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BioWare On Why Making a Blockbuster Game Is a Poor Goal 192

Posted by Soulskill
from the do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do dept.
BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk spoke at the 2010 Develop Conference about the current focus within the video game industry on making huge, blockbuster titles, and why that is the wrong approach. Quoting Gamasutra's coverage: "'While blockbuster game creation is everything that most game developers working today growing up wanted to do, it's precisely the wrong thing to chase in gaming's contemporary landscape.' Risk-taking from publishers and investors has dramatically declined in recent times, the Mass Effect and Dragon Age studio-runner noted: 'As a result, innovation and creativity [are] being squeezed. Where the bottom of the market had dropped out at one point, now it’s the middle of the market has dropped out. Unless you can be in the top ten releases at one given time, it's unlikely that a triple-A game is going to make money.'" Zeschuk also commented that consoles aren't necessarily the future of game platforms, and that BioWare is experimenting with smaller scale MMO development in addition to working on their much larger upcoming Star Wars title.
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BioWare On Why Making a Blockbuster Game Is a Poor Goal

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  • "Stay away from our turf"

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Correction: "Making a blockbuster is harder than you think and if you screw it up you won't make a profit therefore doing something innovative yet unproven is sort of risky so your publisher would prefer if you didn't do that and instead stick to what has worked in the past so basically creativity in the sense of doing something new gets thrown right out the window and you'll just be making an iteration of something you've already done."

    • by uncledrax (112438) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:51AM (#32911594) Homepage

      No, more like 'Bioware doesn't aim to make a blockbuster game.. we've just been remaking KOTOR ever since we discovered it was a smash hit!'

      • Hell, they've been remaking BG2 over and over too. Some of ther character archetypes/story arcs haven't changed at all since then.
  • Strange that it should be BioWare of all game studios to claim such, as they are one of the few creating huge games with a 40+ hours time investment, such as Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Also these games have been performing very well.

    • by IBBoard (1128019)

      40+ hours time investment

      What? As in 40+ hour "play time"? Is it just me, or do those estimates always seem like rather poor value for money?

      • by mcvos (645701) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @05:40AM (#32911272)

        Depends. If you see it as an investment (it costs you, and you want something back for your precious time), then it's poor value. If you see it as "play time" (you pay $50 to enjoy yourself for 40+ hours), then it's excellent value for money.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Yeah. I got Oblivion shortly after it was released (4 years ago, I think), and with all expansion packs and mods, I'm 120 hours into the game, and I still have completed only half the quests and not even the main storyline (my second playthrough, so I wanted to check out all the sidequests and skip the main quest).
          So for me, a 50$ investment has bought me 120 hours of entertainment and I'm still into it after 4 years. If you compare it to cinema, or bubble gum, that's unbeatable value, from a "blockbuster"

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          >>>If you see it as "play time" (you pay $50 to enjoy yourself for 40+ hours), then it's excellent value for money.

          I severely disagree. Unless there's a strong compelling story (like Final Fantasy), I think most 40 hour games are boring. For excample I thought Zelda the Wind Waker was dull. Like sitting and watching a 40 hour version of the Matrix. Zzzz.

          For me the best games are usually the 10-20 hour ones, like Metroid Prime or Eternal Darkness. Short, to the point, but edge of your seat fun.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        That's actually not too bad. Forty hours of certain types of "play time" could run up to 10,000 to 15,000 dollars, depending on what area of the country you are in.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192)

        Because it is. A good RPG can keep you busy for 80 hours or more. A good strategy game will offer nearly unlimited replay value. A good shmup may take hundreds of hours before you get that 1CC. I like the 40 hour cinematic game format, but it's hardly the epic some people make it out to be.

    • Thing is, before they made them, they didn't know it'd work. Probably not as much with Dragon Age, but definitely with Mass Effect. SWKOTOR wasn't a blockbuster, but you could see the direction BioWare was going.

