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February 2nd, 2009, 23:20
Originally Posted by Squeek View Post
How would Pablo Picasso fit into your view of art being at odds with business, DArtagnan? The guy was a money-making machine, and to this day his art is very highly regarded
I have no idea since I don't know anything about that kind of art. To me, it's just a bunch of mismatching colors.

Aren't you taking the convenient high ground of "nobody understands me due to my high level of artistic appreciation?" That's nice for you, but where does that leave everyone else? Either you're special and we're not or you're flattering yourself and we don't agree (guess which one I pick ).
Don't ask and then automatically assume.

I don't think in terms of high or low grounds. I don't assign a higher value to my own person because I believe in my own opinions.

The trend where video games are sacrificing some of their complexity in favor of ever-improving aesthetics is due to obvious business realities, but not just those, IMO. It's characteristic of a business environment where product direction is being driven by technology (as opposed to being market-driven).
What about this don't I already know?

All this talk on forums about mass markets is kinda right but mainly wrong, IMO. Product development has simply reached a point of complexity where the only ones at these companies who truly understand the state of their business are the engineers and programmers, and what we're seeing is what always happens in that situation.
I don't think that's true at all. There's no all-encompassing truth that is available only to those with their hands down in the dirt. Every company is unique and has unique practices - and there are infinite ways to go about doing your business. Because some are more successful in terms of profit - it doesn't mean they hold all the answers.

The solution (and I happen to think this is valuable advice) is to restaff marketing, moving away from product/business PR types to folks who have undergraduate degrees in things like computer science and electrical engineering plus MBAs. Those are the kind of marketing managers who will be able to evaluate the competitive marketplace and see opportunities beyond what's plain to the development guys.
That might be an improvement - but it's certainly not the kind of solution I'm suggesting.
Last edited by DArtagnan; February 2nd, 2009 at 23:30.
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February 2nd, 2009, 23:25
I agree with you, but again, the decision to "go big" can't be unmade now. Even assuming EA would go for it (the bill of sale read "makes summer blockbusters" not "makes Sundance award winners - I switch metaphors since the last went over like a lead balloon), it would put several hundred people out of work. Ray and Greg are historically loathe to to do layoffs - those we lost in EA's across-the-board layoffs last October were BW's first layoffs in ten years of operation.
No, I understand your situation is difficult now - which is why I said it was too late.

But, again, it's not impossible to imagine your team being divided into smaller groups, making less expensive titles that target smaller markets. Not necessarily as profitable - and it takes extra resources to have multiple projects running regardless - but I don't think it's unrealistic to earn a modest profit.

But again, I understand that with EA and whatever other people hanging over your head with the money pouch - such things won't happen.

As an aside, The Witcher is not CDProjekt's main source of income. They made their fortune as an importer and translator of Western games for the East European market. CD Projekt Red - the game development studio - only started its first game (Witcher) in 2003, after 9 years of operation. They could afford to take risks, because they have an independent and reliable source of income.
No, please don't assume I said or claimed anything beyond precisely what I claimed. I said The Witcher - as a game - is proof of the success of the middle-market. That's simply based on the amount of units it sold and the money used to fund it - regardless of where and how they acquired the means. While by no means a small or cheap title - it's not a true AAA title. In effect, it's a middle-market title.

That's what could potentially happen with Bioware. You have the clout and you have the resources - or at least you COULD have had with someone else at the top - to make such games of lesser production value.

Not necessarily the ideal example, but it was what I could think of off-hand.

You could also look at something like Sins of the Solar Empire - though I realise the developers are funded by other things as well.

The point is simply that there's a market ripe with both a reasonably big audience and with a good possibility of reasonable profit - rather than the big bucks.

Not to speculate too irresponsibly, but I hope that once BW has SWTOR subscriptions validating us, we can start doing smaller games with fewer explosions.
So one would hope.
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February 2nd, 2009, 23:39
In consideration of Corwin's post below, I'm going to delete this post and go pound some salt.

We really could use more artsy cRPG developers, so good luck with your game, DArtagnon.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
Last edited by Squeek; February 3rd, 2009 at 00:04.
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February 2nd, 2009, 23:40
There are some good arguments here, and I really see where DT is coming from and am basically in agreement. However, I'd hate to have to close this thread due to personal attacks and the warning signs are already showing, so please take care. Thanks

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February 3rd, 2009, 00:06
Originally Posted by txa1265 View Post
… it is very important to realize that is very rare that any one person holds majority stake in either the truth or correctness.
Bravissimo.

