Next Generation Game Concepts

As games are getting more expensive to make, and next generation consoles are limited to a smaller audience of early adaptors at launch, the role of original intellectual properties take on a different meaning early in a console's life cycle. Here's what our panel of developers had to say on the subject. Tomorrow: publishers.

Cliff Bleszinski, Lead designer, Epic Games

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

Original game concepts will continue to be the backbone of what drivesthis industry forward, however, there will still be plenty of room forkiller licensed games and properties. After all, it's hard to knock theadded visibility of a top tier Hollywood marketing campaign behind asummer blockbuster.

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

Publishers are scared and, well, they should be. It's costing more andmore to make a game and it's crucial that developers deliver hits andthose hits must come consistently. As a result we may well see titlesthat take less risks flooding the marketplace. Gamers are a savvy bunch,however, and will quickly weed out the good from the bad. Venues likeXbox Live Arcade will allow for smaller budgeted titles to reach anaudience.

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

There's plenty of room for licensed Hollywood properties as long as thegames are good and the properties would make an enjoyable videogameexperience. It'd be rather pointless to try and turn The English Patient into a playable game.

I think the recent rash of 70's and 80's movies that are being"re-envisioned" as games is a testament to how scared publishers are ofnew IP. When given a choice between what's behind "door number one -- existing IP -- or door number two -- brand new IP" the publisher willalways bet on door number one no matter how old, obscure, orinappropriate the license is to the medium.

Chris Charla, Executive producer of development, Foundation 9 Entertainment

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

I think every generation you see certain, break-out, new properties. It's because characters are designed around the limitations of the system. For instance, when we switched from 32-bit to current generation hardware, people already had preconceived notions of what classic characters like Crash and Spyro looked like -- they were designed to look the best they possibly could on PlayStation, but on PS2, the look didn't work as well, opening the door for new characters and franchises.

When someone buys a new console, they really want new new games to play it, not just sequels, so there's a great opportunity to launch new franchises with new consoles.

Beyond the launch period, I think there is strong publisher demand for new IP, whether that is original, or comes from Hollywood or comics or some other medium.

You know, the notion that "all there is" is sequels is quickly confirmed if you look at the best seller list, but it's quickly belied if you actually step into an EB or GameStop. So publishers are pushing new things, and I think when they take off, they work their way into the best seller lists. How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

What's really exciting about the next generation, is that we're going to see multiple business models emerge. It's not all going to be 300 person teams with 60 million dollar budgets. That's unsustainable, even for the big guys. So you're going to see other business models emerging -- launching properties on PSP is one we've already seen, but Xbox 360 Live Arcade and Revolution may also be good low cost places to try out new properties.

We may also see some other price points establish themselves, not just for budget games, but for games that maybe offer the same depth of content, but offer a shorter gameplay experience -- 4 or 6 hours instead of 20-30 hours.

No one is going to only make bets with giant teams and giant budgets. You will see that, and top-line AAA, guaranteed sellers, like Bond or Tony Hawk, will certainly get that treatment, but no one is going to try to make a business solely on big bets.

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

Hollywood is definitely taking games more seriously, and as a result Hollywood games are no longer slapped together in three months, so gamers are taking the games more seriously. Across all entertainment media, I think we're rapidly reaching the point where the origin of an IP -- games, comics, Hollywood, cartoons -- is mattering less and less, but the quality of the IP, and its ability to work on a multitude of delivery mechanisms -- movie, cartoon, comic, and of course, games -- is mattering more and more.

Erik Gloersen, President, Climax's LA studio

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

Original games are essential to the success of next generation consoles in my opinion. Still, most launch titles appear to be current generation games with a graphics makeover. I can understand that 3rd party publishers mitigate risk by re-releasing commercially successful game concepts for launch of a new platform. However, I don't understand why Sony and Microsoft are hedging their bets on creating so many "safe" titles. I once asked Mr. Miyamoto about Nintendo's strategy when it comes to making games. I was surprised when he said that Nintendo only makes games to sell hardware units, but it really makes a lot of sense. Now, Nintendo has clearly made some mistakes over the years and are struggling to overcome them, but it seems to me that Microsoft and Sony could learn from Nintendo's mindset: Every first party title should attempt to expand the market through innovation.

