Archive for April, 2006

Posted in Tales from the grind-stone on April 29th, 2006 by MrCranky

Tweaked the site template a little, because Pete pointed out that it didn’t put the author name on top of the post. Sorry for any confusion – I asked him to put up his email because it summed up what I thought about the RevolutionWii. Man, what a stupid name. Why would you take a perfectly good name like Revolution, and scrap it in favour of a word which isn’t even pronounced the way they want people to pronounce it. Hellooo – you can’t just string letters together and then tell people to say a different word. Letter combinations imply certain pronunciations – double-i implies ‘aye’, as in hippopotamii or platypii.

Anyway, enough of such pedantry. Contract at Barco has been extended for another little while, so I’m still making the trek over to Leith every morning, and trying to hold onto the XP principles even in the face of imminent deadlines.

Update: And I’ve fixed the annoying excerpt-ifying of the RSS feed, which would truncate entries to 50 words. How can I be expected to express myself in 50 words! So now we get the whole entry. Turns out the correct URL isn’t the one I was using before either, so use the entries on the right to subscribe to the correct feed…

Decline of the bedroom coder, continued

Posted in Industry Rants on April 19th, 2006 by PeterM

This post started out as an email to Chris regarding his recent post, Decline of the bedroom coder. Apologies in advance for crude language:

The increase in complexity is certainly reducing the accessibility of games – the recent report of “teenagers playing less games than their parents” may back this up, but it’s probably mostly down to the amount of other distractions for them. YouTube, Google Video etc…

One thing that I realised recently, and I am annoyed at myself for not ‘getting’ it sooner, is that Nintendo is very clever, MS are fairly on the ball, but Sony are very … very dumb. Notice that even since the days of the SNES, all of N’s hardware were clearly below the technical levels that were possible at the times, but always above the invisible ‘this looks shit’ border?

Nintendo clearly appreciate that games are getting more expensive to produce and less accessible due to increasing technical demands – this is what the Revolution, and to a lesser extent the DS, seem to be all about. Lower specs than the rest, innovative controller to bring in new audiences, and a back catalog of classic games to recapture the jaded players.

Even MS has pretty much got it right, although I’m highly confused that they switched to PowerPC as Apple went Intel. The backwards compatibility list is somewhat underwhelming, but then the Xbox didn’t have any killer apps anyway.

And isn’t Geometry Wars the Xbox 360’s biggest seller, and what is it, a $15 Live title that was cooked up in someone’s spare time? That’s gotta have some people (mainly artists) crying and shitting their pants as their current AAA project slips. “What, we’ve been wasting how many years of our lives drawing gloss maps? We could have been billionaires already!”

Sony developers are certainly going to have fun trying to simultaneously exploit 7 CELL processors and whatever else crap the PS3 has installed, while Revolution coders will already be very familiar with their environment. Xbox 360 chaps will be happy with their DirectX.

Sony just don’t get it. Even the PSP is a shit to develop for, and from what I’ve heard, comparatively the DS is a breeze, just like the GBA.

But I’d love to get a game of my own on Xbox Live though. A man can dream… *sigh*

Decline of the bedroom coder

Posted in Industry Rants on April 17th, 2006 by MrCranky

Before you think it, no, I’m not nostalgic for the olden days. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to see any of the ‘art’ that I’ve made in the past will tell you there’s no way I could make games from my bedroom without someone else providing the visuals.

But my point is, twenty years ago you could make a game with a team of one or two developers (be they programmers or artists). You’d be developing on the NES, Spectrum or Commodore, and your games probably retail for 15-20 pounds sterling. Skip forward to 1991, and you’re developing for the SNES or MegaDrive – your team is around 8-10 people, and your games probably retail for about 40 pounds. Then on to 97 – you have the Playstation and N64, by now your team is around 20 people, and your games are probably retailing for about 40 pounds still. 2002, you’re on the PlayStation 2 or XBox, your team is now 40 or so people, and your game is still retailing for 40 pounds. 2006, you’re starting on a PS3 or XBox360, average team size is now pushing 100 people.

To pluck a cost figure from the air a team of 40 or so people developing on PS2 resulted in a cost of between 1m and 2m pounds per title. Looking over develop‘s top 100 list this year, there are many, many games on the top studio’s books that aren’t making back half a million pounds. Okay, so thats just from the UK market, and the US market is much larger, but you see my point that margins are getting tighter and tighter.

The games industry is being led along a growth path where revenue is rising fairly linearly (10% a year is a generous figure), but costs are rising exponentially! The old system where publishers used the massive revenues from the titles that sold well to underwrite the cost of the games that flop is falling apart, solely down to the diminished profits they can make from successful titles. The increasing fragility of both developers and publishers is, in my opinion, just a worrying symptom of the underlying problem. As we let costs spiral out of control, we start to price ourselves out of business.

Even an established and successful studio can be crippled by more than one bad title or deal in a row, because the costs involved in getting even a poor title close to market are growing rapidly massive. Much as I’d like to blame the publishers for the problem (for attempting to keep their costs down by mistreating developers rather than encouraging efficiency), I think in the end the issue lies with the hardware manufacturers. We are moving onto the next generation of hardware, when we’re not limited by technology, but by the level of complexity the market is willing to pay for. Sure, if the consumers were happy to pay double for twice the complexity, or if twice as many units sold when the technology improved, then it would be sustainable, but its not.

Roughly the same consumers who bought the current generation of console will buy the next generation; when they buy games they expect them to be at the same 40-50 pound price point, because they don’t see enough value to justify paying any more for the games. So in the end, the games industry tries to make more complex, expensive games, for the same revenue as before, just so they don’t get left behind.

So what’s my proposed solution? Well, for console games, I don’t think I have one, apart from maybe to keep producing quality games for PS2 for as long as possible. For PC games I think its clear – make games at the same level of costs as now, and try to make use of better technology and middleware to improve the quality, rather than trying to increase complexity to match what the hardware is capable of.

Console timeline cribbed from here.

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