Interesting thread, but there's a whole lot of backseat driving going on here. Both views are valid: 1) Game companies are out to earn an honest buck, like any business, or 2) Because game companies are out to earn many honest bucks, they tend to devalue things like "craft" and "brilliance" in favor of the shortest path to the largest pot of gold.

Btw, the fact we're even having this discussion is proof that the gaming industry has matured, as in the past such discussions were only attributable to literature (i.e., James Joyce vs. Stephen King), music (i.e., Claude Debussy vs. Aerosmith), art (i.e., Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec vs. Leroy Neiman) and cinema ("Citizen Kane" vs. "Pirates of the Caribbean").

Will we ever see the gaming industry replicate "Citizen Kane"? God, I hope so… but not in the state things are now.
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February 3rd, 2009, 00:40
Originally Posted by Brother None View Post
Maybe if you look at it that way. Tolstoy obviously had some major megalomania issues, and while that would become more blatant later in his self-invented variation of Christianity, it did shine through in War & Peace's later bits. I thought Anna Karenina was a superior novel to begin with, but War & Peace is definitely brought down by the ranting. I mean, even if you can appreciate it an sich - I can't, you can - it is so wildly inappropriate to not just put in a book but actually repeat over and over the last 5 or 6 chapters…the mind boggles.
Yeah, some people just can't help flogging their pet peeves.
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February 3rd, 2009, 04:17
i hate to rehash this but for me denzel washington and morgan freeman are exact opposites. you could use the same argument for brad pitt and sean connery. all of them are character actors in a way. they are so well known that it is nearly impossible to not see their 'character' in their acting. besides its not them that make the roles functionable but the writing. i don't care how talented an actor is, it is ultimately moot unless they have a good character to work with. actors are not just given some lump of clay and told "here make this sculpture". no they are given a sculpture and asked to paint it and sometimes its 'paint by numbers'.

also on the topic of acting, what makes the ability of morgan freeman to also convey wisdom, and be such a great storyteller character acting? maybe a storyteller is not a good actor but to me a storyteller is far superior than a mere actor. a storyteller doesn't need flash and glory, but rather intices the viewer, reader, listener to stay tuned with his/her focus on the story itself. this is why i find it humouress to lambaste freeman who has been a great storyteller for years, while at the same time using it in an argument that you find the stories in said games lacking.

personally i play games for their good stories, not necessarily for the ability to intereact with them and make 90 billion choices. i would rather have zero impact on the games story as long as what my character did in the story was nonstop actions that were utterely the opposite of how i would personally react.

ultimately we all want a good game to play, but i think sometimes its rather a sad state for the future when many of pc rpg gamers never look at games released with sheer content but unrelenting contempt. the old days will stay old, and the best way to impact the games you'd like to see developed is get involved yourself. armchair game development works about as well as armchair politics. leave the stressed out developers alone, who have the best and worst jobs in the world and only want to make enjoyable games.

despite my disdain for professional sports it makes for a good analogy. for those who have favourite players it is them who are enjoyable not the logo or the team. if more gamers followed the careers of the individual game developers they enjoy, the chances of them enjoying the games they play will increase greatly as they will be able to break the games down into the complex creations they are and see their work as parts of the game rather than a whole. enjoyable games need not be perfect games—they only need aspects that strive for greatness.
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February 3rd, 2009, 05:04
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
But, again, it's not impossible to imagine your team being divided into smaller groups, making less expensive titles that target smaller markets. Not necessarily as profitable - and it takes extra resources to have multiple projects running regardless - but I don't think it's unrealistic to earn a modest profit. […]

That's what could potentially happen with Bioware. You have the clout and you have the resources - or at least you COULD have had with someone else at the top - to make such games of lesser production value. […]

The point is simply that there's a market ripe with both a reasonably big audience and with a good possibility of reasonable profit - rather than the big bucks.

So one would hope.
I have a lot of sympathy for your general position - and I think you're probably right on that last point - but I'm not sure history supports it.

You're asking for second-tier games, between the top-end AAA releases and the one-man indie garage outfits. The problem is, this is exactly the area that has been squeezed out of existence. Small, independent studios are (and have) closed left, right and centre…Troika is the obvious example for RPGs.

Where is there a current example of a successful mid-tier RPG developer? I can't think of one. No, The Witcher doesn't count (c'mon, an internal studio of one of eastern Europe's largest publishers), Sins of a Solar Empire is an RTS backed by a publisher who relies on other income streams. Who, then?

Shouldn't someone be exploiting this market? One answer is that it isn't feasible (or is very difficult) under the current market. And that makes sense. Such a studio would probably live from project to project, because they haven't had a massive hit to pay for the next three years' development…and these are the studios that close between projects when no publisher advances them some money.