      Thing is, for me, "blockbuster" aimed games are the ones that interest me least. Gears of War, Halo, and others like them really haven't held my attention as much as SWKOTOR, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age.

    • by Tei (520358) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @05:52AM (#32911316) Journal

      Strange not. He is talking about the industry. He say that if you are not already here (on the bioware position), is bad strategy to move to that position, because will probably get you killed.

      Lets say the bridge that companies like Bioware have crossed, has burned. Anyway, why I am saying things like this? read the article, or better, assist to these conferences for a direct version and not a second hand one *lowbrownface*

      • by MBGMorden (803437)

        I don't know. It's still strange to me. Kinda like walking up to a bunch of kids playing ball on a playground and telling them "You know kids - statistically almost none of you are EVER going to make it to the NBA, so you really shouldn't even try.".

        While the fact that very few will make it is undeniably true, if no one tries it, we never will get those rare breakthroughs like BioWare or Blizzard.

        I say they should go ahead. If they're really THAT good, then they will make money.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tophermeyer (1573841)

          I'd like to play devils advocate for a moment...

          If every game maker shoots for blockbuster games, the vast majority of them will fail and the companies will fold. This could lead to a "mediocrity vacuum" where there are no decent developers putting out games that are simply ok. This is bad for the industry, and bad for consumers.

          To translate this to your example it would be as if every kid on the playground is aspiring to play in the NBA, and the ones that fail quit basketball altogether.

          While this du

        • by Calinous (985536)

          It's more like going to a boxing ring and telling all the people there that pay everything they earn that at most one of them will become world champion, and they'd better not try.
                Usually a bunch of kids playing ball on a playground "play" for "fun", and aren't even training or really trying to be the next quarterback or whatever in the next winning team.

    • What I take away from the article is that Bioware can make games like that because they have a proven track record of making games like that financial successes, but that a development team with a less powerful resume probably couldn't get it done. Not because the team wouldn't be up to it creatively or technically, but because in the current market, management/investors wouldn't have enough faith in an unproven team to let them take the time to do it right.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by osgeek (239988)

      40 hours of video game costs $50 (I only usually buy games after they drop down below $35, but anyway).

      40 hours of movies at the theater costs: $200
      40 hours of rub downs costs: $2,000 (happy endings not included)
      40 hours of watching television costs: your soul

      So, the video game thing actually seems like a bargain.

  • Hypocrite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Oscaro (153645) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @05:11AM (#32911130) Homepage

    Well, they are remaking the same exact game since Knight of the Old Republic. Take a look at KOTOR, Jade Empire, Mass Effect. Always the same mechanics, always the same basic plot. While they are very good at it, they are not very "creative".

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by njen (859685)
      Maybe they are ironically highlighting the fact that they their own best example of this...?
    • Heck it is mostly even the same limiting engine, just ramped up...

    • Re:Hypocrite (Score:4, Insightful)

      by julesh (229690) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:32AM (#32911476)

      Which is exactly the guys point: when you're spending that much money on a game, you can't afford to be creative, because if your new idea tanks you're left with a huge bill for developing it. Much safer to make something like another game that was previously popular.

      Spend a tenth as much developing a game, and you can afford to take ten times as much risk, and maybe you'll get a runaway hit. Probably not, but it doesn't really matter that much...

    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:39AM (#32911526) Journal

      So? He knows what he is talking about.

      And Jade Empire WAS creative. So was KOTOR. Yes KOTOR was Baldur's gate in Space! but THAT was also creative. An RPG set in space? Unheard off!

      Mass Effect married many new elements to the Baldur's Gate style RPG. Sometimes you can create something new by cobbling together old parts. Coat of many colors.

      As a side note, I think some people put to much emphasis on creative. Just because something is new, doesn't mean it is good. New Coke was creative, it was new, it was different. You want a bottle?

      I wish Lucasarts stopped being creative and released one of their old style games, when you knew when you saw their logo, you were in for a good time.

