May 12, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Developers uneasy about new game consoles

Warren Spector, who's been developing games for more than 25 years, has mixed feelings about the eagerly anticipated Xbox and PlayStation game systems.

The erstwhile studio director of Ion Storm, responsible for titles ranging from "Wing Commander" to "Deus Ex," thinks the new video game systems will be a player's paradise. With high-definition graphics, incredibly fast processors and surround sound, the experience will be leaps and bounds beyond anything console gamers have seen before.

But with that will come consequences. Spector and other developers are worried that the game industry will become ever more like Hollywood, with huge budgets, huge productions and lots of sequels, dominated by the few big companies who can afford to produce a top-shelf title.


What's new:
New video game consoles will feature high-definition graphics, incredibly fast processors and surround sound, creating an experience that will be leaps and bounds beyond anything gamers have seen before.

Bottom line:
Developers worry that the game industry will as a result become ever more like Hollywood, with huge productions and huge budgets.

More stories on game consoles

"Once hardware guys give us the capability to do something spectacular, someone's going to spend the money to do something spectacular," Spector said. "The quality bar is going to be raised. Someone is going to spend $20 million or $30 million or $40 million, and the rest of us who don't have deep pockets like that are going to have to find some way to compete."

This ripple of anxiety is moving quickly through the world of game developers and publishers as the hype machines for the Sony's PlayStation3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 grind into gear. The game industry is evolving on both the business and creative levels, and it's a good bet that nobody knows exactly what that means.

The last several years have proved beyond a doubt that gaming has hit the business mainstream. Sales of video game hardware and software topped $9.9 billion in the United States alone in 2004, according to NPD Group. That's a few million dollars higher than Hollywood's total box office take for the same period.

But the process of making games has changed substantially in the course of reaching those heights. Games were once the product of just a few people, or even a single person acting on inspiration. "Pong," the game that kicked off the video game craze in the early 1970s, was created alone by Atari's Al Alcorn, on instructions from company founder Nolan Bushnell.

By the time the industry reached the PlayStation2 and Xbox league, the biggest games were created by teams numbering in the dozens, with budgets often reaching upward of $10 million. Some in the industry have been grumbling for years that this has sapped creativity, with game genres standardizing around the core big sellers: sports, shooters, strategy games and role-playing games.

Some innovative projects do get off the ground. But most big titles are familiar, critics say. Eight of the top 10 best-selling games in mid-April were sequels, some on to their fourth or fifth iteration, according to NPD Group.

"If look at history of games, the industry grows by creation of new styles," said Greg Costikyan, a game consultant and independent developer. "One innovative game appears, and then you

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On Moving Away from Independent Development
I've always loved Warren and his works with the various other legendary developers he has surrounded himself with. As such, I've also been listening to him for a while and his prophecies look more and more convincing as time goes on.

For better or worse, I believe Warren has touched on the inherent mentality of the American people. In the beginning, things were small: small business, small game developers, small bicycle industry, small movie producers. And it was good. But in true American fashion, where there's money to be made, there will be gobs upon gobs of cash. Everything tends to get bigger around these parts.

Are the movies of today better or worse than the movies of old? I can't honestly say, being that my knowledge on the subject is woefully inadequate. I can honestly say, though, that my enjoyment of games over time has increased, as the experience has gotten more and more involving. Is that just me getting distracted by the flashing whizbangs and whirling doodads? Possibly. But it doesn't matter how big the company is, only the best games will make it to the top of my favorites list. We can always count on the good, the bad, and the ugly. Heck, even amongst my Doom 3's, my Far Cry's, and my Unreal Tournament 2004's, I STILL boot up Deus Ex or Anachronox when I need to scratch an itch.

One thing Warren possibly overlooks is that the bigger the game industry gets, the greater the chance becomes that people like himself, John Romero, Tom Hall, Will Wright, etc., become "more than kings. Gods" (to quote Deus Ex). Suddenly, a Spielberg equivalent in the game industry becomes possible. As long as the good games keep coming, I'll keep buying.

