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Looking Toward The Horizon

For publishers and developers, it used to be so much simpler. You selected your target platforms, created the games, and released them to brick and mortar retail stores. But in today’s landscape, where new platforms are constantly emerging, digital distribution has opened up new revenue models, and developers don’t even need a publishing partner to get their games made, the number of choices is downright dizzying. Do you stick to the tried-and-true consoles, or do you forgo them altogether to pursue the much larger install bases on mobile phones and tablets? Do you stick with a traditional price model, or test the waters with free-to-play or paid alpha programs? What is one to make of emerging, unconventional platforms with intriguing potential like virtual reality headsets?

To gain a better sense of where the businessmen and creative minds behind the games we love are at, we pulled several of them aside at the annual D.I.C.E. Summit in Las Vegas to hear their thoughts on some of the bigger questions facing the game industry. 

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue of Game Informer.


Will this new console generation have more or fewer new IP than the previous one?

When Sony and Microsoft launched the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, publishers came out of the gate with an avalanche of new franchises. Over the first three years of the consoles, gamers were inundated with bold new concepts, from legitimate blockbusters like Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted to critical darlings like BioShock and Portal. But as the years dragged on and mid-tier publishers like THQ started biting the dust, publishers began relying on established franchises rather than pushing innovation with new games.

With two new consoles offering developers untapped power, we expect creativity to pick up again in the early years of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. But will we see the depth of bold new ideas that we enjoyed last generation, or will market conditions dictate that major publishers take fewer chances with their lineups?

“I think you’re going to see the same thing you’ve seen before as far as the AAA space where initially you’re going to see a lot of new IP, and then it’s going to slow down drastically as the generation continues,” says Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann. “The successful ones will stay, and maybe if a few fail then you might see a couple new ones, but it won’t change a lot toward the end.”

Naughty Dog game director Bruce Straley thinks that the steep financial investments attached to large-scale game development makes it tough for publishers to take as many chances as they did in the past.

“The triple-A [publishers] still have the issue of the ­budgets – they have to create that scale of game versus the profit they have to turn around to justify that dev-elopment again,” Straley says. “We have a luxury at Naughty Dog that Sony trusts us and we’re able to push and challenge ourselves in what kind of games we want to make. But my understanding – and I don’t know because I’ve worked at Naughty Dog forever – is it doesn’t sound like other people really have that kind of flexibility. That will be interesting and definitely affect whether or not you will see more sequels or new IPs – whether or not the upper management of those companies feel comfortable in trying and testing new ideas. Maybe that comes down to scope of game. Maybe if the scope is reduced down they can justify smaller teams, smaller development cycles, and getting something out the door a little bit faster [when] there’s not as much at stake. So maybe it’s not about new IPs, it’s about new scoping of games.”

With both Sony and Microsoft making inroads to creating more ­inviting platforms for non-established developers to release their games on the consoles, some creators think that – even if we see less new IP from the big publishers – a new era of innovation could spring from these smaller teams. 

“One thing that’s interesting right now is there are indie developers that had their first big hit last generation like Braid or Bastion, and they’re making their follow-up games now, and almost none of it is like Braid 2 or Bastion Returns,” says The Fullbright Company co-founder Steve Gaynor. “They are creating new IPs to follow their successes. Obviously, there’s still going to be continuations; there will be more Mass Effects. At the same time, year-over-year, there will be more new prominent IPs that are going to come out.”

Read on to find out what people think of free-to-play invading consoles.

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