selling in a franchise. Franchises gain success over multiple instalments as they build upon repeat customers and attract new consumers. Those who purchase brand new IPs are the very informed gamer; they are the leading edge consumers. They will try any type of game as long as there is something to hook them. That hook can be good reviews, a good developer pedigree, previews that show off promising gameplay (whether it’s something old that is really well done or something new that we haven’t seen before) or something else entirely. Casual observers don’t see those sorts of hooks because they aren’t looking at the sorts of media that would expose them to it. The enthusiasts eat it up though.

Guitar Hero didn't reach a mainstream audience until they played it at a friends house.

If a company can sell the first entry of a series to these evangelical gamers then they’ve got a shot at having enough interest in a sequel that it isn’t a huge risk. The first game in a franchise doesn’t have to be the greatest thing ever. If the core of the game is fun or the writing is well done then there is a tolerance for the small annoyances from these seasoned gamers. They’ll want more of the good parts of the game. Streamlined improvements are expected to smooth out the small problems in sequels.

Brutal Legend performed poorly because it wasn't as good as they were promising.

Games like Saint’s Row and Uncharted: Drakes Fortune were moderately successful in their sales but their sequels greatly surpassed the originals. They weren’t the greatest games but they were good enough that people would buy a second one. These return customers are also tastemakers. Their friends wait longer into a generation to purchase systems and aren’t familiar with the range of franchises and developers that their tastemaker friends are. When their friend tells them that they should try Game X then they will likely give it a shot. That’s why the second game in a series needs to be great. The return customers can more easily sell their friends on a game if it is so amazing that everyone is talking about it.

Ultimately the developers need to deliver a product that is as good as what they are showing. If you get a crowd excited with previews, trailers and demos but don’t make a game that lives up to the expectations then customers can feel burned or deceived. Enthusiasts will try new things but this hobby is expensive; they aren’t likely to give you a second chance.

Franchise the Makers

by Rappelsiini

To solve this problem we first have to understand why the big publishers are relying on the same names year after year. Answer can summed into two words: Reliable revenue. To elaborate a little further, consumers keep throwing money to the same things over and over again because there is trust towards that game series. From buyers point of view it can't possibly be more than marginally worse than the previous entry in the series (which they loved) and what if it's even better? There are numerous examples of this like CoD and Halo.

I'M FUCKING DOUBLE BRANDED AND THAT'S WHY YOU BOUGHT ME!

That said, the simplest, and I'd argue most riskless, way to sell a metric shit-ton is to utilize a known brand name. You know, in the vein of Sid Meier's SimGolf, Bioshock Infinite. Just slap something people recognize on the cover and they'll buy it, right?

Actually implementing that idea isn't going to happen in a snap of finger because to be recognized you have to have done something from where people can recognize you from. Recognition has to be earned by producing something good, hopely even great. And like that wasn't hard enough there has to be the confidence to brand that game from day one so people can start to relating your name with quality. It's not enough to be Peter Molyneux or Ken Levine – your name has to be also recognized and move masses same way as Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp.

All that jazz also applies to development companies but that goes with out saying.

This talk doesn't obviously concern gamers and that's why I was using words like ”consumer”. Like Ken Levine explained in Wired's interview why the cover of the upcoming Bioshock Infinite is like it is, a badass dude on the cover will sell more copies than something more ”artsy”. Fact is that bigger public, who aren't hobbyist or experts, don't have a good level of knowledge about games and are ignorant about that ”nerdy” stuff. It applies to games and everything else, though games have it worse compared to movies for example since they have a lot smaller coverage in mass media. To get wider recognition beyond just gamers new, original games have to be stamped with a brand name which works like a seal of quality.

AAAs Doing More Harm Than Good

by Mirado

Would it be better if we didn't have AAA releases at all? Sure, I love big budget, blockbuster movies as much as anyone, but are massive CoD-like releases doing more harm than good for the games industry as a whole? For one, companies are starting to sink more and more money into each release; some estimates had Kingdoms of Amalur going through $5M a month. That type of budget carries a massive level of risk, and that kind of risk forces these publishers to only green-light games that are (in their eyes, at least) sure bets. This can help put a vice-grip on creativity; Double Fine's Adventure couldn't get published through the traditional model, and games that do make it through can sink a company if they fail to make sales targets or can be subjected to massive amounts of executive meddling, which is exactly what happened to Psychonauts and Homefront.