      Same with Bioware. Dragon Age 2 not creative? Who the fuck cares. Give me more off the same.

      The plot is indeed always the same. But there really aren't all that many plots that you can put into a game. Yes, I have written a story line for a RPG in which you are NOT the hero. That is creative. I think it even works and might oneday turn it into a simple game. BUT I also realise that JUST the creative bit of you not being the hero isn't enough to make it a good game.

      Bioware knows that a hero needs an enemy to overcome. Because the same enemy gets boring there usually is a plot twist that reveals a darker enemy behind the original enemy. There are simple game mechanics behind most of the plots.

      Just as in a porn movie, somehow people always find a reason to have sex, often with attractive people. No pizza has ever been deliverd to my door by a randy teenager. Nor have I ever had to discipline a wayward schoolgirl with melons the size of melons.

      Fantasy has rules, perhaps even more so then reality.

      • by chill (34294)

        I wish Lucasarts stopped being creative and released one of their old style games, when you knew when you saw their logo, you were in for a good time.

        Ballblazer! Fuck yeah!

        Not to mention Rebel Assault and the whole Monkey Island series. Good times.

      • by navygeek (1044768)
        There just aren't enough mod points in the world for your post. I'd mod you up if I had some.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hatta (162192)

        An RPG set in space? Unheard off

        Star Ocean? Rogue Galaxy? Starflight?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rpillala (583965)
      Here's some support for your argument: BioWare RPG Cliche Chart [gameriot.com].
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • In other news.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by demonlapin (527802) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @05:16AM (#32911154) Homepage Journal
    Meanwhile, billionaires say it's not all about money, and Hollywood stars say it's not all about looks.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      "But I want to be know for my acting skills"

      "Just take off your shirt and shut up, Mr. Pattinson"

  • Not 'Why try?' (Score:5, Informative)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @05:27AM (#32911194)

    This reads like 'Don't even bother trying to make games that are awesome.' They are actually trying to say, 'Don't overspend and try to make a blockbuster game just by spending money.'

    It's perfectly possible to make and amazing hit game without the budget that Bioware and Square Enix put into games. Do games care about graphics and cutscenes? Yes. Do they care more about gameplay and controls? Absolutely. It's just a LOT harder to come up with good gameplay and refine the controls, so they throw money at the pretty pictures instead. It's never been a good idea, but they do it anyhow.

    The #1 killer for videos games (for me) is bad controls. If controlling the character doesn't feel like an extension of myself, if the character doesn't always do what I think it'll do when I hit buttons, if the character is slow to react or I have to wait on its actions, it's absolutely killer for me. It's the reason I now rent games instead of buying.

    Some of the better games, like Fallout and Resident Evil, I've never played because I felt like I was fighting the controls instead of fighting enemies. It's just not fun.

    A coworker was just saying the other day that Sonic on the iPhone sucks because the controls are so bad, even though it was one of his favorite games. And that Street Fighter is amazing because the controls are perfect. Not a word about graphics or gameplay, just controls. (2 separate conversations, too, so it's not like he was comparing them.)

    • by lennier1 (264730)

      Have to agree with the control issue. On the PC it can sometimes be tracked down to games being designed with consoles in mind.
      Recent victims of such crippling controls would be Prototype and Dead Space.

      Actually, the first thing the summary reminded me of was Duke Nukem Forever.
      The company started development in the wake of great successes and the fans were really looking forward to the game. Nonetheless the studio managed to bet the farm on pipe dreams in their chase of the perfect game and successfully de

    • Poor controls are also the biggest reason why ports of console games to the PC frequently suck huge donkey balls.

      • It's not poor controls that are the problem. There are two big ones:

        1) Not re-doing the menus. Assuming that people have a red 'X' to go back, etc. UT3 did this. Their menus might have been good for a console, but on a PC, they sucked ass.
        2) Not allowing customized controls.