Independent development will never die and it's up to the authors of the various mega-engines to open them up, as they have in the past, to small developers so that they can at least code on equal footing. I certainly worry about the industry getting bigger, as gaming has always been about the people, but I think the true gamers will always understand that the people behind the curtain are the ones who matter. The game may say "EA" on the cover, but I always watch the credits because that's what counts.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Time to return gaming to the Amiga platform
For those developers thinking they might be steamrolled over by
BIG name companies in game development should not fret, just
return to your roots and start hashing out games for re-emerging
platforms like Amiga, which has been seeing game development
pick up in recent years, of course it's a horse race right now
between OS4 and Microsoft's Longhorn (for public consumption).
Posted by JuggerNaut (860 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Link Flag
what about the other game platforms???
You cannot create sophisticated games without right tools and the people with the right skills. So you say the more capabilities a game system has, the more resources it takes to build a cutting-edge game. It's economies of scale, man!
Don't forget that the home game consoles aren't the only platforms for game development. Game developer hobbyist and small start-ups have plenty of room to play on hand-helds and cell phones.

Also, creativity and innovation doesn't die with larger budgets. Pixar and Dreamworks, two lone players in full-length CGA films, are keeping the theatres loaded and the masses awed by their creations. I'm sure that the large game software vendors, even in fewer numbers, will be able to do the same.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Awed? Distracted is probably a better description
Those studios have put out some decent movies, but increasingly both just play it safe now and put out blander and blander movies. For every Shrek or Toy Story there are many stale movies that aren't worth mentioning. And the sequels to the few standouts are crap, like nearly every sequel.

People like the animations from those types of movies, and don't seem to be paying attention to the story, or lack thereof rather.
Posted by pcLoadLetter (395 comments )
Link Flag
Money turns everything to crap
Like music and movies, the quality of games are on a downslide.

Gamers are increasingly distracted by the bells and whistles ans confuse that with good gameplay. Some of the best games ever, are still good games today even though the graphics might suck.

Half-Life 2 is a perfect example. As a tech demo it is a tremendous piece of software. Outstanding graphics and physics among other things. But as a game it is a very vanilla game. But people are drooling over it, because of the extras.

By and large sequels ruin things. Quality goes down, as quantity goes up. It also makes the industry stale. Everyone just makes clones of what sold a lot of units, and anything that could be unique never makes it to market. Take a look at what games are available. Nearly everything has a number at the end of it, or can be accurately described as "just like game x". That is not a sign of a creative and dynamic market.

It is like the game Mythica, a MMOG that looked to be a true evolution in MMOG. But that project got cancelled in favor of a project by the original developers of Everquest. A group of people that proved to be quite arrogant, and good at developing static, vanilla content. Do you really want a game developed by people that thought that sitting around for hours, literally doing nothing, was compelling and challenging gameplay? People finished novels while logged into the game waiting to finish something. But, EQ made a lot of money so people copy it over and over. The only game of the genre that is a standout is world of warcraft and that game is a terrific refinement, but nothing all that unique or different.
Posted by pcLoadLetter (395 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Gameplay is king
You're dead on. I've seen games that looked like a million bucks, but played like crap. News flash: that game is crap. My favorite examples are "The Getaway" and "Dead To Rights," games that looked technically amazing, but had some of the worst gameplay I've ever had the displeasure of playing.

Although consider a game that has gorgeous graphics and sharp gameplay, such as Namco's "Ace Combat" series or Tecmo's "Ninja Gaiden" or Konami's "Metal Gear Solid" series. Even though money for the most part doesn't change the quality of games on the whole for the better, every once in a while you'll get a gem that is worthy of genre-defining significance.
Posted by Christopher Hall (1205 comments )
Link Flag
A Serious Question...
How much does it cost to develop Games for the X-BOX, Playstation, etc... for licensing, and necessary proprietary development-tools, etc?

Is this just a matter of needing a large number of necessary skills?

Or, is this also a matter of being squeezed out of a market, by unavoidable IP licensing-costs?
Posted by Raife (63 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not gonna happen.
It doesn't matter if you spend 40 million or 40 thousand. If the
game is playable then people will buy it. Personally I'm sick of
these games with incredible graphics where you have to memorize
100 different joypad manouvers.
Posted by bdkennedy1 (58 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nintendo Has a fix
Nintendo says this wont be a problem for them, Nintendo will support the low budget games as well as high budget ones. Nintendo's innovation has always lead them to do their best in making game develoupment easy, and to allow more freedom.
Posted by KireiGrey (1 comment )
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