A brilliant game that nobody wanted.

Psychonauts is, by most metrics, universally loved. A quirky platformer with a unique story, great voice acting and solid mechanics, it should have done well in the market...or it least showed no signs of winding up as a massive, monumental failure Publisher Majesco banked heavily on both it and Advent Rising to help them post an expected $18M profit and wound up posting a $18M dollar loss. This crippled the publisher, forcing them to cut projects (including the nearly complete AAA title Black 9), caused their shareholders to sue, and eventually pushed Majesco into the "casual" games market. Psychonauts would eventually go on to sell in greater numbers on Steam, but by that point Majesco no longer held the rights.

The desire for "CoD-like" levels of success killed any chance that Homefront had.

Homefront was another example of AAA dreams gone wrong. THQ's gated green-lighting process forced developers to keep sending them prototypes without their committal to full development, so developer Kaos (already teetering on the brink of closure due to Frontlines) kept cramming as many bullet points as they could onto the back of the box until they won THQ over. When CoD hit, it started the tailspin. Orignally pitched as "Lost meets Red Dawn" to the THQ management (who loved the concept) Kaos spent eight months building throwaway code for a five minute E3 demo. The team didn't gel, the THQ audits went bad, the GM got thrown out...trying to keep up with the Joneses resulted in a mediocre shooter that killed a studio and ultimately contributed to THQ's demise. I encourage everyone to read Polygon's Homefront post-mortem; it goes into far greater detail and describes the incredible amount of pressure that a game of this size places on all parties involved.

Could these studios and publishes have survived if they aimed for smaller releases? Could we see more creativity at the top if these games didn't have $50M dollar budgets and executive babysitting? In the case of Kaos and Majesco, we'll never know. They were smitten by the AAA dream and were killed for it. That doesn't make AAA titles inherently bad, but I'd argue that this eternal drive for bigger budgets and larger releases is trampling too many studios (and recently, publishers) underfoot.

The Multi-Million Dollar Question

by Gamer_152

Perhaps it’s rather blunt, but I think the basic answer is that there is essentially no way to say “Here’s what will make a new AAA IP successful for publishers”. You can suggest methods of creating, marketing, publishing, or doing whatever else with games that may be potentially safer options than others, but even these often carry a far greater risk than I think they’re given credit for by most of the gaming audience.

Ultimately there is no secret formula to a good IP.

On its surface, creating a new IP may not seem that difficult a feat, but a lot of the gaming community seem to look at the popularity of games or the number of units sold, and take these alone as reflections of how successful the game was for the publisher. We have to remember that this data must always be balanced against how much money is put into developing the game in the first place.

According to a 2010 report from Ibis Capital, the average Xbox 360 or PS3 game costs $15-30 million to develop, meaning that they would have to sell 500,000 to 1 million copies to break even. To put that in perspective the population of Luxembourg is only 524,900 people. If Polygon is to be believed, budgets for AAA games often spiral into the hundreds of millions (thanks to for bringing that article back to my attention, it’s well worth reading), and a game that cost $100 million to develop and sold at $60 a pop, would need to sell 1.6 million copies to break even. These costs aren’t going to go down either, they’re going to rise.

This is exactly why there have been so many people recently worried about the state of AAA gaming, and the practicality of even continuing to fund and develop what we know as AAA games. When a publisher like THQ can go bankrupt, when Ubisoft can lose $67 million in a year, or when EA can lose $276 million in a year, I think it’s clear that we’re very far from publishers finding a sure-fire formula for creating successful games full stop, let alone when you add the risk of trying to introduce something new to the market, and I remain sceptical of our ability to fully answer this question when it’s clear much of the industry have been falling over themselves because they’ve not had definite answers to this question.

