The AAA game industry is unquestionably a hit-based business and consequently that means there isn’t a lot of room in the market for dozens of companies to compete successfully. Whilst there are many companies making a rather good living from such games, able to deliver title after title that will sell 10 million+ copies, they’re predominately sequels in established IPs who’s success stems largely from their dedicated fan base. Smaller publishers with larger aspirations are still quite numerous though with many of them burning through untold amounts of capital in the hopes of replicating such success. As far as I can tell this way of doing business isn’t sustainable but that doesn’t mean that quality titles have to disappear.
Square Enix recently published its sales figures for its last 3 big hit games and for plebs like me they don’t look too shabby. Indeed there are many titles I know of with lesser sales figures that were considered wildly successful and I’m not just talking about runaway indie hits. Heavy Rain, for example, would be considered easily around the same level of quality as any of the above titles and it has managed to snag some 2 million sales over the course of its life. Quantic Dream had said previously that their expectations were more around the 200~300,000 mark so the order of magnitude increase was completely unexpected, showing that big sales aren’t required to produce polished games. Turning back to Square Enix then you have to wonder what drove them to expect much higher sales, especially in light of their past performance.
I think the main reason is the amount of capital they invest in these titles, thinking that will have a direct causative effect on how many sales they’ll get out of it at the end. Whilst this is true to a point I don’t think that Square Enix is doing this efficiently as whilst their games are objectively good (on par with those who’s sales are much higher) most of them simply lack the dedicated community which drives those massive sales. In that regard then Square Enix needs to drastically cut either its overall sales expectations and rework their game development budgets accordingly because if selling multiple millions of copies isn’t profitable¹ then you’ve got to seriously reconsider your current business practices.
Indeed I feel this is a major issue with the games industry today. Many of the bigger titles are developed with big sales in mind and that means both developers and publishers aren’t willing to take risks on titles that might not perform. Sure we get a few token efforts from them every so often but it’s a sign of how little innovation there is from the big guys when the indie developers are able to churn them out by the truck load. I’m not saying its better or worse if either side of the industry does the innovation, more that the big developers and publishers are stuck in a rut of churning out sequels or, in the case of Square Enix, thinking they’ll make it big if they copy the formula.
¹They haven’t said that any of these titles weren’t profitable but their predicted $138 million dollar loss this year would seem to indicate that none of them were. The loss could also be heavily influenced by the redevelopment of their failed Final Fantasy MMORPG FFXIV, but the breakdown didn’t go into this unfortunately.
It’s late 2005, I had just sworn off World of Warcraft forever and I had begun reintegrating myself with the world of gaming outside the single window I had been staring at for just over a year. On the horizon was a promise of something new, something revolutionary. It was the Playstation 3 something that had been rumoured about for the longest time and was finally beginning to take shape. Best of all some of the launch titles were beginning to trickle into the news stories and they promised the world to us with visuals and games unlike any of those that came before. One of those games was White Knight Chronicles a RPG that showcased a beautiful menu system, battles on scales of the most epic proportions and a story to bind it all together.
I was hooked. That game would be mine.
There I was on the PS3 launch night, sitting in the Belconnen Westfield food court with 50 or so like minded souls waiting for EB Games to open so I could get my console. My ever patient fiancée (now wife) was sitting by my side patiently knowing why I had to be there at this ungodly hour. The doors finally opened I and since there was a queue system for getting the consoles out of there in an orderly fashion I took it upon myself to check out the games available. I mean there was no point to getting a console without a game right? Problem was I couldn’t find the prize I had been yearning for, White Knight Chronicles was just no where to be found. I could have sworn I heard someone saying they picked up a copy but talking with my friends it seems I may have just misheard someone buying Fight Night.
I returned home, confused.
The next day was filled with Internet searches, forum posts and fleeting conversations with friends. Finally I came across some articles saying that White Knight Chronicles was going to be released in Japan before anywhere else and that had been delayed until some unknown time in the future. I sunk back into my chair defeated feeling like something great had been snatched from my grasp. Still the fervent excitement I felt didn’t let go and I spent the next two years devouring every little detail I could find about the game. Eventually the game was released in 2008 to the Japanese market and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I had it in my grasp.
A year and 2 months passed before I was able to get my hands on the game. It was amongst several other large releases at the time so I didn’t get it straight away but every time I walked in to pick up another title I’d see it on the shelves, tempting me with thought of fulfilling promises long forgotten. A month or so passed and I returned from my blockbuster gaming binge and couldn’t resist any longer, I bought the game and took it home not wasting any time before I placed that magical disc into my now 4 year old Playstation 3. The menu came up and I started playing but something was wrong.
Almost 45 minutes passed before I actually got to play the game. This wasn’t all for patching or firmware updates, those took less than 10 minutes, no the game took me through so many in game cinematics that I wasn’t allowed to actually do anything until they were done. The next 30 minutes were filled with me running crazily through the town trying to figure out where I needed to be. Finally I found the mission and was sent to another town which I had to make my way to through a forest filled with possible enemies. 2 hours later I discovered what the game was, it was a single player version of World of Warcraft and one that was none too good at that.
I was devastated, the game that had been hyped so much in my head for the past 5 years turned out to be a turd. I tried several times to play it again but there just wasn’t anything interesting about the game that could keep me coming back. I put the game in the drawer and resigned myself to forget about it and resolved myself to never, ever get so drawn into the hype ever again lest I be caught in a devilish web like the one White Knight Chronicles had spun for me.
So now whenever something is announced or hyped I usually don’t go much deeper into it than the basic facts like it’s release date and who is developing it. White Knight Chronicles wasn’t the only game to be ruined (wholly or in part) by its hype, Modern Warfare 2’s “shocking” scene was almost utterly lost on me because of all the talk about it. Sure there are plenty of games I get really excited about (Mass Effect 3 for example) but apart from knowing they’re being developed and should be awesome I don’t trouble myself with all the details lest they fall short of my crazy expectations. This means I may miss a few things but in the long run I get to play the games with fewer preconceptions so the games can stand by themselves, as I believe they should.
Was I solely to blame for getting too caught up in the hype? Most definitely. Had I adopted my current regime of letting the hype slide until after I’d played the game I may have lasted long enough for White Knight Chronicles to shine and instead you’d be reading a review of it rather than a rant. Still I believe I’m better served by this minimalist approach and realistically it was only a matter of time before I got so caught up in something that the above story would’ve happened again. So if I seem disinterested when you’re really excited about a game it’s nothing personal, I just want to make sure the game doesn’t ruin itself before I’ve had the chance to play it.