        If you let a PC user customize, there won't be an issue with poor controls - they'll just set it up like the controls for their most played game of that genera. If you don't allow the user to customize on a PC, they're most likely go
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      The big problems with developing games on the cheap isn't that you can't afford all the "pretty pictures," it's that you can't afford the *promotion*. I would be willing to bet that modern A-list games spend almost as much these days on marketing as they do on raw development. If you can't afford that kind of money for advertising, promotion, hype, press junkets, etc. then you're most likely not going to be making much money (if any at all). That's all well and good if you're a small indie, doing small game
  • by Robotron23 (832528) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @05:29AM (#32911202) Homepage

    Bioware needs to jump ship from the cinematic epic and graphics shell game and take stock of the history behind RPG gaming.

    If the Indie gaming scene is anything to go by, funds and personnel do not a great game make. Why don't Bioware practice what they preach and make a low-budget series, with the chief emphasis on hiring talented personnel with experience playing the finest RPGs of the past twenty years. It sure beats hiring expensive singers for your musical score, scores of artists and programmers, not to mention the marketing bill which inevitably follows big budget titles.

    Gaming ought to, to some extent, go back to its roots by abandoning the constant, unending improvement of graphical quality to the neglect of gameplay. I started gaming as a kid in 1991 and have more memories from the 1991-1997 time bracket than 2005-2010. The only outstanding memory of Mass Effect I have is of Shephard emerging, alive and well, after a boss battle with a soaring musical score playing and stoical gaze on the part of the character - I wasn't awed or impressed, but amused as it outcome was obvious even before the tension of "Where's Shephard gone?!" played out for a minute.

    On the contrary, Chrono Trigger, a simple RPG with graphics not much beyond classic Link to the Past, has so many memories with its 16-bit score and pixelated graphics. The budget and levels of personnel are dwarfed by these cinematic titles out today. I could ramble on about more titles as example but I believe most readers browsing games.slashdot can fathom a few personally.

    • by ultranova (717540)

      On the contrary, Chrono Trigger, a simple RPG with graphics not much beyond classic Link to the Past, has so many memories with its 16-bit score and pixelated graphics.

      If you have played Chrono Trigger, you already know the answer to all your suggestions:

      "But... the future refused to change."

      Besides, with the filters available in modern emulators, those old SNES games aren't pixelated anymore, but actually look pretty sharp. Hint, hint :).

      • If by the future you mean Bioware's future then you may well be right. But since Bioware is one company among many, and other RPGs with less flash and more moderate graphics like The Witcher (once it got its bugs fixed and was expanded) beat the epically-styled stalwart Dragon Age in plot and gameplay terms...I do not think Bioware's pigheadedness (should it stand) will be all that much of a loss. This is my opinion; but in the Witcher with Geralt I saw more appeal than with any of DA's characters.

        There's o

        • by ultranova (717540)

          There's obviously a comprimise between a small Chrono Trigger type production and the massive budget, overelaborate epics.

          No, not really. If you have small budget, go for sprite-based graphics; don't do 3D unless you have the budget to do it well. Chrono Trigger still looks OK nowadays, while early 3D games look horrible.

          Of course you can still leverage modern technology, for example use SVG to create your graphics so they can be scaled by resolution. However, it's only very recently that 3D graphics have

    • by Draek (916851)

      That's only due to which one you experienced first, I'm sure there's plenty of guys who feel the same with Ultima compared to your Chrono Trigger.

      And, honestly, even though I've been playing videogames just as long as you have I consider Dragon Age to be the finest RPG ever made, with only Baldur's Gate 2 (another Bioware big-budget title) coming close. Now, it doesn't mean that low-budget titles will necessarily suck, but it does mean that having a big budget doesn't make your game automatically inferior t

      • by Robotron23 (832528) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:09AM (#32911688) Homepage

        Did you enjoy Dragon Age before or after the bugs that were not fixed until late February; close to four months after release in a patch which itself caused further issues?

