Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?
Businesses PC Games (Games) Games

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

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.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

BioWare On Why Making a Blockbuster Game Is a Poor Goal

Comments Filter:
  • Hypocrite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Oscaro ( 153645 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:11AM (#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:Hypocrite (Score:2, Insightful)

    by njen ( 859685 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:15AM (#32911148)
    Maybe they are ironically highlighting the fact that they their own best example of this...?
  • In other news.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:16AM (#32911154) Homepage Journal
    Meanwhile, billionaires say it's not all about money, and Hollywood stars say it's not all about looks.
  • by Robotron23 ( 832528 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:29AM (#32911202)

    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 mcvos ( 645701 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:40AM (#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.

  • You misunderstand (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:44AM (#32911284) Journal

    So games that aren't in the top X aren't going to make top X bucks. Is there any actual information being given here?

    If it was that strawman, yes, that wouldn't be much information.

    What he's saying is that is that of the games that try to be the biggest, baddest, most epic ever, only the top X will be making a profit at all. Most will actually make a loss.

    And that is something that seems to escape most people, sad to say. From people going into making games with delusions of being paid a million like Carmack, to kiddies who think that pirating a game is some kind of act of resistance to some uber-rich fatcat who's only charging 40$ for it because of greed, to people starting some monumental epic as some mod and expecting to finish it with 5 people in a few months, to fanboys arguing that a publisher is the incarnation of pure Evil if they had an upper limit at all for budget and didn't give the team an infinite limit on money and time to produce the perfect game, to ultimately the devs end publishers who increasingly compete only in that segment. The fact that there's a finite amount of money to chase in that segment seems to be genuinely news to most people.

    It's not even a matter of "get off my turf" as some other poster made it sound. We have the equivalent of, say, 90% of the car makers deciding they want to compete only at the Bugatti Veryon end of the market. Or 90% of the computer manufacturers deciding they want to make only supercomputers. Sure, it's great if you do manage to sell the next Bugatti Veryon for 1 million a pop, but there are only so many buyers who will buy at those prices. If actually all major companies, from Ford and Fiat and Volkswagen to Bugatti and Ferrari decided to make only supercars in that segment, that most _will_ make a loss. Same here. There simply isn't enough money in the market to cover the costs of _everyone_ who wants to make the next super-game.

  • Re:Oh my! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lennier1 ( 264730 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:48AM (#32911302)

    Why waste your money on developing an add-on and hence an additional source of revenue when you can develop an out-of-control DRM system which adds problems for the paying customers and will be cracked within days???

  • by allcoolnameswheretak ( 1102727 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:51AM (#32911314)

    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" game.

  • by Tei ( 520358 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:52AM (#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*

  • Milking (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Bensam123 ( 1340765 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @06:58AM (#32911346)
    So, developers are starting to realize that they nickle and dimed the hell out of everyone to the point where no one has enough spare change or simply cares enough to buy better games. The gaming industry is literally hanging itself with its own rope.

    Indies are never going to make a huge impression because for the most part they simply don't have the 'wow' factor to add to their games, even if they're good concepts. So they're stuck making good little games, which don't really account for something more then a 'cool little experience', but the gamers where the money is don't want just that. So indies end up needing investment anyways to make anything really great.

    That aside, I'm pretty sure a AAA game WILL make oodles of money. It will not be a regurgitated game from Blizzard which now just excels at milking people, it'll be made by a little no name company that was able to pitch their idea to the right people. Too bad Relic botched DoW2.

    And yes, sometimes unheard of games are really sweet. I still have not played a game so far that beat the experience I had playing Tribes 2.
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:10AM (#32911384) Journal
    Not really any news - it's been known for several years and there have been other Slashdot articles to the same effect. It costs a lot to produce a top of the line game, which means that you need to sell a lot of them at a high price to make any profit. If a game costs several million to produce, you need several hundred thousand sales at $40 to break even. If a game only costs a few thousand dollars to make, you can make a profit selling a few thousand copies for a couple of dollars. There's a lot more room in the bottom of the market for making a profit than in the top. Companies like PopCap have shown this, but new entrants typically want to aim for the top, even though it's not a good business strategy.
  • Re:Translation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:24AM (#32911446)

    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."

