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The Almighty Buck Entertainment Games

On The Business Of Developing Successful Games 29

Thanks to InsertCredit for their article covering a recent game-related lecture at an Entertainment Law and Business conference. One of the more interesting discussions covered is how game companies should develop their games. A representative from Electronic Arts indicated they do "...most of their work in-house these days. This increases consistency, but he admits that this method can put something of a damper on creativity. So they've got what they call EAPs (Electronic Arts Properties), wherein they work with/invest in games made by other companies, and then distribute them as their own." On the other hand, an Activision executive claims that "...developers prefer to be left to their own devices, counter-culture individuals that they are. So Activision prefers to purchase them entirely, allowing them to exist undisturbed. He says that in this way, they can develop the games they want to develop, and not have to deal with any of the bureaucracy." But which approach really creates the best games?
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On The Business Of Developing Successful Games

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  • These days, every game that comes out is a remake, sequel, or spinoff to a former successful title. And if its not, its Manhunt :-|. Now we have someone to blame!
    • by psyco484 ( 555249 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @08:06PM (#7782411)
      Oh give me a break. Sure not every game is a new concept with revolutionary gameplay, but what entertainment medium doesn't suffer from this? ID has pretty much mastered the FPS, creating many spinoffs, but with each game they release, something new is also produced (if not by them, by a competitor trying to one up them). Take a look at Rockstar, their GTA has been imensly popular, it was innovative and has succeeded as a result. The Simposons Hit and Run isn't exactly an innovative title as it does follow closely the GTA style game play, but it's a lot of fun at the same time.

      Last time I checked, games' main purpose was to be fun, if it doesn't take some huge innovation in story line or game play to be great, so what, it's still fun. Every so often I make sure to pick up a game I wouldn't normally think I'd like just for variety. Last game I picked up like that was Need For Speed Underground, and I gotta say I'm really impressed with the work they've put into it. It's got several annoying bugs, but I've dumped about 15 hours into the game. I don't "like" cars though, and honestly, I think a Honda Civic with tons of money dumped into making it "tricked out" is not only a waste of time and money, but possibly the only way to make the car uglier. Even still, I find the game a lot of fun.

      I wouldn't call something like Unreal Tournament 2003 innovative, but I would call it a lot of fun and worth the money I paid the day it came out since I've gotten hundreds of hours of fun out of it. Innovation isn't a requist for fun, it's more of a risk the company would take on a new idea. Classic example of innovation being a bad thing: Daikatana. The game WAS innovative, it was just too little (the two ingame characters sucked in both personality and functionality, and the story just didn't need everything it had) too late (I shouldn't need to explain).
  • by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @07:33PM (#7782227)
    But which approach really creates the best games?

    It depends on your definition of what the "best" game is:

    Is a successful game one which is creatively successful or one which is financially successful?

    For every ten games (and I'm being generous) that try to push the envelope, creatively, only one succeeds. Even with a creative success, in the vast majority of cases, it is critically successful but doesn't pay the bills well enough to keep the developer in business, especially when the next couple of "creative" ideas don't pay off well and sink what profits were made.

    EA makes its money the same way the movie industry does. It produces to a formula that it knows will make it a consistent small profit. It may not be creative but, ten years down the line, they'll still be in business while most create houses won't be.

    What about companies like Origin or Blizzard? Origin got bought out by EA and how many of the original creative types are still there? Blizzard became such a hammered part of the Vivendi Universal empire that most of the original senior people left earlier this year (World Of Warcraft may be an old style Blizzard creative success but will it remain so after years of having to appease VU's moneymen?).

    Sadly, safe but boring, not original but risky, is what keeps games companies in business - and the ones that recognise that (like EA) can always just buy the few who make it anyway (like Westwood and Origin). Yes, there are a few ids but there are much bigger EAs.
  • by Bob_Robertson ( 454888 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @08:37PM (#7782623) Homepage
    I've seen better flight simulators, in fact it would be hard not to be better. The ship traveled just in 2 dimentions and had only two weapons. However, it had some of the best game play of any game at any price I've played even though it used CGA graphics in 16 colours.

    I kid you not:

    Hundreds of stars, thousands of planets, several different space faring races to interact, trade and fight with.

