In my last blog, I wrote about Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello's insistence that more games is better, but now I want to talk about a similar, though equally foolish, assertion he has made: that the next generation of game consoles will revitalize the market.
Riccitiello has told investors that EA has built its business plan on an assumption that a new generation of gaming consoles would have been out by now, and that hasn't happened. Of course, that didn't result in EA actually adjusting its plans; instead they have simply doubled down and decided to adapt the plan to continue indefinitely. Cue the cheerleaders. Go team. Rah rah.
Ignoring, for a moment, the indefinite length of time EA intends to keep this going, I have to ask the question that it seems like very few are actually asking: would a new generation of game consoles actually revitalize the market?
We have reached a point in technology at which game systems don't really improve dramatically over previous generations. Yes, graphics improve somewhat, processing power improves, more active models can be on-screen at any given time, and so forth, but the technology doesn't make for huge leaps and bounds above previous generations the way they used to because the technology is already at a point where players can't expect dramatic improvements.
Younger gamers might not relate to this, but I and many of my peers grew up through the advent of 3D games. We were blown away by the sudden jump from sidescrolling or top-down games to games where you could move in more than two dimensions. That, believe it or not, was an ENORMOUS jump forward. It created whole new fields of play that did not exist before that.
The problem, of course, is that the human mind can only perceive three dimensions, excluding time, which we can only perceive in one direction. The entire history of the video game industry is exceedingly short, and much of the way games have evolved over the years is based on just these few decades. There will not be a leap forward like bridging the 2D/3D divide again. Some people have claimed that making games truly 3D, like movies, will be a big leap forward like that, but to be honest, that is a pipe dream. It's a gimmick that, while it might be cool for a bit, will ultimately be like the paint on your console, if it even sticks around that long.
A minor leap forward in graphics and processing power will be fun for a while, but unless the games themselves become better, meaning better writing, better gameplay and more original ideas, the polish will quickly fade and become just more lipstick on the pig.
What makes this worse is that better graphics and artistry also demands more man-hours. The current industry already has enormous numbers of people working on a single, large budget production and launching them out the door faster than ever. The profit margins are ridiculously low as it is. More money being spent on the development of these games, and only a small fraction of them actually earn a profit. The amazing thing is that the few that do wind up earning a profit manage to earn enough to make up for the ones that don't, but only barely. And EA wants to broaden that market, meaning producing more large budget games that won't earn enough, which means they'll have to either hire more employees or drive the ones they already have to work even harder to produce more.
See where I'm going with this? The more detailed the graphics get, the more artists are needed to work on them. Add to that the already increasing volume of games on the market and horribly low profits and you wind up with a situation where thousands of artists and programmers become badly overworked and underpaid. If the quality of games frustrates you now, imagine how bad things will be when the entire workforce is overstressed and unable to think clearly in the little time they have to actually think.
Will the Next Gen Game Consoles Save the Industry?
Blog entry posted by Breefolk, Aug 4, 2012.