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

Clearly making next gen games will be more expensive than current gen. However, I think the more important question is: "How will the increasing costs of next gen game development impact innovation in gameplay?" In my opinion, awesome graphics and Hollywood style production values can no longer be considered a differentiating feature for any title. Every game has great graphics and awesome audio. There is only one key distinguishing feature in today's market and that is the gameplay experience. Still, most of the added cost comes from bigger art teams, more animators, more specialized people like lighters, SFX artists, etc. The impact on innovation in gameplay is that the Designers are beginning to drown in bigger and bigger teams. People don't want to buy interactive movies. People want to buy unique and entertaining video games. I believe the most successful games will be created by a core team of 30-35 people where at least 10 of them are Designers. I believe in an iterative process where gameplay is tried out, tuned and tested extensively before pretty graphics are laid on top of a solid gameplay foundation. I believe in outsourcing at least 80% of the art, which will lower the overall cost and let the team focus on creating a unique gameplay experience.

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

I don't think the next generation of consoles will change the fact that video games based on Hollywood blockbusters will continue to generate huge revenues in our industry. It is however, interesting to see that more and more video games are made into movies. Not surprisingly though, movies based on video games are almost as bad as most video games based on movies. Sooner or later this will change. Maybe the Halo movie will break the trend...I do think that we can tap Hollywood for talent in some areas that will make games more interesting. I also think that storytellers from Hollywood can help developers create better fiction for video games as long as they understand the difference between the mediums.

John Rowe, CEO and president, High Moon Studios

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

The development of original games for next generation consoles will be somewhat hindered by the cost of production and the high risk-reward ratio associated with developing original concepts and new game IP. In addition to the development cost risks, original IP requires significant marketing support and advertising spending. Creating awareness for brands, characters and stories that are new to the marketplace requires large marketing budgets and effective advertising strategies.

Publishers developing original IP for the next-generation will be cautious and somewhat risk averse because of the uncertainties surrounding issues such as size of the next hardware install base, the tie ratio between hardware and software, as well as the unknowns surrounding the technology. For all of these reasons, we are going to see less original IP and more sequels and licenses. This doesn't necessarily bode well for the consumer or for our industry, as originality obviously suffers. However the bottom line is that successful publishers will have a mix of original IP, licensed IP and sequels of proven brands. Regardless of which category, they all will require focus and concentration on great game play. Whether it's a new original game or a proven and familiar title, the question will always be is the game fun, and what is fun about it. Finding that fun is the number one priority for High Moon Studios as we develop our games for the next generation.

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

Based on list prices for Xbox 360 games, we are already seeing a rise in prices. With that rise come questions about volume, the tie-ratio between hardware and software sales, as well as the overall pace and scope of the market as it develops.

It will be interesting to watch the market evolve and whether or not these initial price increases will be sustainable. Eyes will also be on PlayStation 3 to see what publishers do with game prices on that platform.

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

Movies are going to continue to be an important part of the marketplace for games. It will be the responsibility of developers and publishers to make sure movies that are licensed are developed into fun and entertaining game experiences. Too often in the past, movies have been made into games without enough effort put into the game play.

Even with the built-in audience for a film, developers and publishers could very easily alienate that audience with a bad adaptation of that film. It is important that the video game sector does not dilute the movie to game opportunity by putting out poor games based on successful movies.

Randy Pitchford, President, Gearbox Software

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

New generations of video game consoles are traditionally a great place for developers to try new concepts. During launch, it's easier to get attention with smaller marketing budgets, so it makes it easier to take a risk and see how the market responds.

Some of the best brands in the industry were really boosted by being launch titles.

I think about Soul Caliber launching with the Dreamcast, Ridge Racer launching with the Playstation 1, SSX launching with the PS2, Halo launching with the Xbox and even Tetris launching with the Game Boy and see a collection of great, original games that have become great brands.

It's getting more difficult, however. The industry has learned that it needs to make fewer, larger bets. It needs to spend a lot of money in development to achieve the highest possible production values and it needs to spend a huge amount of money on a AAA marketing campaign to promote it.

Justifying the kind of spending required to stand out in this next generation is going to be harder for an original concept to do than ever before. The good news is that the original concepts that do appear are likely to be better simply because they have to be in order to be worthy of the risk. I expect that we'll see a lot less tripe out there...

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

Developers are going to be spending more in the next generation than before -- Gearbox is noting that it is spending at least 50% more on development than it did in the last round.

The rising cost of development partially motivates a price increase at retail, but another big contributor is the fact that video game prices have been stagnant for many years -- our prices have not increased with the inflation of the rest of the economy. Relatively speaking, next generation video games are still cheaper than video games were even just five or ten years ago.

Premium next generation video game content will cost $60 (up from $50 -- or a 20% increase).

So, we're grossing 20% more at retail, but we're spending 50% more in development.

You can imagine that there is an assumption that more customers will be joining the market to support the difference.

