Cash flow is a developer's nightmare.  Gaming news is awash with reports of game sales selling less than needed to cover the cost of production much less make a profit.  Not only are numerous studios closing their doors even only halfway through 2013 but studios large and small are implementing cost cutting measures.  In the past couple of weeks alone Doublefine announced a new distribution model that sells Broken Age's, the famous Kickstarter game, first half independently allowing the revenue to be used for completing and releasing the second half despite collecting $3,336,371 when only $400,000 was requested.  In short, $3.3 million dollars has been insufficient to create a game initially budgeted at $400,000.  Zynga laid off over 500 employees but recently announced a $50 million dollar compensation package that recruited Don Mattrick as CEO, now former president of the interactive entertainment business.  

The news stories announcing new layoffs and/or studio closures are seemingly endless. 

Vivendi will potentially use its controlling shares in Activision Blizzard to take out a massive loan in the billions in Activision's name but use the money paid toward Vivendi's debt.  Capcom laid off employees in their US office that included Christian Svennson, the former Capcom senior vice president.  Electronic Arts announced in February, April, June and now July 2013 that employees are laid off and studios closed.  The most recent casualty is EA Phenomic, releasing all 60 employees. 

This is only the past two weeks.  I could continue this litany of game developer layoffs, studio closures, and other cost cutting measures.  Gaming is not cheap, $400-$500 (plus tax) is the bare minimum purchase price into the new console generation in the fall of 2013.  We spend our money but why is the industry seemingly always broke?

Should we be?  The reports were endless layoffs but apparently the company still has tens of millions for their new CEO.  

I am a gamer and I spend money on gaming as my contribution to the tens of billions that the worldwide gaming industry collects yearly.  Last week I bought Telltale Games' The Walking Dead: 400 Days and this week I picked up Batman: Arkham City (Game Of The Year Edition), both new copies.  Certainly, gaming on a budget but gaming purchases nonetheless.

The other day I was struck by a realization while playing Lost Odyssey, a 2008 Xbox 360 JRPG exclusive developed by Mistwalker and feelplus, published by Microsoft Studios.  Much to my surprise, when I brought the game case to the Gamestop counter the clerk kept pulling disks until the box would hardly close because of the 4 discs nestled inside.  I felt intimidated to play what is surely the the longest ever game made and the game taunted me from my backlog for over a year.  Now, I am a little over 10 hours into the game and I understand the need for 4 discs.  The game includes many long scripted sequences that feature multiple cut scenes with various camera angles superimposed on each other in high definition.  The 4 discs are packed with video content that is highly detailed storytelling complete with multiple camera angles as well as a wide variety of environment and character shots.  The game averages a respectful length of about 40-50 hours.  While the game allows exploration the lengthy video sequences results in a single player, story based game experience that is dependent on triggering the next narrative moment to progress.   

Admittedly 5 years late to this game party, I am discovering anew this game's commitment to storytelling with movie production-esque video sequences. 

I bought my copy of Lost Odyssey used for about $15 as no new copies are readily available.  Playing a 2008 release in 2013, with its optional DLC minimal added content as extra items and a new dungeon, I am playing the same game that day one purchasers picked up in 2008 for $60.  Naturally, I am enjoying my financial benefit and the ability to play an older game in its entirety.  In reality the $60 one time game purchase for a console is over even as we continue to pick up new games for $60 as the practice dies out because the competition for dollars has rendered the price structure as largely unprofitable.  Not to mention, the multiplayer component of games requiring active servers.  Thus, as the traditional gaming experience fundamentally changes so to does how what we get when we buy our games and what we will pay.   

Do you own any of these games?  Most likely you own at least one, these are our industry heavy hitters (I own two). 

Already the new generation includes much talk of alternative price structure for games such as free to play, episodic, and subscription.  With the constant news stories reporting on developers announcing cost saving measures, us gamers can see that the traditional game release is just no longer profitable for most developers without a Call Of Duty, Assassin's Creed, or Elder Scrolls title in their portfolio.  During game development, money is practically printed for production with hopes of recouping the cash after the game releases only for the dream screeching to a halt when the actual sales numbers hits. 

This realization reminded me of the Xbox One's exclusive Titanfall, the game is already touted as one of the next generation's "must play" titles with its use of cloud based gaming building an epic and playable world that includes gigantic robots (a cultural obsession nowadays) with teeny tiny human pilots.  Particularly I thought of the coverage of Titanfall in Game Informer issue 243 in which the developer discussed a not so new but not yet widely used approach to game development.   

The released video footage feels very similar to traditional FPS gameplay with first person parkour thrown in.  I am hoping that story can be successfully included in a multiplayer focused game. 

Essentially, Respawn is developing Titanfall eschewing traditional single player set pieces as not profitable but Respawn does not want to leave behind single player entirely.  Logically, if only a few players experience the single player ending but many, many more repeatedly play the multiplayer maps as seen in the creators', Vince Zampella and Jason West, previous work, the Call Of Duty franchise.  Respawn intends to capitalize on the best of both experiences and dubbed a new game design as "campaign multiplayer" (55).  "Campaign multiplayer" is based on the principle of the man hours required for single player is not worth the financial investment of relatively few players witnessing the work, "Respawn understood the diminishing returns of pouring hundreds of man-hours into building an epic single-player set pieces that someone blows through in maybe 10 minutes" (54).

This thought process is carried to its logical conclusion is that, "Splitting the resources on a development team of 80 to create a standalone experience not many people finish didn't add up.  Instead, the team started finding ways to integrate those water-cooler moments into the second to second experience of a multiplayer mode" (55).

Yet, nestled in a sidebar in one page was the notation that, In addition to the campaign multiplayer, Titanfall has a more traditional multiplayer mode, as well as a one-player mode the studio isn't ready to talk about you" (59).  We will not truly understand the gameplay until we play the game ourselves but Respawn is not yet moving on entirely from traditional gameplay experiences.

The next generation is beginning to set the new gaming standards.  The games announced thus far, including Titanfall, are available for preorder at the $60 price point.  But what that buy-in gives us remains to be seen especially when we are looking at games that are upfront not delivering traditional gaming experiences from Titanfall to Destiny to Sunset Overdrive to Knack (but parkouring appears to be a popular gameplay mechanic). 

Some of this generation will stay in this generation but these two mascots will surely come with us. 

What we do know is that as the current generation winds down so too are various studios and the current makeup of most game studios as "restructuring" becomes the newest dirty word in press releases.  The traditional structure of producing and selling a console game will stay behind with the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  Not necessarily out of a desire to reinvent but because the market is no longer supportive of traditional game sales.  Without epic sales the $60 game cannot keep its studio afloat, not (always) because the game is poor but because millions of copies must sell for success.  Not simply the price point has become outdated but so too has the ideology behind game development that enough money spent for high production values in a developer led experience results in profit riches.  New game costs are awaiting us all this fall.

Again, congratulations to those hardworking bloggers who are writing daily for their 31/31 challenge.  My week was awash with hard to meet deadlines but I enjoyed reading GIO's blogs during those moments in between high pressure work sessions.

As time is important, thank you for spending some of your time here reading.

Do you think games will continually be released at $60 in the next generation?

Do you buy games at the $60 price point?

How much do you typically spend when you buy a game?