Duder, It's Over

That's all for this time and I would like to thank you for reading this. Note that this is still an experiment in development so some changes might happen in the format in the upcoming weeks. If you are interested in reading more about this has a couple days old blog post of his own which loosely touches this topic as well.

Also I'd like to thank for creating that awesome banner and everyone else in our small group who got interested in this idea in the first place.

For now we have crew big enough to accomplish things I've set to the horizon, but if you are really interested to joining in, PM me. Also if you have ideas for new topics of discussion just post them here or send a PM.

#2 Posted by Brodehouse (9370 posts) -

I have to agree with Gamer that the idea of this being a simple equation is unfounded; it's a complete dismissal of all the extremely intelligent people who work every day to try to create these massively successful IP. I remember Ryan speaking about an industry friend who was recording all these incredible minute and detailed metrics about players playing God of War at E3. Contrary to public belief, they're not just throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks.

I have to fundamentally disagree with Mirado on a number of levels. The idea that Homefront sunk THQ is unfounded in reality; Homefront in fact turned a profit. The 'if they made smaller releases' argument stands in counterpoint to the overall stagnation of the 'downloadable' market. That market is now as crowded as the AAA, and the returns aren't what they used to be. Contrary to public belief, mobile game makers and downloadable studios are no more stable than AAA, you just don't notice when three guys who made a game you never heard of declare bankruptcy. For every Zynga and Popcap that sail into the port of success, there are thousands wrecked in the shoals.

And lastly, I agree with Rappelsini regarding the promotion of talent. Consider the news of JJ Abrams looking at the Star Wars license, consider the fresh enthusiasm he brought to Star Trek even before people had seen if. The reason the industry works the way it does plays on this exact thing; game developers want the same kind of control and respect for the things they do, but they also directly do not want the responsibility or accountability that those artists in other mediums have. If a JJ Abrams movie is terrible, accountability lies with the director. When a video game is bad, we blame the publisher. Warren Spector talked about this a decade ago, I read an article regarding it. Someone would approach an artist and say "Did you make X art asset?" ... and the artist would respond "Did you like it?" ... "No." ... "Yeah, it could be better." Never mind that the artis was the one to create it. The idea that game companies want accolades for their successes and protection from their failures is not accountability.

But I support an increase in the greater use of names, and the greater importance placed on studio. I want to play the next game by Casey Hudson, Patrice Desilets, Shinji Mikami... I want to see the next UI designed by Dino Ignacio, the next dialogue heavy adventure written by Chris Avellone. We should promote this even more than we do now. Right now the only way specific devs get any promotion is if they have the personality to do it themselves (Cliff is the best example). We should treat a great game as a reason for cause celibre, not just self-promotion.

#3 Edited by Dacnomaniac (426 posts) -

Agreed, I gotta disagree with Mirado, although i'm not sure if it's because he used the example of Homefront, which was a bad idea.

#4 Posted by Winternet (7936 posts) -

Whoa, this blog is amazing! Sheesh, can't wait for the next installment.

#5 Posted by AmatureIdiot (985 posts) -

Hey, its the first step in the Cool New Experiment™. Its super cool to see it come out.

#6 Posted by jjnen (659 posts) -

@Brodehouse said:

And lastly, I agree with Rappelsini regarding the promotion of talent. Consider the news of JJ Abrams looking at the Star Wars license, consider the fresh enthusiasm he brought to Star Trek even before people had seen if. The reason the industry works the way it does plays on this exact thing; game developers want the same kind of control and respect for the things they do, but they also directly do not want the responsibility or accountability that those artists in other mediums have. If a JJ Abrams movie is terrible, accountability lies with the director. When a video game is bad, we blame the publisher. Warren Spector talked about this a decade ago, I read an article regarding it. Someone would approach an artist and say "Did you make X art asset?" ... and the artist would respond "Did you like it?" ... "No." ... "Yeah, it could be better." Never mind that the artis was the one to create it. The idea that game companies want accolades for their successes and protection from their failures is not accountability.
But I support an increase in the greater use of names, and the greater importance placed on studio. I want to play the next game by Casey Hudson, Patrice Desilets, Shinji Mikami... I want to see the next UI designed by Dino Ignacio, the next dialogue heavy adventure written by Chris Avellone. We should promote this even more than we do now. Right now the only way specific devs get any promotion is if they have the personality to do it themselves (Cliff is the best example). We should treat a great game as a reason for cause celibre, not just self-promotion.

