Marketing Is Killing Video Games

I recently watched an excellent episode of The Point a feature programme on GameSpot.com about various topical subjects effecting the video gaming industry. This episode focused on the question “is marketing killing the wonder of games?” and for me, it nailed everything that is wrong with the gaming industry today.

You can watch the episode here – its only short:  

Today, the gaming industry’s biggest challenge is how to allow the intellectual creativity of developers in a sustainable business context the premise being that if publishers choose to ‘sell’ only what is ‘selling’, creativity will be stifled.

With so much emphasis placed on marketing by publishers, the effect is that more and more customers are buying games because of those efforts rather than critical review. And with mass marketing campaigns costing in the millions, publishers must justify returns to investors and so they target the largest demographic possible within that genre.

The result? Stifled creativity.

Investors will only pour money into those brands and intellectual properties that are risk averse. Gamers end up with generic gaming experiences from annual franchises evident in your Call of Duty’s and Assassins Creeds of the world.

It all simply boils down to business vs creative freedom and its a viscous circle. Developers at this level, need the guarantee of work to sustain large development studios whilst publishers and investors alike need to be able to project and quantify returns and so need a degree of surety on their investments.

Triple A developers have reduced drastically over the past 5-7 years and its because of this, that marketing is killing video games.

The Squeeze

As triple A developers are reducing by the year, we are seeing a resurgence in the indie games development scene. We have already experienced a boom of games development on the smart phones and tablet market and it is proving to be very lucrative with the free to play model and micro transactions a common theme now. But consoles and PC games in this space are also on the increase.

Its as a result of these two opposite ends of the spectrum that we hear about mid tier or B level gaming studios closing or consolidating quite frequently. They are in ‘no man’s land’. They are not sufficiently funded to go after the triple A space and equally cannot exercise too much creative freedom in unknown/untested genres. The net effect is usually an adequate or good game that under performs in sales.

Narrowing down game types is not the only problem. As publishers are aiming to capture the largest audience possible, they are making games more accessible and so games are becoming easier with everything laid out with tutorials and hand holding.

I’m all for inclusion and for publishers expanding their reach but I recognise that there is a line which must be drawn and you eventually have to ask  – you are either a gamer or you are not no matter how accessible a game is made.

Games like Dark Souls are a breath of fresh air in my view and is exactly what the gaming industry needs.  Games used to be difficult and there was a wonder in finding things out for yourself. Nowadays you can find everything there is to know about the game without even playing it and whilst that is inevitable with sites like Wikipedia, YouTube and magazine sites like GameSpot, developers could do a better job in holding things back for gamers to find themselves.

What Next For Gaming The Industry?

We’ve already seen how are future is shaping up.  Studios down sizing and focusing on smaller projects – Ken Levine from Irrational Games is a great example following the successful release of Bioshock Infinite. Indie games are on the rise on all fronts including next gen consoles. Kick starter projects are at an all time high with people putting in record amounts of money in to projects.

Gamers are feeling fatigued from triple A titles because they are getting homogeneous experiences. They will be around for a long time to come but the number of studios producing them is dwindling. I find it harder and harder to pick up triple A games at their full price and  instead find my shift in gaming changing to indie games and specific genres such as Sim racing, RPG’s like Dark Souls and comfort gaming with the family such as Mario Kart 8.

Where do you think we are headed and is the market changing for the better or the worse? Let me know in the comments below.

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