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

Interactive entertainment is great in that it lets us live and experience things that aren't real. When we all watch Spielberg's HBO series about World War II paratroopers, we can then go out and buy Brothers in Arms and actually step into the boots of these guys and live the life.

I think that influence is going to be there.

The next generation technology allows a greater convergence between the visual fidelity of the interactive experience and the visual fidelity of the films.

Samantha Ryan, President, Monolith Productions

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

Original game concepts will always play an important role, no matter the generation -- past or present. It's important for the health of the industry that new concepts bring fresh blood into the game space. At the same time, original concepts can be quite risky. Each individual developer and publisher must assess their own ability for risk and determine the right balance of original IP vs. sequels or licensed properties. At Monolith, we have developed both original IP and licensed games quite successfully. Both types are fun, and both can be incredibly rewarding! How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

I'm not sure anyone can fully answer that question yet. However, it certainly appears that the cost of making games is going up. Achieving realistic next-gen visuals takes a serious amount of artistic horsepower. At Monolith, we are finding art costs escalating the most. This is followed closely by design and engineering, particularly in the tools area, which is critical to an efficient development process. What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

Who doesn't love seeing a great film or watching a stellar TV series? There is some wonderful IP out there, and it will continue to play an important role in the games industry. The trick is bringing the right Hollywood IP into the games space and crafting an interesting, challenging experience for the player. It's a balance between remainingtrue to the IP while at the same time giving the player interactive tools to control their own personal experience.

Todd Hollenshead, CEO, id Software

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

Technology is a gating factor to the experience of playing games. Whether it's visual quality or character interactions, you have to have the processing power to make more sophisticated and interesting entertainment.

Certainly the next generation of consoles in the Xbox 360 and PS3 are far more powerful than their predecessors and that gives game developers broad options to do things we haven't been able to do before and provide experiences for players they haven't had before. For example, for our next generation Wolfenstein game, which uses the Xbox 360 as it's primary development platform, we are developing technology that will change the way people play First Person games by doing away with the whole concept of "levels", which has been the primary progression mechanic every first person game has used.

The Wolfenstein game world will be one large environment that you can move freely about and explore without ever having to "load" the next area or map. In that way, you're never pulled out of the game environment because of a level change, and the game is presented to you as one seamless experience.

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

The initial R&D investment the industry is making is large. The by-product of that is that this first series of Xbox 360 games have a higher price point, which is closer to $60 than the currently common $50 price point.

The R&D investment will be amortized over the life of the consoles, so this initial investment will matter less a couple of years down the road, but next-gen games will still be more expensive to make. As the hardware allows us to present more graphical richness, the requirement for art rises proportionally.

You can't create amazing art algorithmically, so it's a case where more art "man hours" will have to be applied to each project.

Additionally, the ability to have more complex interactions with game environments will require more game designer hours to implement, more sophisticated scripting, and more complex character animations and dialogue.

The reward is the prospect of much better games and the potential to grow the size of the market to reach more casual gamers or novice or "non-gamers".

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field? Hollywood IPs have played a strong role in games for a long time.

Historically, games based on movies were generally not as good as independent games, but that has changed for the better.

There's a much greater emphasis on quality for licensed games today. The movie market is still much more of a mass market than video games, so the ability to attract new game customers with the draw of a popular movie franchise is important.

But the games industry is not dependent on Hollywood for content at all.

Sports titles, fighting games, racing games, life sims, real-time strategy games, and the most popular shooter titles are all independent of Hollywood influence and that's a huge piece of the overall games market.

Ultimately, the ability to grow the business and attract and build a more mass audience will come from higher quality games, not licensed content.

Jason Della Rocca, Executive director, International Game Developers Association

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

Original IP needs to play a critical role for the industry as a whole. While there is more risk involved, innovation and original IP has the greatest potential for maintaining the industry's momentum. It's no surprise that most of the best selling and critically acclaimed games are original to the industry.

Why bother if we're only going to game-ify the ideas of other industries?

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

There's no doubt that next-gen production budgets are on the rise. Sadly, this is placing pressure on the existing pricing model. The challenge is that higher prices will not help us broaden our audience/market. Many of us need to go back and pull out our ECON101 textbooks...

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

Licensed IP will help balance the risk of working on original IP. Assuming the gameplay doesn't suck, there's nothing inherently wrong with bringing external IP into the game industry. The problems start when the opportunities for original IP get completely squashed by the taking the "safe" bet of a Hollywood license.

On a more encouraging note, it is nice to see that directors/producers are getting more involved in the creative process and turning the game production into a much more collaborative affair.