Problem I see with the studios and individual artist taking more responsibility and standing tall is that more than with movies projects, games are really sensitive when it comes to budgets. When movie budgets fall short there might be some scene cuts or other stuff but you can write around those and still get a solid movie. When a games budget falls short that shows up as bugs, not as polished gameplay elemants other weird shit we've all seen. What I'm saying that games depend more on a budget because of the complexity of the whole thing. So it's kinda understandable to blaim the publisher because at the end those are the guys with the money and are forced to make the "mean" decisions.

My whole idea has kind of chicken and egg problem in its core: You can't have a recognized name without making something great but you can't make something great unless you have the name for which publishers are willing to put money behind.

Another idea I've been pondering is to loose the kind of triple-A status and sell smaller games with a triple-AAA base. I'll try to explain: Let's say we have BF3 game and motor. Wouldn't it be a lot less riskless to make three smaller games recycling the assets from one to another? Like for example Amnesi- like story game, a short RPG and basic FPS? (Terrible examples but give me a break.) Those all could use the same mechanics such as aiming etc. That's a way we could have great quality smaller games with the AAA kind of polish.

#7 Posted by TheSouthernDandy (3629 posts) -

Great first blog. Nice banner too. pretty much echos my own thoughts on the matter. This is a code that's yet to be cracked. There's big publishers taking big risks which fail as often as they hit. It would be crazy to think there's not a lot of smart people trying to figure this out behind the scenes and they've yet to find a sure fire formula. I think it takes a certain amount of appealing to what the mass market would enjoy plus a quality experience mixed with a big dash luck.

#8 Posted by TaliciaDragonsong (8698 posts) -

We rock and I didn't even contribute yet. This has potential! Keep it up!

#9 Edited by Brodehouse (9370 posts) -

@Rappelsiini said:

@Brodehouse said:

And lastly, I agree with Rappelsini regarding the promotion of talent. Consider the news of JJ Abrams looking at the Star Wars license, consider the fresh enthusiasm he brought to Star Trek even before people had seen if. The reason the industry works the way it does plays on this exact thing; game developers want the same kind of control and respect for the things they do, but they also directly do not want the responsibility or accountability that those artists in other mediums have. If a JJ Abrams movie is terrible, accountability lies with the director. When a video game is bad, we blame the publisher. Warren Spector talked about this a decade ago, I read an article regarding it. Someone would approach an artist and say "Did you make X art asset?" ... and the artist would respond "Did you like it?" ... "No." ... "Yeah, it could be better." Never mind that the artis was the one to create it. The idea that game companies want accolades for their successes and protection from their failures is not accountability.
But I support an increase in the greater use of names, and the greater importance placed on studio. I want to play the next game by Casey Hudson, Patrice Desilets, Shinji Mikami... I want to see the next UI designed by Dino Ignacio, the next dialogue heavy adventure written by Chris Avellone. We should promote this even more than we do now. Right now the only way specific devs get any promotion is if they have the personality to do it themselves (Cliff is the best example). We should treat a great game as a reason for cause celibre, not just self-promotion.

Problem I see with the studios and individual artist taking more responsibility and standing tall is that more than with movies projects, games are really sensitive when it comes to budgets. When movie budgets fall short there might be some scene cuts or other stuff but you can write around those and still get a solid movie. When a games budget falls short that shows up as bugs, not as polished gameplay elemants other weird shit we've all seen. What I'm saying that games depend more on a budget because of the complexity of the whole thing. So it's kinda understandable to blaim the publisher because at the end those are the guys with the money and are forced to make the "mean" decisions.

My whole idea has kind of chicken and egg problem in its core: You can't have a recognized name without making something great but you can't make something great unless you have the name for which publishers are willing to put money behind.

