The rapid advance of game technology and their ballooning budgets has resulted in some new trends that I think may become more familiar over the next few years.
Trilogies seem to be the new way to pitch big games.
The basic idea is that so much investment is required up front to create a new franchise that two more installments down the line (with lower production costs) are all but required to recoup the cost. This is sometimes referred to as a “Lord of the Rings” model, since that is supposedly how most of the profit on those films was made. Sequels tend to do well in games generally, and this development model ties in very nicely with marketing (“the story we wanted to tell was just too epic for one game”) and with Wall Street (“we aren’t just publishing games – we’re creating lasting entertainment franchises”). Additionally, if the first game tanks, the next two can always be cancelled. So, it seems like we can expect to see trilogies, whether the material really calls for one or not. Tying in with this is the next trend:
We’ll be seeing more sequels that re-use assets and environments.
I think we’re in for more familiar-looking sequels, because the games will strive to use as much of the same art and environments as their predecessors as they can get away with. This kind of re-use has always been around in some form or another, but the expensive nature of next-generation asset creation is going to make this strategy even more compelling. Investing cash into big, complex environments like fully traversable cities for one single game just won’t make sense to the money men, and they’ll want to defray that cost across as many games as possible. Increasingly, the industry will be asking gamers to play through the same environments again, with some cosmetic changes, and a few new gameplay mechanics thrown into the mix.
The worrying state of Japanese game development.
Akira Yamaoka touched on this in an interview with Brandon Sheffield, and it’s absolutely true. Broadly speaking, Japanese game development is several years behind the West from a technological standpoint. This is pretty clear if you’re a middleware provider dealing with studios in both regions, or if you do technical reviews of a wide variety of games in development, but it’s also apparent simply in the scope and the number of next-gen titles we see coming from each region. Is this a real problem, or does it not really matter? If it does, what should be done about it? This is an interesting and important story that I hope an enterprising game journalist with good contacts in the Japanese industry could really dig into at some point.