Breaking into the video games market is hard. There is no doubt about that. In fact, it appears that new, budget games, are in decline and it's not hard to see why so many developers are giving up. 38 Studios, the development team behind Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning went bankrupt and shut down not long after it was released. It's not that it was a bad game; indeed, many reviews did not do justice to the borderline excellence produced by the devs. It's hard to put a finger on why it struggled so much. Obviously poor sales are the main culprit, however they are the result of other problems faced by Kingdoms of Amalur as well as many other budget titles trying to break into peoples 'to buy' lists.
There is one, hard, clear point that helps to explain the problems faced by new games and developers on the block: how far we are into this generation. When a new gen begins, it is the perfect time and opportunity that is required for new game series to break in. With so few games available on new consoles, people want something to play. People are less interested in reviews and simply want to experience their newly purchased and released devices.
Just look at the first 3 years after the Xbox 360 and PS3 were released. Gears of War – although being an exclusive IP backed by Microsoft that was always going to draw more attention – caused a storm and gathered a cult following. Uncharted exploded onto the scene for the Playstation 3 and gathered much praise.
But there are even more unlikely games that became massive successes. Games that, while they probably still would've succeeded had they been released in the past year, might not have got the critical acclaim they deserved. Bioshock, Saints Row, Just Cause, F.E.A.R, The Witcher, Assassins Creed, Mass Effect, Crysis; the list goes on and on. These are all games you will recognise and are all video games that went on to have at least 1 sequel as well as become very popular. If anything, the list of games just presented are a great example of why this generation has been so great.
But had they been released more recently, say, in the last year, would that success still be prevalent? Maybe, maybe not. Bioshock is an outstanding game, and one that would gain as much appraisal from reviewers today as it would have 6 years ago; however would the likes of F.E.A.R, or even Saints Row and Assassins Creed, be as appreciated? In truth I doubt very much that had Assassins Creed been released in the past year it would have gone on to have the outstanding sequel it did. The same goes for F.E.A.R and, possibly, Saints Row too.
Assassins Creed was released in 2007 to very mixed reviews. Some loved it, others hated it. I myself was not a fan, however it is impossible to deny the series has really come into its' own; both story wise and gameplay. Ubisoft had time, however. It was 2007, the generation was 2 years in. People still didn't really mind what they were given, so long as it showed off the awesome capabilities of consoles and was fun enough to play. Ubisoft are a big developer/publisher too. If they want a sequel, they'll damn well make one. And they did. And it was massive. And it changed everything.
Similar things can be said about the two other series mentioned – Saints Row and F.E.A.R – that they got off to a rocky start but regained their balance in the form of sequels. But games just aren't given those sort of chances anymore. Big developers or not, video games are punished critically if they fail to impress completely on their first go.
The game Singularity, comes to mind as the perfect example of this. Not only was the game released in 2010 (not too old) but it was also excellent, despite being flawed. What is more, this was no 'budget' entry into the FPS genre, this was a game developed by Raven Software and published by giants Activision.
The response? Generally favourable in terms of reviews but sales, while above mediocre, were nothing special. In the end, while a sequel has not been completely ruled out, the game was nothing massive, or even big.
So the ultimate question is: how do developers, old and and new, increase sales and popularity? It is clear that just producing a fantastic game does not cut it. Dishonored is another video game that provides a good example. A borderline AAA title released only a few months ago that has every reason to succeed, but may not, if sales do not exceed a certain amount.
One thing you cannot do is blame consumers for not supporting new games enough. The last few years have seen many excellent, established, loved and well known video games be released to much expected success. So why in the world would people make a note of some new, unusual game that promises neither success or failure?
Maybe it is as simple as getting in first, when consoles are just released. And if you miss the showing? Well do what some other successful (and fairly successful) games have done: try to force yourself and hope you don't get pummelled by the big boys.
It's not easy for new developers, but this gen has been around for a good while; and the longer it lasts, the harder it is always going to be to be a success. There isn't any particular thing to pick on when it comes to distinguishing what needs to be done to help new titles, because a look back through the years shows us that being fundamentally good or great or, hell, even excellent, doesn't always cut it. Timing looks to be the most important thing to take note of. A sequel can make or break a game series; however there is no doubt a sequel can help many aspiring, struggling series – we've seen evidence of that over the years too.
This generation is almost over, however, so we can expect to see many more new series enter the market the moment the new Xbox and Playstation are released – and for me, I absolutely can't wait.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!