There are small strategy publishers - Matrix, for example. Where's the RPG analogue? Presumably strategy games iterate the content (same art resources, 20 different map layouts) whereas RPG need more content and are too expensive.

—-

On BioWare, my personal interpretation of many of the Drs' interviews is that they enjoy being businessmen - they want to build a large, successful business, quite aside from the actual games themselves. That's their right. Frankly, I wish I'd concentrated on just making more money in my own business - we might still be around.

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February 3rd, 2009, 08:16
Dhruin, you're basically correct, but perhaps Troika was a poor choice as an example. Their main problem, IMO, was the buginess of their initial releases. Nothig kills sales quicker than a buggy release, everytime you put out a game. People decide to wait to buy till after all the patching is done and the initial sales thrust dies. Publishers see poor figures and pull the plug.

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February 3rd, 2009, 09:27
curious: I'm going to opt to drop this discussion here as it's just too off-topic. If you want to continue feel free to drop me a PM or start a thread elsewhere, but this just isn't the place.

Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
Yeah, some people just can't help flogging their pet peeves.
Oooh, oooh.

Nice.

Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
Dhruin, you're basically correct, but perhaps Troika was a poor choice as an example. Their main problem, IMO, was the buginess of their initial releases.
Which, in turn, was a result of the fact that Troika lacked a managerial layer. I'm not a big fan of stacks upon stacks of managers, but people really should stop to realise how important someone like Feargus Urquhart is to RPG development of studios like TSR/BIS and Obsidian.

Because Troika lacked someone with Urquhart's mindset, they always, consistently failed to properly plan their titles. Their publishers weren't going to extend their deadlines indefinitely, and hence the final result: an unfinished product. It is oversimplifying it a bit, but proper planning/management would've solved a lot of this.

Originally Posted by Dhruin
Shouldn't someone be exploiting this market? One answer is that it isn't feasible (or is very difficult) under the current market. And that makes sense. Such a studio would probably live from project to project, because they haven't had a massive hit to pay for the next three years' development…and these are the studios that close between projects when no publisher advances them some money.
Like I said a page or so back, I think a big chunk of the reason this model has become so infeasible is tied to the console market. The combined installbase and fee system means you have to either go with an impossibly low budget (except for incidental titles like Braid) or high budget with a 1+ million sales projection. There's not a lot of middle ground, and what there is, is purely for casual titles.

I think what you say is partially inevitable: given the option to try to score big it's natural for publishers to go for it. But mid-tier or B-roll products are also a natural part of any economic structure and it's a bit weird that they're completely out for games. In a lot of ways, the base development cost and perceived death of PC are the two biggest causes for that, and the former has been dropping, while we can only hope the latter will also. If that happens, I'd say the filling up of this potential market will happen automatically, as market mechanics are wont to.
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February 3rd, 2009, 11:31
I think a more honest gaming media would help with the overall direction of gaming as well. all too often these AAA titles we're discussing are given far too much credence initially, only to be criticized honestly months after their sales have validated an otherwise boring/redundant/passionless experience.

too late for honesty when the money men have been satisfied and want another fix of profit ;O
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February 3rd, 2009, 12:47
This 'PC sales go down every year' has been debunked constantly since 2004 … yet it keeps coming up. And GG, you keep asserting this non-truth, at least 3-4 times this year alone! It is like saying that all retail is dying, when not counting any online sales. In fact, it is *exactly* like talking about retail without including Amazon.
We can either go by statistics or nothing? But let me say, PC sales in stores go down each year in that case.

As far as you say other games may very well sell a lot online, hard for me to say, what I know is developers complaining about poor PC sales and how much less a game sold on the PC compared to consoles, maybe they also do not know about online sales? or maybe they are just lying to get an excuse to make multiplatform titles. I have no idea, it could be it is like this, I don't think you know either? but if you know for sure, you are welcome to provide proof that I am "lying"
Last edited by GothicGothicness; February 3rd, 2009 at 15:00.
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February 3rd, 2009, 13:30
Originally Posted by GothicGothicness View Post
what I know is developers complaining about poor PC sells and how much less a game sold on the PC compared to consoles,
Oh - now *that* is absolutely true… and is a reasonable justification for abandoning PC - as well as the piracy issue. But as the business model shifts from retail to online, and the one major accounting system ignores that, their assertion of shrinking sales is suspect at best - especially when put into a hysterical pronouncement related to consoles 'NPD says PC shrinks while everything else grows'