    If you visited a planet and picked something up, it wasn't there the next time you went there.

    If you disrespected a race, they remembered. Ditto if you were decent to them.

    If you didn't do the copyright protection correctly, the cops came after you within the context of the game and blew your ship up.

    All this on one 360K floppy, on a 4MHz machine. I kid you not.

    I believe that Origin published the game, and was bought by EA later on. There was a Star Flight 2, which was better in many ways, but took a lot more disk space. EA owns the rights and seems to be holding on to them with cold, dead hands.

    StarFlight deserves to be released to the public domain, or at least GPL'd. The excellent programming techniques which allowed such a game to exist in so little space should be lauded and emulated, techniques that have been lost while disk space has become unlimited and CPU cycles can be wasted without anyone noticing.

    • Um. Are the moderators smoking crack?

      Yes, StarFlight was a good game... and this post is interesting (slightly)... but this post is WAY off-topic and should be moderated as such.

      -1 Off-Topic.
    • Space Rogue [] was another great Origin game from the 80's that had multiple stars, planets, races, etc. Read the review about it, it was way ahead of it's time like a lot of the stuff Origin was doing in the 80's. I would blindly by sequels to most of Origin's 80's games if EA came out with them.
  • An answer... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pixel_bc ( 265009 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @09:09PM (#7782785)
    > But which approach really creates the best games?

    Well, eye of the beholder really. Which makes for a better business model? As of today:

    ERTS []: $46.09 + $1.24 (13.75 Billion mkt. cap.)

    ATVI []: $18.44 - $0.56 (1.64 billion mkt. cap.)

    Nobody makes bad games forever. Draw your own conclusions as to who's appealing to Joe Average.
    • Re:An answer... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mike Hawk ( 687615 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @09:50PM (#7782958) Journal
      Are you suggesting biggest equates to best? Wouldn't that make Britney Spears and NSync the best musicians, Titanic and Independence Day some of the best movies and the Bible the best book ever written?

      Wow, makes a good case for the opposite to be true....
      • > Are you suggesting biggest equates to best?

        I clearly said "Eye of the beholder"... but I'll explain it a little more clearly. You point out Britney -- millions of cheering young people will tell you she's the best -- regardless of the validity of the statement.

        One man's great game is another man's trash.

        Just because you think one company doesn't make good games -- doesn't mean the next guy agrees. In fact -- the share prices above indicate so. Maybe Britney is good. What the hell do *I* know?
        • Wow, what an inclusive/bullshit view of the world. Guess what, some things ARE better than others. Under your simple view of the things, technically Microsoft makes the best software ever written too. I mean, they have enough cash on hand to buy even EA. They must be the best, most important, smartest, most talented, group of people ever assembled.

          Of course, thoughout this you have questioned even yourself. Why post if you don't believe you opinion is valid?
          • > Are you suggesting biggest equates to best?

            Wow -- Slashdot is in fine form with all the kids home for the holidays. All I'm suggesting is to be aware of the fact that just because you have an opinion doesn't make it TRUE.

            > They must be the best, most important,
            > smartest, most talented, group of people ever
            > assembled.

            Actually, from my visits to the campus, I can say that they have one of the best teams of engineers assembled I've ever seen. Maybe not *the* best, but I'm not surprised we c
    • Better throw my MBA to the garbage bin. What use are things like P/E ratios, balance sheets and leverage ratios when I can just look at the company's market capitalisation to decide whether its business model is good or not.
  • EA is dangerous (Score:3, Informative)

    by superpulpsicle ( 533373 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @10:44PM (#7783184)
    They have so much marketing power it's scary. Yet the products they push out on the market are no longer getting better every year.

    1.) If it was not for ESPN/sega basketball, their live basketball series would still suck today. They develope 1 engine, and build upon it for half a decade.

    2.) The sims online is a disaster from every angle.

    3.) Battlefield 1942 is filled with technical problems but it's marketed well enough to stay alive.

    EA is like big brother microsoft. They can afford to make mistakes and no one can touch them. Now that's dangerous for the video game industry.
    • Re:EA is dangerous (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Babbster ( 107076 ) <aaronbabb@gmaiSL ... com minus distro> on Sunday December 21, 2003 @11:13PM (#7783301) Homepage
      Picking three titles from the biggest developer on the market and extrapolating their overall quality from there is intellectually dishonest.

