Just a few short months ago Sega posted some pretty abysmal quarterly figures. It’s kinda nuts, and kinda not. It’s hard to know where they, or any other huge publisher, will go from here, but it’s surreal to think of these titan publishers as so —seemingly— lost. Even though there are slurry of huge, and interesting looking AAA games on the horizon for 2015, there’s definitely a feeling in the air that big games are kinda screwed — at least in the short term.
The disparity between a surefire success and a prestige piece seems more pronounced in games than ever before. Look at a game like Evolve (2015): it’s an AAA game with an interesting premise, and clearly some damn smart people involved in the project, but you could tell from it’s marketing that it 100% absolutely HAD to sell a myriad of copies for it to have a chance of success. And the worst part? Retail price isn't enough; this is a game that is loaded to the brim with pretty steep DLC because, guess what? Investing in a new IP is risky, and even now with belligerent marketing and micro transactions up the wazou, we very well might hear that Evolve tanked and cost Take-Two —the publisher who was willing to roll the dice on games like Bioshock (2007) and Red Dead Redemption (2010)— a fortune. It’s all hypothetical, and without rendering a verdict on the game itself, I’m glad they bothered to invest in new Intellectual Property. I like big budget games, and I especially like them when they’re new and interesting.
Publishers get a bad rap for being the people who have to make the hard choices, the people who just might have to jeopardize art’s integrity to let artists keep making work. I sure wish they’d do a better job masking their budget-first attitude, but they exists for a reason — not everything can be a do-or-die project for its creators.
I bring all this up not because I think you should buy Evolve —I’m not sure I do, at all— but because if Sega went belly up, that would be an awful thing. There are a half dozen reasons why (and I’m sure you could guess what all of them are) but mostly because games deserve as much creative input as possible, from as many different sources as possible. It’s too early in the medium’s life for things to start going sour from a business sense. We have a lot to learn from both burgeoning creators and from the suits who know how to make art a practical reality alike.
So what can we do about this exactly? I'll be honest I'm not sure — I don't have a background in marketing. But from the outside it seems like it's time to bring back the middle-tier budget game. Ubisoft seems to be experimenting with small games as a revenue source, maybe it's time everyone else tested the waters too. And from a consumer end, it's probably time to stop being so hostile about what we don't like, and try to do better job explaining what do DO. Both sides need to realize there's a big world out there and no one thing is going to be for everyone in it.