Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Video Game Industry Is Dying, He Thinks

I just got done reading this article. It claims that (and I'm inclined to believe that) the billion-dollar video gaming industry is dying a slow death because it fails to come up with new and innovative games and interfaces to keep people addicted.

That's true... but only just.

What is going to happen first is that the video game consoles (PlayStation, Nintendo, X-Box) will probably start dying off as people start connecting their computers to their big-screen televisions. Computer video cards and processing speed will continue keep pace with video game demand, and consoles aren't really necessary except for the fact that most people don't have their computer connected in any way to their living room TV. That will change.

What is going to happen second is that the computer games that are successful, instead of being reintroduced every 3 or 4 years, will start moving heavily into the expansion pack market. Once you've completed all of the adventures in New York, you can buy a passcode to start on Chicago or Miami. And, the thing is that unlike older expansion packs, which are just more of the same, the new expansion packs will probably also upgrade the game back in New York City too. That's already happening.

What is going to happen third is that the game engine (the durable skeleton around which a game's looks and method of play is created, and where most development money is spent) will be much longer-lasting and allow a much more dynamic range of looks, so that a gaming company can put out 10 or 15 games per year (instead of one or less), all of which look quite different... all of which look great... all of which are low cost (after the creation of the game engine)... and all of which bring in cash from users on a regular basis.

Also (something that hasn't been done yet), fourth, the game engine itself will be able to be upgraded from inside preexisting games. This is the holy grail of gaming. Impossible now in all except the most simple games, but once it can be achieved, people will never have to buy a new version of the same game again: The old one just keeps upgrading and upgrading (for a nominal fee, of course).

Say, for example, that you have a flight simulator. An upgrade to the game (not the game engine) would include adding more types of planes, more airports and cities... "same-same but different". An upgrade to the game engine itself would include adding in better quality graphics, or perhaps a way to include wind sheer or a hurricane or turbulence that wasn't there before, or perhaps a dogfight scenario, or perhaps an entire subroutine where you can manage an airport. Being able to add things like that to an existing game is very difficult.

Finally, what you will be seeing is games that operate on a combination of the already-existing World of Warcraft (WoW) and Zynga business models: Thin client games in which your computer handles the creation of game play and player input— the picture, the action — with a smaller program, while the game's process and progress (as well as the gigabytes of game data) is held remotely on the game company's servers, and sent to your computer as needed. What is important is that these games be dynamic, expandable, and once they fail to draw further players, can be retooled and retargeted for a new audience without spending a billion dollars.

Zynga is a good example of the infancy of this type of gaming, with FarmVille (which is a huge financial success) and their also-ran versions PetVille, FishVille, CafĂ© World, Mafia Wars, and on and on and on. These are simple games that can have upgrades added to them instantly, that all operate on the same rudimentary game engine and can be expanded upon and redesigned for an endless array of gaming purposes. While Zynga may offer up simple fare for free, this model of programming — matched with WoW's thin-client computer processing — will be the model for all future games.

Yes, of course all of these processes are already in place and being used: My PS3 upgrades its operating system, and the games will get patches and upgrades downloaded to them as well. But the unnecessary bits (the consoles) and processes (hundred-million-dollar budgets) haven't been removed yet. Also, instead of monthly upgrades, there will be daily upgrades, with player cash spent on a far more regular basis to keep things moving forward. Thousands of cookie-cutter games will be shot out of the barrels of the video game manufacturers at low cost, and then money will be snared in memberships, upgrades, expansion packs, bonus items, et cetera.

Will it mean the death of console games? Yes. Will it mean the death of $300-million-dollar video game development budgets? Yes. Will it mean bigger and better video games? Probably not. Will it still be fun to play? You betcha.

1 comment:

TheMindFantastic said...

Given your currently not in North America, while its only a minor tie in you might be interested to know that 7-11 & Zynga have teamed up, so that a number of 7-11 products have codes attached to give players in Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Yoville special upgrades buy a slurpee get a gun or some such (the specific details I don't exactly know) this along with buyable $25 and other denomination cards for helping advance yourself in their games. For me the whole thing is kind of weird in part because I don't play the games, but from a business perspective I am sure this is just making some awesome spreadsheets.