The founders of NetDevil left their Colorado-based studio recently to kick off another game developer start-up. END Games Entertainment has been mostly quiet until today when a blogpost went live hinting at what the foundling studio plans to work on next. Hint: Think casual. [End Stand For...]
Is the industry really so volatile that any long term business plan is unsustainable? Or is this just a reflection of our eroding societal work ethic and pride of ownership? I'm personally leaning towards the latter, and I'll explain why. There seems to be this dichotomy of ActiBlizzard/EA doing 150 million dollar sequels and Indie startups peddling 99 cent iPhone apps in their parent's basement (with the occasional success story). And every once in a while there is some strange crossover to the other side (Think Tim Schaefer/Richard Garriot, Zynga, Playfish, Angry Birds etc). But then you have guys like this that just jump ship every time a new investment opportunity comes along. These are the kinds of people that are responsible for your failed MMO's, space-marine shooters, and "flick-the-anthropomorphic-animal-across-the-screen" apps.
So what exactly do these types of developers all have in common? Lack of emotional investment in their product. Can a game be successful (and fun) without it? Absolutely. But can a game become a MEMORABLE IP without it? Absolutely not. This is why most long term business models are unsustainable (and also why most games fail). There is nothing to keep the players interested (and the studio afloat) in between development cycles. So the only option is to cash out or regurgitate sequel after sequel in hopes of retaining our ever-shortening attention span. And in some cases it seems to work pretty well (Think Halo, Call of Duty, Madden).
At the end of the day, the developers that pour out their heart and soul into the worlds they create and stay invested are the ones that are truly rewarded in the long term. This is the reason we remember Mario and Zelda 25 years later. This is the reason that there are 12 million WoW subscriptions. We care about these characters and the worlds they live in, so much so that the company can rest on its laurels through increasingly longer development cycles.
In short, developers that give a damn will create and continue to evolve memorable franchises that can push them through the hard times. The rest will just emulate, create gimmicky features, or make sequel after sequel until the cash-cow has been milked dry and move on. It'll be interesting to see if we will care about people like Nathan Drake, Ghost, Commander Shephard, Kratos or Master Chief in 25 years. My guess is we wont remember them at all.