The video game industry is undergoing a transformation. While the latest round of game reveals were impressive and exciting, it isn't all good news and has exposed a major weak point for the entire business. Longer development cycles, skyrocketing costs, and the heightened risk/reward dynamics of launching new titles are increasingly becoming the norm. This change is a storm cloud on the horizon, posing a daunting challenge to the stability and future of the industry.
Let's chat about the biggest problem facing the video game industry in 2023, and how it's getting worse, not better.
Developing games today isn't what it used to be. As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, the expectations of consumers are rising in tandem. Developers find themselves in a cut-throat competition to create games that are not only graphically stunning but also innovative and immersive.
The financial stakes are high, with the success or failure of a single game having the potential to make or break a studio. This scenario invariably leads to lengthened development times and prompts studios to play safe, relying on tried and true properties rather than taking a leap of faith with new IPs.
Take, for instance, Metroid Prime 4. Despite being part of a renowned franchise, the game experienced significant delays. After two years of development, Nintendo decided to start from scratch due to quality issues, resulting in further postponements.
We are now entering 6 years (June 13, 2017) of development since the original announcement unveiling and have still not seen so much as a screenshot from the game.
Then there's Cyberpunk 2077, an illustrative case of the perilous consequences of rushing a game to the market. Released with an array of bugs, the game faced widespread criticism, its shortcomings overshadowing the innovative gameplay and immersive world-building.
It took multiple patches and a major update for the game to begin recovering its initial promise, showcasing the balancing act developers face between refining a game and meeting release deadlines. How much has CD Projekt Red sunk into this project so far?
The current predicament of PRAGMATA, a new IP from Capcom, underscores these challenges even more. Despite promising stunning graphics and a unique gaming experience, the game's release has now been delayed indefinitely.
Developing a brand-new game in the high-stakes environment of next-gen consoles is proving to be a formidable task. This serves as a stark reminder of the gigantic risks associated with venturing into new IPs, even for experienced publishers.
The recently released The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, despite reusing many assets from its predecessor, Breath of the Wild, had a development cycle that spanned over five years. This testifies to the escalating complexity and expectations in today's game development landscape. How long would development for that world have taken if they were starting from scratch like Capcom is now with PRAGMATA?
Launching a new IP is akin to assembling a massive puzzle without a template, as every piece has to be meticulously crafted from scratch and nothing is able to be reused from a predecessor because one doesn't exist. The creation of new assets is a significant contributor to the extensive development timelines and high costs associated with new IPs. This process involves designing new characters, environments, and even the tiny details that contribute to the world-building process, all of which demand significant time and resources.
Faced with these pressures, many game companies are increasingly leaning towards their established franchises as a safer bet. Ubisoft, for example, has taken to releasing a new Assassin's Creed game almost every other year. Relying on familiar IPs allows developers to reuse existing assets and mechanics, significantly reducing development times and costs, while also catering to an established fanbase.
However, this trend of falling back on proven formulas could potentially stifle innovation and limit the industry's evolution.
This article just touches on the very top of the behemoth of a problem that is only getting worse and worse as time progresses. It is crucial for game developers and publishers to strike a balance between exploiting successful franchises and exploring novel IPs. The sustainability and vibrancy of the gaming industry rely on this delicate equilibrium. Although the road to new IPs might be fraught with uncertainty and risks, the potential rewards, including the excitement of players exploring a completely new universe, can make the gamble worth taking...
But with all that being said, is this what leads to the next big video game crash?