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[Featurama] The Games Industry: Failing To Surprise


Man, I feel asleep too.

Each convention has its own “thing,” and it’s pretty obvious that a gathering like PAX East caters more to fans than it does to industry. For their part, companies are keeping their cards close to their chest and saving all the big news for E3. Though even when it comes to E3, we’re still just going to see the same old song and dance that we’ve always seen. For example, in 2012, we’ll predictably see some playable Halo 4footage, more details about Assassin’s Creed III, and probably a better look at Nintendo’s Wii U.


So what would it take to spice things up? What could the industry do that would, for once, just shock and amaze people?

It seems simple, really: Take some cues from Apple – a company that (along with Valve) is clearly poised to be the biggest threat to the console industry.

For one, imagine if Ken Levine made what would ostensibly be an ordinary press appearance to show progress on Bioshock: Infinite, and instead said, “Well, that was the new trailer with actual gameplay footage, and the game will be available… tomorrow.

Tell me your head wouldn’t pop clean off your shoulders, and I’ll tell you you’re a dirty liar. At this point in the history of the games industry, the only thing that would create more buzz  would be the announcement of a one-console future. Releasing a title immediately would be a move that would put gamers in control and level the playing field for media sites, potentially eliminating both problems with embargos and worries about favouritism.

Surprise and innovation shouldn't be strictly technical in nature...

Another interesting move would be to simply price a new title lower than the standard $60. Essentially, the entire digital movement has dealt a crushing blow to the pricing ecosystem: Games (or apps) for a dollar and a glut of extremely well-crafted indie games costing a fraction of an average AAA title are inarguable value propositions for many. In most cases, even the digital releases of Xbox titles on Xbox Live are still no cheaper than their physical counterparts.

Recently the over-the-top action title Asura’s Wrath was generally positively received, though one common criticism is that the game didn’t feel like a regular retail title; that it possibly could have performed better as a downloadable title. CyberConnect2’s president Hiroshi Matsuyama addressed the sales figures saying, “…for people where the game doesn’t fit their expectations, they’re not going to jump in as much.”

This was through a translator, but the remark still shows an acute awareness of reticence. No business model is easy to understand, and his company’s partnership with Capcom for Asura’s Wrath may complicate things, but experimenting with that title’s pricing structure may have convinced those on the fence to give it a shot.

There’s a predictability that’s not only ruining things from the bleacher seats, but it’s starting to stifle the industry as a whole. Renewing the element of surprise could create enough excitement (and uncertainty) to break down the artificial barriers that have been built up for nearly a decade, stimulating console and game development in the same way we’ve already witnessed with tablets and phones.

We’ll take anything, though — because right now the only thing really holding back the industry seems to be itself.

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