      I'm not a big EA fan, particularly since my preferred console (out of the three I current use) is the Xbox where they refuse to play ball with Xbox Live. That being said, they manage to put out titles like SSX3 (improved immensely over its predecessors), Madden (even the hardcore football gamers are hard-pressed to declare an absolute winner between Madden and ESPN/2kX), LOTR: TT and ROTK, Need For Speed Underground, NBA Street, The Sims, SimCity...

      Whether you like their approach or not, EA does put out good games. Great marketing or not, if the games weren't there they wouldn't be making money.

      As for your title claiming EA is "dangerous": Get some perspective. Videogames are a hobby and not a life-or-death situation. Further, even if you were to assign videogames more importance than they deserve, EA (unlike Microsoft, for example) has plenty of competition out there and we're in NO danger of EA controlling all videogaming.

    • Why is it dangerous for EA to have marketing power? The fact is that just because you're a big company, you're not guaranteed sales in the video game industry. Sure, Madden is consistently a big seller but if the quality began to deteriorate, don't you think people would buy a different game? Comparing EA to Microsoft is quite a stretch. Microsoft locks people in to their software by phasing out tech support, pushing competitors out of the market and other underhanded techniques.

      You claim that the only reas

    • I am not going to argue your first two points, but I will have to disagree with your comment about BF1942. Yes there are some technical problems. And that is why patches are released. But it is not because of all the marketing that it is staying alive. Hell, I haven't seen a single tv commercial for it, compared with all the other video games out there.

      Face it, BF1942 is a good game. There is an EXTENSIVE modding community out there which have done some really polished (DC?) and really creative (Pirate

    • 1) Their Live series DOES still suck today []. Watch the video link 3/4 of the way down the article.

      2) YES! You are correct, sir! HA HA HA! I have a friend who was TOTALLY into the Sims and all expansions...waiting for TSO for at least a year. We thought he would basically disappear after the game was released.

      He quit after 6 weeks. Said it felt too much like a NEEDED to have masses of people around you to progress, and when you were progressing, it was just sitting around.

      3) BF1942 lo
  • by bmnc ( 643126 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @11:02PM (#7783240)
    Tha answer is simple. EA has nice polished games, Activision releases new/fresh exciting games. Both are good but I prefer the average game released under the Activision brand as opposed to the EA brand since it is the "new" experience I crave, not the "improved" one.
  • by Pvt_Waldo ( 459439 ) on Sunday December 21, 2003 @11:47PM (#7783478)
    If a game development company has a good thing going and shows signs of success, then Activisions "buy and then hands off" approach is best. If they have a good idea but are making some mistakes or are up against some obstacles beyond them, then the "invest (and guide)" method is best.

    As one of the recipients of the "buy and then leave alone" method (for Day of Defeat []) I'm personally a fan of that method. DoD's creative side is still "owned" by the same team that made it to start with, but that same team doesn't have to worry too much about owning marketing, product release issues, E3 booking, etc. etc. etc. They get to stick to making the game, which is what they do best.

  • Storytelling (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 22, 2003 @02:03AM (#7784005)
    "Cinematics, graphics, AI and storytelling will all improve."

    I can only hope that this wasn't listed by order of importance.
    Storytelling is a prime reason people make and buy games, and I would rather see this improved than overly-drawn-out cinematics that take up space on the disk that could be used to make the engine and AI better.
    • Two thoughts on cinematics: First, can't cinematics be part of telling the story? Whilst I agree that some games substitute cinematics for gameplay, they DO attract customers in many cases (see Final Fantasy VII+). Second, disc space has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the AI or graphics engine - at least not since the advent of the CD-ROM and its subsequent commoditization.

      One thought on why people buy games: You may THINK that storytelling is the "prime reason people make and buy games,"

  • by MikShapi ( 681808 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @06:03AM (#7784753) Journal
    I'm a long-time hardcore gamer, and if anything, since gaming challenged hollywood and the multibillion dollar market, games took 2 steps ahead in terms of graphics and storrytelling (quite a few titles I can recall host hollywood-class voice actors).
    The problem lies in the 3 steps back the games took in complexity, technicallity and everything else that requires the gamer to actually use his brain. For me at least that spells L-E-S-S-F-U-N.