Now it's the turn of the publishers -- Publishers Talk New I.P.

Jeff Lujan, Business director, Namco Hometek

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

Consumers who will own next generation consoles are the gatekeepers of the industry. They tend to be the trendsetters and are very knowledgeable about games and what they want to play, and they expect originality and advances in the games they buy. Because of this, simply porting titles that have been on other systems over to a next gen system will not be a successful proposition. Now if you are asking about licenses as opposed to original IP for next gen consoles that depends on a lot of elements. Whenever you create a game based on an existing license it should be something that the people who own the system will want to play. As for original content, I think this is something every consumer wants to see on any system. But like a license you just have to make sure your content appeals to the person who owns the system, otherwise it won't matter if it is an original IP or a license. With all the new capacities of the next gen machines, we are striving to create Next Gen thinking and creativity in all of our game designs.

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

A new system has new and additional technological capabilities so you can expect increased development costs there. There is also the cost associated with setting up new development processes (internally) and finding qualified staff to support the new technology. In addition, you usually have to add in the extra time needed for the QA process, approval processes and manufacturing time as those are somewhat unknowns until at least the first time through the process. What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

As I said before, I think a license is great as long as it is the right license for the platform's audience. I think we will see a lot of movie companies and game publishers working together to bring Hollywood IP's to the next gen platforms and with the new capabilities, Hollywood's properties will look and play better than ever. We look forward to this potential!

Peter Matiss,VP marketing, Webzen America

What role will original game concepts play in next generation?

Increasingly, many publishers are relying on established brands and entrenched play patterns as a means of mitigating the considerable risk involved with bringing content to the next-generation of consoles. This has had a very interesting effect on consumers and the media.

From our consumer research at Webzen America, we know that players are beginning to crave fresh and innovative content that has the capability of delivering an exciting new experience. For this reason we believe there is a considerable opportunity to introduce new game concepts like the massively multiplayer online first person shooter Huxley and the urban action massively multiplayer online game All Points Bulletin (APB) to the early-adopters who will be purchasing the next generation platforms.

We are also seeing increased interest in the gaming media in original game concepts. It makes sense, especially if you consider the fact that many editors are tired of the wave of "sequelitis" that has become so widespread in our industry. As gamers, they are starting to realize that helping to support new game concepts that push the envelope in terms of game design and technology is good for gamers and the industry itself. We have witnessed the phenomenon first-hand with the incredible reception given to our new game concepts like Huxley and APB.

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

Up. Way up. However, this represents a significant opportunity for developers/publishers to re-evaluate their production methods. For a company like Webzen that has more than 600 people in Asia working on the development of new and currently serviced games, we believe we will be able to deliver higher quality games for less just based on our experience and commitment to the genre. As a result, the next-generation platforms give upstarts like Webzen the opportunity to take on larger publishers who are less willing and able to adopt new production methods and technology.

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

The good news is that companies like EA and Activision are making games based on Hollywood IPs, like Spiderman and James Bond, which are actually fun to play. This is a profound shift where things were as little as three years ago where many Hollywood IP-based games were garbage. So, higher quality games and successful pairings like that of THQ and Pixar are likely to cause the gaming and the film industries to deepen their ties.

Mike Ryder, VP worldwide production, Buena Vista Games

What role will original game concepts play in next generation development?

Next generation platforms will include features and capabilities that will inspire new ideas for gameplay, characters and stories. I think it's true that each transition to new generations of hardware has always been accompanied by the introduction of these new and original game concepts that become defining games for that particular generation.

Buena Vista Games has announced its first original IP title for the next generation hardware--a new Turok game. BVG acquired game rights for this property in 2005 and the game is being developed by our Propaganda Games studio in Vancouver.

How will next gen game development impact costs of games?

We've all heard statements from publishers and game developers that emphasize the increasing complexity of development and the rising demand for assets of higher fidelity and volume. There certainly will be an increase in costs that accompany these trends, but these costs are partially offset by greater productivity due to enhanced tools and middleware solutions. Costs are increasing, but not to the extent that some have projected, and not to the same extent in every organization.

What role do you see Hollywood IPs and franchises playing in this field?

Next generation systems make it possible to bring cinematic experiences to the game player at an unprecedented level of quality in real time. This will make it even more natural to bring franchises from the film side to game experiences, and vice versa. Hollywood IPs and franchises will become more closely involved with games and at an even higher level of quality.

The first next-gen game based on a Walt Disney Pictures film property from Buena Vista Games will be a future Pirates of the Caribbean title.

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