Videogames are a thing that I care about a whooooole lot. Were there a text-based method I would spread my arms wide right now to show you how much they matter, and my arms would be really wide apart. Some of the best games I've ever played have been coming out, and every year seems to top the last. It's hard to look at the industry and still have fond feelings, though. Large corporations that were once friendly, that once cared about making a quality work of art for the world to enjoy, have now become cold, and squeeze everything they can out of gullible consumers using dirty business tricks. Sure, the indie scene is on fire, and great stuff is coming from small developers, but the big publishers that are the face of gaming to the world and provide much of our larger scale entertainment now range from idiotic to downright malicious. This didn't happen for no reason, sometimes I wonder how we got here. How did we get to always-on DRM, Publishers telling us we cannot sell our games, constant slow patches, overpriced DLC, and the cannibalization of studios by the big publishers? Two things happened to cause this: Games got too expensive to make, and Call of Duty made more money than pretty much anything ever.
It was only a few months ago that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning caused a nightmarish financial fiasco in the state of Rhode Island. Developers 38 Studios and BigHugeGames, along with publisher Electronic Arts, took at a whopping 75 million dollar loan from the state to move their studios to Rhode Island, and develop this game there. The deadline by which they had to pay off the loan meant that in it's first month alone Amalur would have to sell 3 million copies. This was a new property with little marketing, the companies behind it were betting on an MMO they were going to develop farther down the line, and it fit into the same genre as last November's juggernaut of a game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. There are a few franchises you don't try to go up against in this industry, and The Elder Scrolls is near or at the top of that list. It's been less than a year since that dropped, a fantasy action-RPG is not going to succeed in the face of something with so much hype, and such a huge fanbase. Amalur was NEVER going to sell 3 million copies in a month. And so, the loan was not completely paid off, and the people of Rhode Island are out not only the jobs they tried to get out of the now defunct BigHugeGames, but around 30 million dollars.
Amalur is only the tip of the iceburg, though. Almost every time a studio that isn't owned by their publisher releases a game, the cost outweighs the profit by a mile and the studio goes under. Back in 2008, during the beginning of the financial crisis we're still living with, developers were dropping like flies, even beloved teams who made great games. Pandemic was one of the first and biggest to go, and not long after 3DRealms shut down just before they finally released Duke Nukem Forever. It's stabilized for sure, but the fact is that it costs so much to create the art, story, characters, levels, textures, engines, do bug testing, and finally manufacture a game that developers cannot afford to develop.
Besides being too expensive to make, the definition of success for a game has now been raised to almost impossible levels. This is thanks in no small part to the most wildly successful piece of entertainment in history: the Call of Duty franchise. The unfathomable amounts of money generated annually by Activision's 4 developer franchise has given publishers a lust for money they never before would have had. Everyone wants to be as big as Call of Duty, but the fact is they can't. CoD is an anomaly, an outlier, a phenomenon that cannot quite be explained and will likely never be replicated. It is the only franchise of it's kind, making more money than anyone else in the industry ever dreamed of. And so people copy it, but of course cloning the product will not draw people away from it. Why do we need more modern military shooters when we already had plenty. Not only that, many people who play Call of Duty play ONLY Call of Duty. They are not interested in other games, they don't even like videogames, they just like ONE series, and nothing is gonna distract them from that. EA became infamous for their attempts to take a slice of the CoD pie with their marketing tagline for Battlefield 3: "Above and beyond the Call."
The sad fact is that nobody can make games without flopping anymore, and are misguidedly just trying to copy the triple-A blockbuster games that do make the most money. As more studios fail they are bought up by publishers, their teams taken apart and assigned to big franchises so they can pump out more of the same games every year. Every fall is starting to look the same. New Assassins Creed, new Call of Duty, everything is becoming annualized. This industry is being turned into a series of factories that pump out the same names every year like clockwork.
But the real tragedy is that Other M was so bad Nintendo still hasn't announced any games for Metroid's 25th Anniversary. Zelda gets a concert, Mario a special Wii, Kirby a collection, but Metroid gets nothing because they need the backlash to be forgotten. Just give me a good game and I'll forget the last one ever happened!
I feel just like a purple Pikmin.