    What's happening today is a collective takeover by large corps over many successful indipendant game makers, game makers who didn't make mass money but made very good games, at least as I, not an arcade gamer, am concerned. Said corps couldn't care less about me, as I'm not where the big money lies. The big money lies in pointa-clicka-no-thinka couch-potato arcade games, aka console games.

    While earlier the arcade market co-existed with the more sophisticated PC game market, the big producers are all for buying out every last successful PC brand and its developer, and riding that brand into yet-another-dumbed-down-arcade-title. And since they're wielding the heavy paychecks, there's no way to resist them (other than to cause the vast majority of consumers to stop buying consoles, which doesn't seem like it's going to happen anytime soon).

    I was outrages by Might and Magic 9. A wonderful technical hack-and-slash game that successfully earned its bread for 15 years.
    I was saddened by Heroes of Might and Magic 4, which looked like HOMM3 only without half the widgets.
    I was frustrated at Ion Storm having sold out to a ... console "RPG" (where you're done leveling up on the second level of the game, because the whole XP and leveling up scheme was too much on console gamers. Sure, Warren Spector could go on all day with how they wanted to make the "open endedness" the main feature of the game. Right. Warren Spector knows as well as we do that Deus Ex 1 was designed to be a good game. Deus Ex 2 was designed to milk money).
    Unreal 2 wasn't even a game. It was an engine demo. Again, someone who wants money trying to call his product a "game". Wolf in sheep's clothing.
    And the list goes on. Black Isle went under, and with it all hopes for not only technical, but sophisticated, well-made RPG's like Torment or the first two Fallouts.
    Freelancer could have been a wonderful technical game, but some design decisions to dumb it down (not being able to take more than 1 mission at a time, forcing the plot on you _before_ you could explore the world), killed the game.

    Since Deus Ex 2, I really can't name one _good_ sophisticated game that hit the market. I can name a lot of glamorous-graphics ones like Max Payne II, but sophisticated? Zilch. Nada. Not a single one.

    And reading the article above lays my suspicions out clearly: people with my expectation of a game are a dying breed, and 'good' sophisticated games - From Star Control 2, to Ultima 7, to Privateer and to Deus Ex 1 - won't be around no more.

    Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      So, according to you, more widgets = better game?

      Many PC gamers wrongly attribute the complexity of games with their depth, which is simple not the case. They want a bunch of numbers and widgets and useless baroque complexity (witness, 99% of the complaints about Deus Ex 2) to make them feel smart and justify what they're doing as something more productive and educational than merely "playing a game" - as if that's something one should feel ashamed of. As if a game that's simple to learn, and that might
  • Electronic Arts (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MGrie ( 676464 ) on Monday December 22, 2003 @06:38AM (#7784843) Homepage
    Origin Creates great games.
    EA buys Origin.
    Origin Creates a crappy game (U8) under EA's influence.
    Richard Gariott leaves origin.
    Origin is just a empty husk, providing support for UO, living from their inherited IP.

    Bullfrog Creates great games.
    EA buys Bullfrog.
    Peter Molyneaux leaves Bullfrog.
    Bullfro is just an empty husk, programming updated versions of old games, living from their inherited IP.

    Dynamix creates Great games.
    Sierry buys Dynamix.
    Dynamix releases Tribes2 Prematurely under Sierra's influence.
    Sierra closes down Dynamix.
    Sierra tries to patch Tribes2 with inhouse developers.
    about 1 year later, they hire ex-dynamix employees to finish the game. ......
  • Carnage Heart on PSX1 A game in which you program robot AIs and then they battle it out in an arena. There is a resource management part of the game, but the priority of that is a distant second to programming the robots. Dues Ex1 - PC A mix between fps and rpg. Favors non-violent methods to solving problems. High replayability. I understnad the sencond one isnt as good, but I havent played it. ChuChu Rocket - DC A very simple cheap puzzel game on dreamcast. Castlevania SOTN - psx1 I remember

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel