the economics of video games 12.31.2008, 10:10 AM
posted by dan visel
We don't talk about games here as much as we have in the past, but this John Lanchester essay is worth a look on your way to the New Year. One paragraph stands out to me, a brief consideration of the economics of creation:
It seems clear to me that by the time my children are adults, video gaming will be a medium whose importance and cultural ubiquity are at least as great as that of film or television. Whether it will be an artistic medium of equivalent importance is less clear. One of the problems is that the new consoles are difficult and expensive to create games for: no one can create a game for the PS3 or Xbox 360 without access to significant amounts of capital. The next generation of consoles is a long way away, and this will likely be even more the case by the time they've grown up. As the tools of filmmaking have got cheaper, those for game making have got more expensive; this might mean that the game industry never gets to move on from the need to create blockbuster equivalents. Already the industry suffers from an excessive proliferation of sequels – always a sign that the moneymen are in charge. Games do a good job of competing with blockbusters, but it would be a pity if that was the summit of their artistic development.
The interesting thing about the Internet, for better or for worse, is that it's generally leveled the field of cultural creation: anyone can create a blog, upload photos, put videos on YouTube. Games – in Lanchester's admittedly limited view – seem to be marching in the other direction.
Posted by dan visel on December 31, 2008 10:10 AM
sportsbabel on December 31, 2008 11:20 AM:
And it isn't simply programming access to the game consoles themselves that provides a barrier, but in certain cases the technologies used prior to the programming of the game proper, such as expensive motion capture studio work used to create 3D body "realism" in sports and movie titles.
That said, console games such as Everyday Shooter by Jonathan Mak give one hope that independent artistic creation will continue to flourish (though perhaps for the same art-house crowds that watch independent films today).
Jason on December 31, 2008 1:25 PM:
While a console SDK is going to be a serious investment, there are huge communities modding popular PC games and indie game developers releasing hundreds of games a year for free or on limited budgets. The creative forces in the video game medium are struggling but many are marching in a direction, not the right or wrong way, but of their own - exciting and creative, unexpected and experimental, contemporary and artistic.
Russell Warner on January 4, 2009 2:07 PM:
I have to agree with Jason, above. Developing for the latest consoles can be a large investment. But then, I can develop a game for the iPhone today, with Xcode, for essentially nothing. I could do the same with Flash and release a game on the web. I could develop some funky thing like Myst in my own eclectic development environment (like Hypercard!) and sell the result as a download or on CD.
I think a division exists more along the lines of investment and expectation. There are home-made or indy-made films and then there are $200mil blockbusters. There are bands selling their albums while they tour, and then there's Britney Spear's latest opus--the advertising and marketing budget alone must dwarf the actual studio costs. And either kind of project, indy or otherwise, can fail; it's just that the failure of one versus the other will cost somebody a lot more in captial.
That brings to mind an interesting question: if I say indy project, you know what I mean. What's the opposite? A factory project?
Kimon on January 21, 2009 12:18 AM:
The comment about games not being customizable by a larger audience than the primary developers and publishers of video games neglects a bunch of different access points to games creation. Modding is of course the most recognizable way gamers do this, with revenue earning games having come out hobby modification projects. As one poster said the iPhone SDK is accessible for a relatively low cost and the App Store even provides a entry point for games to quickly be sent into the market. Microsoft has also made steps to provide software development tools for independent users to create games for the Xbox 360 Arcade (at a number of different cost levels). There is also the ability to build games using Flash (every year there are lots of interesting Flash games made available, most for free). Even within console games, many games with elaborate multiplayer features provide map building tools for multiplayer contests(Far Cry and Halo 3 are particularly noteworthy examples) as well as the ability capture and share still images and video (Project Gotham Racing 4 allows for the sharing of racing shots for instance and Halo 3 allows you to capture your group playthrough and post them on Xbox Live). This range of access points to game manipulation and customization allows different types of users and programmers multiple entry points into game creation, albeit at different levels of control and varying levels of financial investment. Nevertheless, if one thinks of gaming as the entire gamut from Solitaire to Halo, there is space for the kind of ingenuity that is seen in Youtube, etc.