Another idea I've been pondering is to loose the kind of triple-A status and sell smaller games with a triple-AAA base. I'll try to explain: Let's say we have BF3 game and motor. Wouldn't it be a lot less riskless to make three smaller games recycling the assets from one to another? Like for example Amnesi- like story game, a short RPG and basic FPS? (Terrible examples but give me a break.) Those all could use the same mechanics such as aiming etc. That's a way we could have great quality smaller games with the AAA kind of polish.

I have to call out that you've made a rather grand assumption concerning the business and production differences between games and other media (specifically let's say film). I am under no suspicion that any venture that involves private capital will be extremely sensitive about budgets. I do not for an instance believe that this is unique to games, or even more pronounced. If this were public capital, then yes, absolutely, they turn on the money hose and spray it everywhere. But investors and shareholders in other mediums are in no way ready to sacrifice their margin due to the medium. The second part is the business regarding cuts; both follow almost the exact same practice of coming up with more than you'd ever need in preparation for later cuts. I don't feel either is unique in how it handles shortages, time management and production. Lastly, the idea that it's somehow not the developer's responsibility if they run out of budget, there's no one to point to besides the publisher for not supplying more money.... actually, there is someone to point to. The producer. It's right in the job title. Their entire job skills rely on being able to move a project from pre-vis to ship on budget, on time, and at an acceptable level of quality. To fail at that is little different than a UI artist making a rather miserable UI. It's a big job, with a lot of responsibilities, but that's why people want it. A producer that can't identify what went wrong, take responsibility for oversights or missteps, is a producer who will continue those oversights and missteps for the rest of his or her career.

What you're talking about with the chicken-and-egg is the core of all 'requires experience' jobs. But there is clear avenues for people to ascend, ranks are there to be climbed, and the indie scene itself could be expected to work with similarity to how it works in film. Consider Chris Nolan. His film budgets went from 6,000 dollars, to 9 million, to 46 million, to 150 million in the span of seven years. There are people whose specific jobs are to headhunt new talent, to review hundreds of portfolios to hire a new scenic artist. That artist could build their skills and become a lead for a department, then a lead for the entire art staff. Who knows from there? Atsushi Inaba is the lead producer for Metal Gear Revengeance and Bayonetta 2... he was writing code for Samurai Showdown and R-Type two decades ago.

I think you're already seeing games that largely recycle engines and gameplay from one to the next, and people are largely unhappy with it. In terms of the core functionality, you can already see that in heavily licensed engines like Unreal 3. Now, when you talk about making three 'smaller' games out of the engine for one, I need a little more description as to the plan and whether or not its feasible. Regardless of the core nature of the engine, you will still need to create original assets, dialogue, maps, coding... it's not actually quite as simple as just plugging things in. You can press three buttons, hit compile and get an on-screen reticle and a basic press-button-send-ping function that is the core of shooter gameplay... you will have to press considerably more buttons to rig a model with the assets for Commander Shepard punched in, that works properly with the level geometry and can get into cover without doing Broken Game Room Guy pose. A lot of this coding has to be original each time, especially if you're not retaining the original coder and hiring someone new whoo now has to unravel the mysteries of the existing code before making the necessary changes to get Game 2 going from the bones of Game 1. Then there's a lot to talk about regarding price points, markets, it's an extremely complicated thing that maybe isn't worth the time delving too deeply in purely hypothetical terms.

#10 Posted by Dacnomaniac (426 posts) -

also, we rule!

#11 Posted by jjnen (659 posts) -

@Brodehouse said:

I have to call out that you've made a rather grand assumption concerning the business and production differences between games and other media (specifically let's say film). I am under no suspicion that any venture that involves private capital will be extremely sensitive about budgets. I do not for an instance believe that this is unique to games, or even more pronounced. If this were public capital, then yes, absolutely, they turn on the money hose and spray it everywhere. But investors and shareholders in other mediums are in no way ready to sacrifice their margin due to the medium. The second part is the business regarding cuts; both follow almost the exact same practice of coming up with more than you'd ever need in preparation for later cuts. I don't feel either is unique in how it handles shortages, time management and production. Lastly, the idea that it's somehow not the developer's responsibility if they run out of budget, there's no one to point to besides the publisher for not supplying more money.... actually, there is someone to point to. The producer. It's right in the job title. Their entire job skills rely on being able to move a project from pre-vis to ship on budget, on time, and at an acceptable level of quality. To fail at that is little different than a UI artist making a rather miserable UI. It's a big job, with a lot of responsibilities, but that's why people want it. A producer that can't identify what went wrong, take responsibility for oversights or missteps, is a producer who will continue those oversights and missteps for the rest of his or her career.