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February 3rd, 2009, 15:43
Oh - now *that* is absolutely true… and is a reasonable justification for abandoning PC - as well as the piracy issue. But as the business model shifts from retail to online, and the one major accounting system ignores that, their assertion of shrinking sales is suspect at best - especially when put into a hysterical pronouncement related to consoles 'NPD says PC shrinks while everything else grows'
Ok, Mike I think we are in agreement, I agree with you that they should definetely also account for online sales. But right now it is just not possible the NPD do not even get these numbers, and it is also very complex, for example I might buy a PC game from a russian site through their online store but I live in Sweden. In some countries the company does not even have any legal requirement to reveal how much they sold, and much less which type of products they sold ( IE tax paradises etc )

What we can know is how much a company earns, and for PC gaming that's not enough, MS is even closing the flight simulator and Age of Empire studios, which was some of the highest profile and best selling PC games.

If you remove the sales of Blizzard from PC gaming, the numbers from stores are near enough pathetic compared to those of the consoles.

So how much did PC games sell online? none knows, but it is not enough for most companies to survive on making PC games.
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February 3rd, 2009, 18:27
Originally Posted by Dhruin View Post
You're asking for second-tier games, between the top-end AAA releases and the one-man indie garage outfits. The problem is, this is exactly the area that has been squeezed out of existence. Small, independent studios are (and have) closed left, right and centre…Troika is the obvious example for RPGs.
I don't really see it as them having been squeezed out. It's more about a general perception of either going for the big hit or the indie tiny development. I think it's very much about attitude.

Troika suffered heavily from being technically incompetent - or maybe they just had a big problem juggling their limited budgets. I'm sorry, but they were just not proficient in that way. All their games were heavily plagued by serious bugs, and that's just not acceptable nor should it be. Not to that extent.

It's tremendously unfortunate because their designs were brilliant, and really pushed the evolution envelope.

Where is there a current example of a successful mid-tier RPG developer? I can't think of one. No, The Witcher doesn't count (c'mon, an internal studio of one of eastern Europe's largest publishers), Sins of a Solar Empire is an RTS backed by a publisher who relies on other income streams. Who, then?
But that's my point - there aren't too many of them out there, because the dream is hit it big or instead simply be content with being indie and low-budget.

But I don't think you necessarily need to be medium sized to produce middle-market products. It depends on how your publisher thinks and what your investors in general are up for. I'd say something like Drakensang and Risen are much more about the middle-market than hitting it big.

It's the attitude of BOTH the investors and the developers that need to change, because it can STILL be profitable. Actually, I'm not convinced it can't be competitive with a decent AAA hit - because you invest that much less. But I haven't done any math - it just makes sense to me that this should be possible.

There are small strategy publishers - Matrix, for example. Where's the RPG analogue? Presumably strategy games iterate the content (same art resources, 20 different map layouts) whereas RPG need more content and are too expensive.
Well, Matrix focuses almost entirely on the niche genre of wargames or hardcore strategy games. Basically the grognard audience - which is tiny compared to a potential middle-market for CRPGs.

But - as I said - we can't really find a middle-market developer in the US, because they're obsessed with this Hollywood mindset. You have to go look in europe for CRPGs with smaller markets, and Gothic/Risen/Drakensang are good examples.

On BioWare, my personal interpretation of many of the Drs' interviews is that they enjoy being businessmen - they want to build a large, successful business, quite aside from the actual games themselves. That's their right. Frankly, I wish I'd concentrated on just making more money in my own business - we might still be around
Sure, but they also had their glory times with Baldur's Gate and what not. They have nothing to prove - but then, they're just the face of the company. They have a ton of talented people - like Stormwalts no doubt - and they're not necessarily content with churning out hollow but pretty explosion-games for the rest of their lives.

They should perhaps consider not resting on their laurels and playing it safe - which I think AAA titles for Bioware is as long as they don't take big risks, and they haven't in a while.
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February 3rd, 2009, 18:33
About piracy, then yeah it's a big issue.

But it's not bigger today than it ever was - comparatively.

There's one MUCH bigger reason the PC platform is being phased out from the non-MMO AAA market and that's the complexity of developing for AND supporting it.

Ever since the market went from hardcore to casual - gamers have grown increasingly demanding in terms of games that must simply WORK. They don't have the patience to fiddle around with PC configs or drivers - and who can blame them.

So, casual gamers are surely and steadily going to the console platform - and they're almost all there already.

That's the REAL reason companies are focusing on that market - because it's much bigger, and piracy is not the main reason.

They're just blaming piracy because then they don't have to explain that it's basically about greed. No, we can't blame them for that - and since the audience for most genres is MUCH bigger on the consoles, then it all makes perfect sense.