        My beef with DA is that it lacked a convincing villain. We had a big bunch of orc-like Darkspawn, led by an infested dragon who periodically rose up to take over the world. The motives therein were not addressed at all; apparently motives were revealed in the expansion but since I never bought that having heard mixed reviews about...the plot.

        None of the richness of the Jon Irenicus character; he was just one elf with prodigious talent who had been treated appallingly by his own people and as such became evil and sought revenge. But he felt a lot more intriguing and threatening than the thousands of darkspawn. His dialogue was a major driving point for Shadows of Amn - far more compelling than the grunts of darkspawn and the mighty roar of its Old God dragon.

        Don't get me wrong, DA was a good RPG. I got over 100 hours out of it; but it never got me thinking like Shadows of Amn. You're entitled to your opinion, but you have to admit that there's an argument that DA's plot was inferior to Baldur's Gate 2's.

        Also BG2's budget was small in comparison to DA's; true it was big budget at the time. But the time was 2000; a decade ago when things hadn't got quite as out of proportion in spending/graphical terms as they are today in 2010.

        • Each of the Origins had their own motivations for doing what they did. My human noble warrior was avenging the slaying of her family. She joined the Wardens as a means of getting power to further that goal. Quite honestly, the whole time I was playing that character, the Darkspawn were more of an annoying irritant on her path to that end. When it came time to deal with Loghain, there was no question; he died.

          My city elf mage, on the other hand, started out as an idealistic young mage at the Tower, but q

    • by GauteL (29207) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:36AM (#32911504)

      "Bioware needs to jump ship from the cinematic epic and graphics shell game and take stock of the history behind RPG gaming."

      Bioware needs to do no such thing. They are among the successful ones competing in the overcrowded £35+ game segment. Mass Effect was my least favourite Bioware game for a very long time but it was massively successful.

      What they are really is saying is that unless you are as good as them, you are unlikely to make any money in the Blockbuster game segment and you might as well focus on smaller, simpler titles in the £20 range. This is clearly self-serving (they'd make more money with less competition), but it is also true and it probably would be in the interest of gamers.

      There are too many games and games studios that fail and go bankrupt, striving for that epic. If they had just taken a somewhat narrower and leaner approach, they might have survived. And us consumers might have gotten a great (although less flashy) game instead of a pretty but bug ridden mess released in desperation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Robotron23 (832528)

        I agree with most of what you say; I remember suffering through Dragon Age's RAM-eating problems in which over time it would consume increasing RAM...before loading times ended up around 10-20 minutes on even the most powerful rigs. That this wasn't patched for months was pretty awful, and left a lot of customers wondering why this hadn't been ironed out during pre-release playtesting.

        Economically yes they don't 'need' to abandon their cash cows at the top-end. Survival is likely if they remain there. But f

    • by Edge00 (880722) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:17AM (#32911734)
      Chrono Trigger is a really bad example of the point you are trying to make. Today it does seem like a rudimentary game, but when it was released in 1995 it was anything but. The game was released by the biggest RPG maker in the world at the time and was made by a "Dream Team" of developers, including Akira Toriyama (creator of Dragonball Z). The graphics, gameplay, music, and multiple endings all went way over the top of what was expected in a game. This game was designed, ground up, to be a blockbuster...and it was.
      • That's entirely correct; however we're not talking about the situation with big titles in 1995 here, we're talking about the present day which is different by a long shot.

        I don't understand why we divorce the concept of a blockbuster (in the financially well-performing sense) title and the potential success of a title which constitutes a 'modest' budget in 2010:

        I think you'd find what qualifies as modest now would certainly be in the realms of Chrono Trigger's production budget and given technological and o

    • by silanea (1241518)

      Call me greedy, but I want both: The picturesque, photorealistic graphics and the soundtrack that carry you through an amazingly detailed, almost lifelike world, and the deep, catching storytelling, the ever developing characters, the immersion into a different universe where anything is possible. CoD 4 and 6 have left me a spoiled brat of a consumer. I will not go back to ugly graphics and crappy MIDI sound, no matter how good the plot. At the same time I lived and breathed through both parts of KOTOR and