What you're talking about with the chicken-and-egg is the core of all 'requires experience' jobs. But there is clear avenues for people to ascend, ranks are there to be climbed, and the indie scene itself could be expected to work with similarity to how it works in film. Consider Chris Nolan. His film budgets went from 6,000 dollars, to 9 million, to 46 million, to 150 million in the span of seven years. There are people whose specific jobs are to headhunt new talent, to review hundreds of portfolios to hire a new scenic artist. That artist could build their skills and become a lead for a department, then a lead for the entire art staff. Who knows from there? Atsushi Inaba is the lead producer for Metal Gear Revengeance and Bayonetta 2... he was writing code for Samurai Showdown and R-Type two decades ago.

I think you're already seeing games that largely recycle engines and gameplay from one to the next, and people are largely unhappy with it. In terms of the core functionality, you can already see that in heavily licensed engines like Unreal 3. Now, when you talk about making three 'smaller' games out of the engine for one, I need a little more description as to the plan and whether or not its feasible. Regardless of the core nature of the engine, you will still need to create original assets, dialogue, maps, coding... it's not actually quite as simple as just plugging things in. You can press three buttons, hit compile and get an on-screen reticle and a basic press-button-send-ping function that is the core of shooter gameplay... you will have to press considerably more buttons to rig a model with the assets for Commander Shepard punched in, that works properly with the level geometry and can get into cover without doing Broken Game Room Guy pose. A lot of this coding has to be original each time, especially if you're not retaining the original coder and hiring someone new whoo now has to unravel the mysteries of the existing code before making the necessary changes to get Game 2 going from the bones of Game 1. Then there's a lot to talk about regarding price points, markets, it's an extremely complicated thing that maybe isn't worth the time delving too deeply in purely hypothetical terms.

First off, I have to admit that I'm no expert in making games nor movies and actually if there's a good article floating somewhere about game development+budgets I'd like a link.

But because of the nature of the industry, gaming faces a different challenges compared to movies, same way as does software development vs traditional industries. With games there can pop bugs here and there and the further the development goes the harder it is to fix the bug. Movies have their own problems, sure, but I think they're more hands-on and won't snowball out of hand. What I'm trying to say here is that it's harder to stay on budget with games than it is with movies.

You broke the chicken-and-egg thing well and I can't do anything but to agree.

I should have explained my last point a bit better. I got the idea from old mods for games but now after thinking a while it's probably not feasible.

#12 Posted by Brodehouse (9370 posts) -

@Rappelsiini: I think the main difference in games and film would be the production angle... games are a production-intensive process as opposed to a planning-intensive. The actual developers are better compared to the production crew of a movie rather than what is described there as 'above the line talent'. Every director has a producer they prefer working with, every producer has a crew of people they like to assemble. The real difficult thing as far as movies go is figuring out timing, who is available, what is available, and when. To keep costs down, there's only 14 days of location shooting... but we can only fit in Actor X for 3 days in the middle of Y month between his other jobs, so on so on so on... if we can't figure this out and have production started by the 10th of March, our favored production company is going to move on to some other project and then we'll have to go a different direction.... meanwhile, every person in this project has plans for three other projects that are all conflicting with one another. And then the production period comes and who knows what unforeseen circumstance comes up. Maybe your location undergoes heavy rainstorms for 10 of your shooting days. Maybe your director has a stress breakdown and locks himself in his hotel room.

