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Are the large budgets for games justified or do they need to go back to their roots? Do we need to be reminded that it's just a game?

No sooner is it the New Year than the blog is getting updated at a regular pace. Things may cool down as time goes by but I'll see how I go. Enjoy the opinion pieces in the meantime.


The budgets on mainstream video game titles such as Killzone 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Resident Evil 5 and their ilk are reaching those of movie-like proportions in recent times. Growing from the leaner funding more reminiscent of indie projects in the days of Nintendo's SNES and SEGA's Megadrive, the increased popularity of games among the general public has played as much a part in the growth of funding for gaming projects as it has contributed to increase in production values for the beloved format. Is the presence of an astonishing budget necessary in the games we play today or do we need to take steps back to more simpler times when we remember that titles were enjoyable for merely being fun?

Let's consider the current market. Expecting games to go back to the days of the SNES would be somewhat foolish given the expectations of the gaming public. Does anyone think a Call of Duty title done in the style of 16-bit graphics would appeal to anyone in this day and age? And yet, are modern gamers concerned as to how pretty a game looks if it plays well underneath the glitz and sheen?

CoD is a perfect example of a title that excels in gameplay and its online component, looks nice enough and yet doesn't appear to be preoccupied with looking like the best title on the market (it is one of the smoothest, however). Football titles such as FIFA and Pro Evo do well in recreating the appearances of professional football's most recent line-up, yet are more well-known for their intricacy and subtlety of control rather than how many times we get to see a close-up of Wayne Rooney's face.

Looking on the flipside of this, titles such as the auteur-leaning Shadow of the Colossus or alternate retelling of Monkey, Enslaved: Journey to the West represent games that carried high budgets yet were less than impressive when sales figures emerged. One has to wonder why this was the case when both titles delivered through their gameplay ideas, worlds, characters and scenarios. It is reassurance enough that titles wont always achieve stellar sales figures despite being produced on reasonable budgets, artistically appearing to be the best thing since sliced bread (twice).

Publishers and developers must be aware of their investments in titles carrying higher budgets too. Like any business, they weigh up the risk-reward of the project on offer, willing to provide funding if the title shows potential for high returns and a continuous revenue stream. Naturally, such high investment warrants the demand to see financial gain in response. The higher the contribution to the budget, the greater the yearning for increased profits for those investors involved. There must be a stopping point for those willing to put their assets on the line for a game that has no guarantee of achieving predicted sales targets until the first weeks' worth of sales begin to roll in and the calculations can be done.

Mainstream titles aside, players should consider the other end of the spectrum. Titles released for the iPad/iPhone and DS are suitable examples of games that emphasise the fun factor over graphical prowess. Angry Birds, Canabalt, Critter Crunch, Scribblenauts and Dr. Kawashima's Brain Training are perfect examples of pick-up and play games, allowing avid handheld gamers to have a quick bash on their favourite title for a short amount of time before they get on with their daily lives.

They carry a particular charm that brings players into their world, wanting to better that hi-score or create an object to use in the Scribblenauts universe. They show that studios don't have to spend a fortune on creating something that will appeal to gaming fans without having to look like art in motion, nor getting obsessed over how many polygons per character are being thrown around on the screen. Just providing unadulterated gaming fun for the player.

Current economic conditions could be the catalyst for publishers and developers alike to explore reducing budgets on titles over the next few years. That, or working in-house and contract staff to their limits to get titles to meet street date, to budget and as visually impressive as possible to (try and) ensure maximum revenue returns.

What do you think of the large budgets attributed to mainstream titles such as Killzone 3, Call of Duty, GTA 4 and their likes? Do you feel it adds to the overall gaming experience, or do you prefer lighter gaming such as those offered on portable machines , the iPhone and iPad? Any thoughts, feel free to post them in the Comments section below.


Kinsta said...

Having a big budget for a game doesn't guarantee that it will sell and ALSO doesn't guarantee that playing it will be a quality experience.

Usually, what a big budget means for a game is that it will be technically superior (in terms of graphics, artworks, music etc...) but not necessarily how enjoyable the core experience of a game is for the person playing it.

The increase in simple low budget iPhone and DS games are successful because they are cheap and low risk to produce, consumed often by casual gamers and offer gaming in bite-sized chunks.

They are successful essentially, as they are easy to market and are part of a growth industry (phones, tablets and other portable devices).

However, you cannot compare these to big budget console games and question whether one 'should one be more like the other' as they are indeed very different beasts.

These games, although fun to play, often harbour very simple game mechanics and lack the depth and immersion that big budget console titles can offer. With the majority of big budget titles such as Call of Duty and Fifa you could argue that the closer they resemble reality in terms of graphics and animation etc.. the more immersive they are for the player. Where these games are ultimately headed for is toward a photo realistic virtual reality environment - so these technical stepping stones are absolutely essential. Therefore a detailed close up of Rooney's face is, unfortunately, totally necessary.

Finally, again from a marketing point of view, its easy to sell a game on its amazing graphics ("look at the shiny-shiny!") rather than its gameplay as largely, the former is objective and the latter subjective.

Patrick Honeyman said...

You raise some good points and justify them well here. I agree with big budget not equalling a quality game in each case. Thankfully you get a perfect marriage of the two sometimes but there are plenty of examples of highly produced fodder out there as well.

You should really get the writing going on your blog. Your stuff is good, to the point and full of content. I want to read more.