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The end of the gaming blockbuster

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Updated: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 22:02

First Cliff Bleszinski, now Ken Levine. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to when the next big-name developer will decide to transition from making multi-million dollar blockbuster titles to smaller games.

Last week, Irrational Games–designer Ken Levine’s Boston based game development company–announced that 90 percent of the staff would be laid off and Levine would continue to make smaller, story-based titles with a staff of around 15. The news shocked the gaming community and burning questions remain unanswered.

In 2012 another legendary game designer Cliff Bleszinski, formerly of Epic Games and “Gears of War” fame, resigned from the studio and has recently made comments that suggest his eventual return to game designing will be in smaller independent titles.

After Square Enix’ 2013 “Tomb Raider” reboot was cited as failing to reach sales projections, despite selling millions of copies.

All of this adds up to a simple question: Has modern hardcore game development gotten too expensive and/or too risky to continue in its present form?
While Irrational Games insists that its acclaimed 2013 release, “Bioshock Infinite,” was a financial success, selling millions worldwide, the game’s advanced level of artistic detail and excessively long development time–over five years–have had people speculating over how much the project really cost. Take Two won’t say it, but I’d be astonished if “Infinite”’s performance at retail didn’t factor into the studio’s closure.

The fact of the matter is this: video games are no longer something children play with a console connected to a television set. Mobile games like “Candy Crush,” social network games like “Farmville” and a variety of mini game collections and downloadable games make up the modern gaming landscape in addition to “core” AAA multi-million dollar blockbuster titles.

But the cost of developing such titles in the HD era is significantly larger than it was even ten years ago, meaning more and more studios are less willing to make the risk.

And there is indeed still a market for such games. Both the Xbox One and Playstation 4 launched last fall to record sales numbers, while “Grand Theft Auto V”–arguably the biggest game of 2013–was released to sales of well over 20 million units. Gaming is more popular now than ever.

Even a brand new IP–released on a single console no less–managed to wow critics and post spectacular sales numbers in 2013 in the form of Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us.”

People do enjoy seeing studios bring them something new and fresh. While continuing to develop blockbuster titles might be too large an investment for some, the gaming industry mustn’t, because there’s still a huge market out there waiting for the next big AAA smash.


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