This isn't giving games shortshrift, either. I know some animation modeller is probably wanting to do his work but the art designers keep stalling their work because they're putting extra manhours on other assets but that means the animation modeller can't be totally sure whether his rigging will match and he'll have to go back and redo all this work if it doesn't while at the same time the environment assets came back from Singapore and they're all completely wrong and we'll have to get a better translator when we send out our needs and also the AI director can't test anything because the geometry hasn't been finished so the L.O.S. factors break everything and so we're faking pathfinding and we'll have to look at that later meanwhile...

Making modern, collaborative art is fucking difficult.

As for the idea of just plug-and-play gameplay engines.. I wish, but I think it's actually more complicated than that. I wish all shooters played as well as the best one, then it would just be a competition between who could write the best narrative. But that's not how it works just yet.

#13 Edited by Mirado (951 posts) -

Adam Sessler just put out a great video which does a far better job of explaining my points than I ever could (plus, I only had 500 or so words to work with!) which I think everyone should give a look. It also plays into what the others have said, specifically about marketing and where/how THQ may have fallen short.

Also, he mentions that companies that do not have a massive, blockbuster style success story are having a much harder time surviving then they were even a generation ago, and notes that making a great game just isn't enough anymore. Huh, sounds a lot like THQ and Psychonauts, right?

Anyway, I really like what everyone has done here and hope that we can crank out even more of these in the future! :D

#14 Posted by Slag (3365 posts) -

Nice, that's a strong start!

#15 Posted by ImmortalSaiyan (4658 posts) -

Good first entry. Turned out great, I enjoyed reading all the different perspectives. I find it a little funny that all the comments are from people in the group. Hope other people read it all. I just have a few quick thoughts.

. It is true that many series did not get huge or got their definite title until the second entry, Like Uncharted 2 being a solid example. I just hope developers don't makes games with mindset, that they will have sequels to prefect and polish up it up. Platinum games proved with Vanquish and Bayonetta can you get it right the first time out. I am glad there is a Bayonetta 2 but I never felt I needed it because Bayonetta felt complete.

. That is a good point. In movies and books, the creative heads are more known to the public where as with games, all that trust gets put on the series name. Why else do you explain why people would be disappointed by Resident Evil 6, all the people who make the series what it was, are long gone from Capcom. No wonder it is not up to snuff. I would like the people behind the games to get more recognition for their work.

. The massive budget and risk of AAA games is a problem for sure. It is a large reason why we seen so many publishers make middling FPS games; to chase COD's sales numbers. Thing is, a budget that size is not feasible for most studios. Perhaps smaller companies should focus on making more creative and unique games at a lower price that stand out the the niche market. Atlus seems to thrive in this market. I bet next gen, we see less AAA games overall, mostly by huge companies like EA and ACTIVISION.

#16 Edited by Mirado (951 posts) -

@ImmortalSaiyan: I agree 100%. I rather see most studios head in the direction of smaller but more unique games which can then be turned into larger franchises if the audience is receptive; Portal, for instance, was by all accounts a small student project that Valve decided to polish, and the end result was massive sales (and critical acclaim) which then allowed for a larger budgeted sequel.

I think that kind of success is much more beneficial to the industry as a whole vs the drive for smaller, first time companies attempting to hit one out of the park on their first try.

#17 Posted by TheFreepie (82 posts) -

Very good start! I feel like I've got a lot to live up to ;)

#18 Posted by xMEGADETHxSLY (455 posts) -

Make a billion dollar franchise

Call Of Duty
Madden

If it sticks Milk The Shit Out of it until it stops selling PROFIT

#19 Posted by Pezen (1471 posts) -

Finally got a chance to really sit down and read all these. Great stuff all around and definitely the variation I was hoping for. I don't necessarily agree with that Brütal Legend failed because it didn't live up to promises, it failed I think more due in part to a marketing flop since it was one of those games caught in limbo for a while between publishers. But beyond that, an action game with RTS elements completely steeped in heavy metal culture isn't everyone's cup of tea. And by the sound of the threads after it, Jack Black seems to have a bad rep with some people also. I think that's also a general problem with Double Fine games in general, they're unique to the point of failure. And for the record, I thought Brütal Legend was fantastic.

Again, great pieces everyone, looking forward to the next one.