Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A pivotal time in gaming!

I just spent the past four years focused on the development of DS games. There were a few occasions when I worked on some game designs for the Wii, 360, and even PS3, but it always came back to the DS in the end for one reason or another. Renegade Kid’s fourth game, ATV Wild Ride, is coming out very soon, and our fifth DS game, codenamed Smoke, will be released in the summer of 2011. Also, as you may already know, our first 3DS title, Face Kart: Photo Finish, is coming in the fall of this year.

Now, the question is: what should we develop for next? The DS market is coming to the end of its life. Not much point in devoting many future plans there. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to continue developing games for the DS. But, publisher’s interest in the platform is decreasing fast. The 3DS is about to start its life, and everyone seems very excited about it. There’s also the iPhone and Android. Those devices are providing a rather large outlet for gaming. And then, there’s still the 360 and PS3 of course. But, to be honest, developing a multi-million dollar “next-gen” game seems a little too far to stretch right now. I realize I didn’t list the PSP, because that market has been in trouble since it started. It will be interesting to hear about what the PSP2 is all about. If it too is a gaming device and phone, it may do well, or it may fail next to the 3DS, iPhone, and Android. But hey, I guess it’s possible the PSP2 could trump them all! We’ll find out soon.

This is a pivotal time in gaming. There are many options to choose from for developers; too many perhaps? There are many platforms to develop for, many business models to consider, and many different audiences wanting to play different types of games. In the last round, the Wii and DS both provided affordable markets for smaller publishers to make a profit. Due to those platforms being family-friendly and casual, parents and kids purchased a ton of value priced garbage for those platforms, which fueled the creation of even more value priced garbage. And now, you look at the Wii and DS shelves in Target and Walmart and you see tons of games that you’ve never heard of. The number of games that are released and never reviewed in magazines or gaming sites is tremendously high. I have never witnessed this on a console before. Publishers knew that game reviews of their games had little impact on sales – a crazy concept – but, it makes sense when your audience is primarily people who don’t visit video-game websites or buy video-game magazines. It’s shocking stuff, really.

Now, with the Wii (nearly) seemingly gone, are publishers going to continue trying to milk the Wii market? After all, the primary audience of the Wii is not interested in forking out $250 for a new console when they already have one that works just fine. The Wii might be classified in the same way a casual player views their DVD player, and as such, they might expect to hold onto their Wii for another five years. The Wii does have a remote, just like their DVD, after all. Is it possible that Wii sales can continue that long? Or, will it quickly die with its’ customers going to iPhone, Kinect, and 3DS? 2011 will tell us.

The DS is definitely going away, of course. Its older brother, the Nintendo 3DS, is on its way and will overshadow any DS efforts publishers may have for 2012. 2011, on the other hand, still has a shot at making some profit from DS sales – especially this Christmas. So, what is a small publisher to do for 2012? If the Wii and DS options are gone, the natural choice may look like the 3DS. But, is the 3DS a Wii or is it a DS in terms of retail and budgetary concerns? The problem is that it is neither a Wii nor a DS, and yet it is both at the same time. Really, if you had to choose one that the 3DS resembles the most, it would be the DS. It is a handheld with two screens. I’m sure it will be very confusing for the execs whose job it is to mitigate risk, and such. The 3DS presents the development cost of (nearly) the Wii for a handheld console, which have always been considered “lite” gaming devices. From that perspective, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to invest Wii budgets into a DS market. In fact, it is starting to sound more like the PSP financial dilemma that turned many publishers away from it. I find all of this quite fascinating. The good news is that all publishers are clamoring to get 3DS titles out, so let’s hope this pushes through the barrier of executive concern and lands us nicely on easy street in 2012. :)

Alright, that’s enough waffling for today. I hope you’re having a great day. TTYL.

Jools

7 comments:

  1. Personally I think your talents would be best served on the 3DS right now. While I do think you guys are capable you would be taking a huge risk on 360 or PS3. Look what happened to Factor 5 and Silicon Knights. I think the important thing for a independent developer is to jump on a new technology early and do something unique so that people will take notice even if the game doesn't end up with a huge marketing budget.

    I don't believe any American RPG's have been announced for the 3DS and there was a huge void in this area on the DS.