We should remember that piracy was always a problem - and even though torrents and the internet has made it much easier, it wasn't a problem in the old days - because gamers were generally "hardcore" enough to either know how to acquire games illegally or know someone who knew.

It's a poor excuse.
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February 3rd, 2009, 19:51
Originally Posted by Brother None View Post
…people really should stop to realise how important someone like Feargus Urquhart is to RPG development of studios like TSR/BIS and Obsidian.
From where I'm coming from, that's just about hitting the nail right on the head. Based on my own background in the worlds of hardware and information services, I would suggest they need at least two people like that.

Technical outfits need an engineer with a good business sense near the top of their org charts, because the nature of their work and their competitors' work is difficult to understand. Top management needs that view.

But they reach a point where they also need someone like that deeper down in the organization, and that should be a product manager. Typically, startups aren't structured that way, because their engineers already understand their business and their product. They outsource for public relations or maybe hire a PR/Marcom manager, and that's it. That's how they handle marketing.

That works until business gets good. Then the technical visionary at the top suddenly has too few hours in the day to remain effective. The engineering team is busy and unable to carve out time to concentrate on an outside view. Public relations by now is at the marketing helm but doesn't get the technical stuff. So they find themselves in a rut where everyone is doing their jobs well but the company is no longer advancing forward.

The solution is to implement product management, to place the same kind of business-savvy engineer they have at the top between their product development team and their marketing leader. He's the guy who closely evaluates the competitive landscape and identifies opportunities. He's the guy who sells his ideas to top management and then owns the projects after they're given a green light. He's the one who motivates the engineering team throughout the development process.

There's room for innovation. Lots of it. But the guys running marketing at game makers now don't seem capable of imagining it, and the development guys are all busy doing something else. If those companies won't do it, then it's up to an upstart, somewhere, to hit the next cRPG home run.

Oh, I wish I had a river I could skate away on. But it don't snow here. It stays pretty green. I'm going to make a lot of money, then I'm going to quit this crazy scene. — [Joni Mitchell]
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February 3rd, 2009, 21:55
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
But - as I said - we can't really find a middle-market developer in the US, because they're obsessed with this Hollywood mindset. You have to go look in europe for CRPGs with smaller markets, and Gothic/Risen/Drakensang are good examples.
Piranha Bytes has 20 employees (including full time freelancers), Spellbound ca. 50 and Radon Labs ca. 90 (most working on horse games for girls ). Just imagine how many B projects a company like Bioware would need just to get enough work for all the 500 people. Where would they find so many projects and their funding, and what an enormous overhead would this create?
Even if Bioware was suddenly able to finish 5 B games per year EA wouldn't know how to market them. Everything below a certain threshold is not worth their time. (Many years ago EA refused to sign projects with a sales projection of less than 600k.) Furthermore both EA and Bioware are in the AAA business. They are known for mainstream games with high production values and clear focus. Leaving the AAA sector would be risky on many levels: brand erosion, lack of (marketing and development) experience, etc.

Bioware cannot go back. They are too big for more than the occasional middle tier game (Sonic, see Stormwaltz's example) to utilize the resources.
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February 3rd, 2009, 22:08
Originally Posted by Gorath View Post
Piranha Bytes has 20 employees (including full time freelancers), Spellbound ca. 50 and Radon Labs ca. 90 (most working on horse games for girls ). Just imagine how many B projects a company like Bioware would need just to get enough work for all the 500 people. Where would they find so many projects and their funding, and what an enormous overhead would this create?
Even if Bioware was suddenly able to finish 5 B games per year EA wouldn't know how to market them. Everything below a certain threshold is not worth their time. (Many years ago EA refused to sign projects with a sales projection of less than 600k.) Furthermore both EA and Bioware are in the AAA business. They are known for mainstream games with high production values and clear focus. Leaving the AAA sector would be risky on many levels: brand erosion, lack of (marketing and development) experience, etc.

Bioware cannot go back. They are too big for more than the occasional middle tier game (Sonic, see Stormwaltz's example) to utilize the resources.
You're right Gorath - and that's why I've repeatedly said it's too late for Bioware.

What I'm saying is that the attitude in general needs to change - and all I'm trying to do is plant the seed of thinking different thoughts.

EA - as we all know - is not the company to initiate anything resembling this thing. I'm talking what they COULD do if they were inclined to do it - which they're not.

I'm not employed by BW - and I don't know their practices. I'm talking theory - based on common sense. This isn't about what's realistic under present circumstances - but what's possible if the mindset changes.

But I'm adamant that there ARE alternatives to this AAA obsession - and I'm sick of hearing about how necessary these tens of millions of dollars worth of investment are.

There are other ways of doing things.
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