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by BenevolentP (1220914)
      Interesting facts: Chrono trigger cost 80 bucks in 1995 in the US (http://www.fantasyanime.com/squaresoft/ctabout.htm). And it took just 3 years for (at least) 30 devs to finish it (according to wikipedia, "Kato and other developers held a series of meetings to ensure continuity, usually attended by around 30 personnel").
  • I think studios have started to catch on lately that most consumers have given up on the graphics card wars. Sinking $50 million into a game, and having 90% of that be due to the fact that the graphics are cutting edge is a stupid way to make a game. A very small percentage of gamers want their game to be so cutting edge... It's expensive to maintain a computer of that quality, usually the games buggy and constantly being patched, and in truth the graphics quality isn't all that much better than if they had
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by roachdabug (1198259)

      I'd say it's the studios that have given up on the graphics card wars. More correctly, I believe they've all but given up on the PC entirely. There is a much larger market for consoles at this point, which is why the majority of new AAA titles for the PC are just ports of the X360 version with the same plasticy graphics, controls which don't feel quite right with keyboard + mouse, and Games For Windows slapped on for good measure.

  • How do you compete with it? Certainly not with DLC. And certainly not with yet another MMO that needs to build its userbase from scratch (BioWare's loyal fans are roleplayers; they couldn't care less about MMOs).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bigstrat2003 (1058574) *
      The Old Republic is being billed as an RPG which happens to be multiplayer. Bioware's loyal fans should all be paying close attention, because if they deliver on their promises, the game will be EXACTLY what we want.
    • by Wiarumas (919682)
      World of Warcraft will eventually kill itself. Its a great game, but its been nearing critical mass for quite some time now. I'd imagine it only has a couple more years left in it before some other MMO will take its place. And I have a gut instinct that it will be Blizzard will be the creator of that new game.
      • I'd imagine it only has a couple more years left in it before some other MMO will take its place. And I have a gut instinct that it will be Blizzard will be the creator of that new game.

        That's not really a change - at all - from the current system.

        And I could see World of Warcraft continuing for another decade or more. I don't really see why not, its still slowly growing in player base, not shrinking.

    • You don't compete with WoW. But Star Wars Galaxies was easily comparable to World of Warcraft - until the developers went and changed EVERYTHING and basically killed the game. They were exclusive in that one was the futuristic sci-fi and the other one was the mystical fantasy type.

      The thing that spurs good MMO's is a successful game before it. In WoW's case, it was Warcraft 3 that really spurred it's growth. In SWG, it was every Star Wars game and Movie to date.

      If there is anything capable of taking WoW off

    • Why do you need to compete with an MMO? People don't play them to the exclusion of everything else. Especially at this point in the development cycle when most of the content has been out a long time and everyone's just waiting for the next expansion to drop.
  • by design1066 (1081505) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @08:59AM (#32912802)

    WARNING idealism below, Do not read this post if you cannot handle it.

    #1 reason = OVERHEAD

    The real reason games don't make money is the behemoth corporations controlling the industry and funneling the money into the hands of the pointy haired overlords. It reminds me of an article I read about 4 years ago about how CISCO did not produce a profit that year right before I read the article outing the CEO's compensation: 690 million(Sounds pretty profitable to me, how about you?). Overhead is a made up word managers created to confuse workers and hide the FACT that all of the money is going to them and not the folks who actually create these products. I.E. Overhead = Huge salaries for management.

  • This reminds be back in the day of Sierra ... remember them anyone ... They came out with excellent games like Heroes Quest and Kings Quest, but they put out a statement of why they are not going to create adventure games because (and get this) they are not AS profitable as First Person shooters back then, yes they were profitable, yes they can be made and people bought them by the droves, but they cost more to make and they couldn't pocket as much money. They also disappeared entirely despite being a high

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