    A sci-fi rpg for 3ds that reminds people of Mass Effect could be cool and you guys have done great work already with Moon. So maybe Moon RPG. I like the sound of that.

    Another idea I had for a 3ds game would probably be cheaper to develop. An old arcade style game like Raiden. I think this would be pretty cool in 3d since you're flying high above the ground and that's where most of the action would be but if you look down at the ground there can be enemies there too but with the increased depth perception of the 3d effect it could be quite cool to drop bombs and watch them blow things up on the ground.

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  2. While I'd love to keep you and your team's attention on platforms I own (no gaming phones) I think you could see some real success on those platforms, which in turn gives you dough to invest into the bigger budget projects.

    If you have a couple of "pick up and play" game ideas then I would encourage you to test the waters over in iPhone/Android land. I think if they end up appealing to fans of other gaming devices, then those games could make the jump to the various downloadable game fronts on each console.

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  3. Snin'en have progressed from DS to Wiiware, and are doing a great job of pushing the limits, using their experience of packing a quality title into small limits.

    I think Renegade Kid would do well in that type of scenario, whether it's Wiiware or XBLA/PSN. Just don't increase the team size too much & let it get out of control!

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  4. I think you'll do fine on 3DS (or 3DSWare) should you choose to do so. Your previous DS games were excellent, but few found them due to various reasons as I am sure you know. But with the 3DS things do seem to be different. Looking at the game line-up, there are plenty more "hardcore" (well, I don't like the word, but you get what I mean) titles on the way. Hopefully, they will draw in a crowd that would like games such as Dementium or Moon.
    I second a Mass Effect style RPG. :)

    I think you are dismissing the Wii a bit too fast though. This autumn/holiday had a huge amount of big Wii titles, among them plenty of 3rd party games that really sold well. While there might seem to be a trail off now in januari I think the Wii will continue to see many games and sales, not only from cheap showelware. As a previous poster pointed out, Wiiware would be a nice way to go. There you could release something less mainstream and still have it sell great. Especially now with the demo system in place. I'd vote for Moon 2, with splitscreen co-op for four players. Might be hard to do, but there are so extremely few games that has that feature.

    Either way, I hope you won't go down the path of so many others and switch to cheap, simple mobile phone games. As much as I like my phone, it really isn't much fun playing games on. Without buttons the games feel like easier watered down versions of real games at best. True, puzzle and strategy games can work fine, but that market is already so saturated I doubt another title will do especially well. I have a Symbian-based phone, so there isn't as much games available as for Android/Iphone, but I still have so many puzzle games and Tower Defence clones I could last years.

    Oh, and finally: I really like this blog! As a game developer myself, though without any commercially released titles yet, I find your insights and ideas very interesting.

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  5. One more thing :

    Should you choose to do some type of mobile phone game, perhaps you could keep portability in mind. Releasing it on Wiiware or 3DSWare as well would give gamers a choice of platform to play it on. Then I won't complain. ;)

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  6. While you need to create more detailed assets for the games, I still think that you can make games that don't bust the budget beyond hope.

    Just take your ATV Wild Ride game as example. How much more work would go into creating the game's assets would it be a 3DS title. I'd also think that when you look at the DS's limits when compared to the 3DS's, you would not have to obsess over using every little piece of pixel to make the game nicer looking. Not saying you can be sloppy, but personally optimizing a lot eats more of my time than creating a somewhat higher quality model where I don't have to adjust each pixel of a texture or your visor is suddenly also your whole helmet. Just a quick/bad example.

    If I could freely choose any platform to work on, I'd still go for the 3DS. It has a certain versatility and in my opinion there's no other system that lends itself to such a wide range of games from small compact ones with a simple central mechanic to full blown high production value games. Even with the high price tag it comes I'm sure it will have a big audience really fast and in addition to that, it's mostly people that are ready to spend money and not buy one 10$ bargain sudoku game and play it for the rest of the year.

    To me the question regarding your next move is "What can you afford to develop".

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  7. I was interested in the iPhone/Android because of the accelerometer. But 3DS incorporates that tech as well. Seems like the 3DS is the ideal portable gaming platform.

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