This post was originally published in Gamasutra, but at the recommendation of a friend I have decided to re-post here.
There are recent prognostications by industry analysts arguing that video games as we know them are on a lifeline and that the current generation of hardware is the last gaming generation. Their predictions are often accompanied with grandiose statements about how the future of gaming will be found in the mobile market. This most recent round of doom-saying is spurred by Michael Pachter’s recent comments in a Cloud Gaming USA, where he argued that because the most recent Call of Duty only has 25 million players while Candy Crush Saga has 350 million, video game publishers should go into the mobile market and disregard console gaming, as “there won’t be a next cycle” [of video game consoles]. Analysts and game journalists alike further argue that another reason that will precipitate the death of the console are the alleged low sales numbers. Buzzwords like “low adoption rate” and “small user base” seem to flood publications. Last time that someone made this argument, I offered a counter-point using available data. This time, I will use a comparative approach to show that based on the current sales numbers, the gaming industry as a whole is just as healthy as it was at this point in previous cycles.
This post was originally published at Gamasutra on October 25th, 2013. At the recommendations of a friend, I have decided to re-post it over here in my own page.
There have been a few articles recently predicting the doom of the game industry because of statistical analyses. Of these, the more commonly known pieces are ‘Game Over’ and ‘Third to a Billion’, both published at ASYMCO by Horace Dediu. Through his analyses, he concludes that the videogame industry is dying. This is, of course, not a novel or revolutionary claim to make. Whether the culprits are poor design choices, rehashed title lineups, or a flood of boring games coupled with gamers getting old, many commentators [some more eloquent and well versed than others] seem to agree that, in one way or another, “games are dying”. Andrew Groen at Penny Arcade argues that the industry is not dying, that it’s simply changing. In his piece, he talks about how slower growth does not mean death, and I agree. He also makes the argument that gaming is shifting to a more mobile-friendly market and refining itself to do away with high-priced AA titles and turn them instead into AAA experiences. Others still hope that the industry will shift from a console-centric market to a PC-centric one through Steam and their peripherals. All of these arguments have merit and they address Dediu’s charts presented in his ‘Third to a Billion’ piece on how android devices are dominating sales charts over traditional consoles. This is of no surprise, really. Videogame consoles are released on an 8 to 10 year cycle and are fairly task-specific. A Nintendo Wii, for example, only plays Wii games, and the term “Nintendo Wii” refers to only one piece of hardware: the Nintendo Wii. An “Android Device”, however, is far more than just “one thing”. My phone, which I update every five or so years, is an android device. My sister’s phone, which she updates every other month, it seems, is an Android device. The HTC One, the LG Optimus, the Motorola Droid, and the Samsung Galaxy are all “Android Devices”. Furthermore, the Galaxy Tab, the Barns and Noble Nook, the Kindle Fire, the Google Nexus, and the Asus Transformer are all “Android devices”. Heck, even some car PCs, such as the BMW E46 Android CarPC, are “android devices”. And so, it’s no surprise that when Dediu juxtaposes game console adoption rates to the adoption rates of “Android devices”, more commonly known as ‘smartphones and tablets’, that the artifact that is considered a necessity in our culture – one that many people buy a new one every year – would have the superior numbers. Smartphones and tablets are, after all, multipurpose devices that double as gaming platforms and not gaming platforms into themselves. Still, deceptive as his implications may be, his analysis and overall assertion that “Android devices” sell more than game consoles is undeniable, and I have no contention with it.
When I was about 12 years old, I played my first RPG on the Sega Genesis – Shining Force. Even though I had been bilingual for as far as I can remember, it was Shining Force that woke in me the love for language. After playing Shining Force I moved on to the Phantasy Stars, then eventually to the Final Fantasies in the Super Nintendo. My growing love for stories and narrative led me to rediscover my love for reading, and when I asked Elle, a friend with a large library, what book I should read, she recommended that I pick up a series by Phillip Pullman called His Dark Materials. As I played my way through Dragon Force and Legend of Dragoon, I simultaneously read through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and Fred Saberhaggen’s Books of Swords.
My love for games led me to apply to my university’s computer programming major. My dream was to make a fully 3-d rpg with a compelling storyline and relatable characters. However, when I managed to land a job as tutor at the Writing Center, I got a different idea. The state of public education in my state at the time was largely pathetic (I’m not sure that it has improved a lot since). I looked at my friends and acquaintances and fellow tutors, all who went to pretty bad schools, very much like myself, and all who had exquisite vocabularies and excellent communication skills. When I asked them where they learned to communicate, they said that it was thanks to video games. One particular testimonial popped out in my mind (and still does), when my friend (let’s call him Ren for the sake of anonimity) told me that he learned the English language because of Final Fantasy VII. He would sit down with a dictionary and translate, and by the end of the game he was fluent. A few more years of playing RPGs and he had become good enough to land a job as a tutor at the writing center (where, at that point, I was student supervisor). “Wouldn’t it be cool”, I thought, “if I could somehow get a PS 2 in every classroom?” I asked my English professors about what to do, and they recommended that I go into education.
What makes an indie game? When the indie game movement started, it meant something along the lines of “a game developed and published by a small number of people”. However, the term “indie game” has changed meanings, and now it means… well, that’s the problem. No one is really sure. As my friend (whom I referred to in my previous post) said in our conversation, ” the definition of indie has been evolving, and right now there isn’t a single definition but several for what indie actually means.” The reason for this, as she well pointed out, is the existence of kickstarter and crowdfunding sites. I don’t think anyone will argue that Primitive Thoughts-developed games (the ones I make) are indie games, or that Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest is an indie game. But what about games made by individuals who have the support of an institution, like the games from DigiPen students? What about games developed by small studies of three to five people, like Freebird Games’ To The Moon? What about larger studios by established game developers who, nonetheless, work without the support of major publishers? Is Tim Shcafer’s Double Fine Studios (which boasts 65 employeesand titles such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend) an indie studio? What if the three man studio previously mentioned raises 2 million dollars through Kickstarter to create a game? Is it still an indie studio? And what about Telltale Games, which boasts over 200 people and are the makers of games like The Walking Dead?