It's a dangerous world out there for video games. For once, we're not talking about the controversies surrounding game content, nor are we discussing the conflict between studios and gamers when it comes to the sales of used games. We're talking about the fragile nature of this very industry, and how certain elements can change on a dime.
As of Thursday, May 24, 2012, 38 Studios and Big Huge Games are no more. It's a disappointing end to a barely begun enterprise that released its only game this past February, and was prepared to tease us with glimpses of a future project at this year's E3. Sadly, the tale of 38 Studios comes to a discouraging end, during a week with another already discouraging piece of news.
If you're an Xbox 360 player, and you've been considering updating your gear, you might want to do it soon, because come August, Xbox 360 sales may be banned. They already did in Germany, so who's to say it can't happen here? It comes down to possible patent infringements on Microsoft's part, and while using someone else's product to enhance your own is not an honest or fair way to market, it's not exactly a surprise, either.
Video games are a risk in a lot of areas, and money is only one of those. 38 Studios and Big Huge Games appeared to crumble due to a lack of sales from their game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, as well as a loan from the state of Rhode Island that does not look as though it will be repaid. It's a brutal world out there for the upstart developer, especially one that has a quality product that did not sell as well as was hoped.
38 Studios and Big Huge Games aren't the first developer of note to close in the past year. Team Bondi, developers of L. A. Noire, shut down last October. L. A. Noire was a hit, there was no doubt about that, but when news leaked about internal difficulties in the work environment at Team Bondi, they shuttered. Any potential future for L. A. Noire is lost for the time being, and the same can be said for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Two potential franchises crumble, and we gamers are, admittedly, have two fewer products to enjoy.
My observations on L. A. Noire were limited to what I saw another gamer play, but I liked what I saw. Graphically the game is several steps above others, and it revels in its James Ellroy-inspired post-World War II Los Angeles. While its gameplay didn't seem to offer much different, it did show some remarkable potential as a glimpse into a fantastically recreated city, with as dark and deliciously decadent a past as any other in the United States. If history is to be experienced by the technology generation, then you can't do much better than driving through a recreated city like this one.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is a very good game, and I've sung its praises before. While the game's narrative is familiar enough to any fan of the fantasy genre, the game play is a shining example of what a bit of creativity can do. Visually, the varying environments keep things interesting, and the mixing and matching of skills and classes keeps the player engaged. It's a very good game, one that can really keep you interested, and makes you feel as though it's worth your time.
Even with two expansion packs already released, though, the game didn't make the financial mark it needed to, and only sold 1.2 million copies. To break even, it needed to sell at least 3 million. It's a pity, as this was a strong first offering from a fledgling company, and it's now the only product they have to show. With the death of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games, we're two companies lesser as gamers, two companies that had some creativity and some new blood to pump into the gaming world.
Video game and console developers are in a difficult situation at all times: they have to sell themselves as being superior to all the other kids on the playground. The big three distributors - Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo - all have a lot of money invested in pushing the belief that their console and properties are the best. Gamers tend to pick whichever console and games suit their own personal tastes, but that does not stop manufacturers from insisting that we, the gamers, don't really know what we want.
It's quite simple, really: we want to be entertained, but we want to control how we, the gamer, are personally entertained. It comes down to preference, financial capacity, and what suits our tastes. The gamer tends to know the gamer best, but, speaking from work experience with another form of entertainment, companies don't believe that the consumer knows anything.
I worked for a corporation that, as of last year, no longer exists. There are memories of it, but it does not have a physical presence anymore. It had competition, both in physical stores and online, and everything seem fine and well for a long time. Then the company I worked for made many, many foolish decisions over the course of its existence. When it finally collapsed, it left thousands and thousands of dollars in debt to publishers and distributors, unpaid employees, shuttered stories, and unsold inventory. Those debts are coming back to bite other companies, almost a year later. No industry is safe.
Video games exist in a privileged sphere of entertainment, in that there is a game for everyone, and the possibility for any electronic device to play a game. That said, games are still a young medium, even after thirty years of serious development and evolution. The industry survives because of a few guaranteed hits, games that cost money, but are ultimately not risky ventures. Risky ventures that do not succeed, obviously, cost more than simple lost revenue.
The loss of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games is only the most recent. Studios will continue to come and go, just as these two have. However, fledgling companies are going to have to work even harder to get gamers to notice their products. It was not for lack of marketing that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning didn't sell what it needed to sell. Up and coming studios are going to work even harder to push the fact that they have what it takes to survive, but they may have to do it without the assistance of outside investors, and, I suspect, as the news with 38 Studios continues to get worse and worse, financial assistance from those within the industry may be even harder to come by.
It's a dangerous world out there for a video game developer. Here's hoping that some good news hits soon.
Serious Infotainment runs on Mondays.!--[endif]-->