  • Re:Hypocrite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by julesh ( 229690 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:32AM (#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 GauteL ( 29207 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:36AM (#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.

  • by mindwanderer ( 1169521 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:38AM (#32911510)
    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).
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:39AM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:40AM (#32911530)

    The title conveniently leaves out 'for the developers'.

    He is just pointing out its a poor goal simply because the risk is higher.

    When the budget is high, stakeholders prefer a tried and tested formula and leaves little room for the developer to be creative. Hence all the carbon copy 'blockbuster' games these days.

    With all the carbon copy games, you aren't guaranteed of making alot of money. You won't enjoy the development process as you are just cloning game after game, and adding few gimmicks here and there.

    So, you better have a good workplace culture or else no one will work for long there.

  • by itlurksbeneath ( 952654 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @07:46AM (#32911566) Journal
    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.
  • by allcoolnameswheretak ( 1102727 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @08:04AM (#32911664)

    You're absolutely right of course. The question now is, what is the purpose of life? To indefinitely create more value, or to have fun and enjoy yourself?
    At some point in my life I decided that life is very enjoyable without being a millionaire and that being immersed in fantastic game worlds is something I enjoy. So my equation is: enjoyment > more value than necessary.

  • by Robotron23 ( 832528 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @08:09AM (#32911688)

    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.

  • by tophermeyer ( 1573841 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @08:49AM (#32912002)

    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 dude sounded really condescending in his statement, I think his point is valid. Not everyone can be top dog. Not every game can be Game of the Year. There is a market for lesser games.

  • Re:Maybe (Score:3, Insightful)

    by roachdabug ( 1198259 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @08:50AM (#32912032)

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 15, 2010 @09:06AM (#32912190)

    Millionaire asks Fisherman, "Why do you just sit there fishing and relaxing, making just enough to get by, when you could apply that time toward something profitable?"

    Fisherman replies, "What would that get me?"

    Millionaire says, "It would expand your business, bringing in even more money."

    Fisherman asks, "To what end?"

    Millionaire tells Fisherman, "As you bring in more money, your business expands further. Your initial time investment will bring in exponentially more value."

    Fisherman prompts, "And then?"

    Millionaire states, "Once your business is large enough, it can stand without you. The money you make just by having the business exist means you can just sit back and..."

    Fisherman finishes, "Relax? That is what I'm doing now."

    And Millionaire was enlightened.

  • Re:Not 'Why try?' (Score:3, Insightful)

    by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday July 15, 2010 @09:17AM (#32912318)
    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 games. But you're not going to make the next Gears of War, Halo, or World of Warcraft on a small budget. Even if you could make a great FPS or MMO without all the pretty pictures (and it has been done), it's not going to sell in those kind of numbers at $50-$60 a pop if no one has heard about it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 15, 2010 @09:22AM (#32912358)

    It's not. Look at Mount & Blade, hardly a blockbuster, but they're making money, and it's a fun game.

  • by osgeek ( 239988 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @09:24AM (#32912376) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @10:34AM (#32913464) Journal

    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.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @10:40AM (#32913562) Journal

    An RPG set in space? Unheard off

    Star Ocean? Rogue Galaxy? Starflight?

  • by oshkrozz ( 1051896 ) on Thursday July 15, 2010 @11:25AM (#32914202)
    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 highly successful company because the founders sold it off (Ken Williams) to a rather shady company CUC followed by greedy scandals. Activision owns them now and they are looking to unload them. At the same time there is now a game called Battle for Westnoth it is a cute fun game and it is far better then many turn based games of the 1990s each new version is creative and enhances the game and it is free ... There will always be startups, people that have vision and they will take hold, unlike movies that a low budget film can cost 1 - 2 million to create games can be created for far less. Even pretty graphic games (check out Myst and the history there). Most computer game companies started in some basement some place by dedicated gamers that wanted to build a really great game and they did but then with the influx of money comes influx of investors wanting the next big thing and many companies fold at that point because it is hard to meet the demands of investors and customers at the same time (Well normally it takes 3 or 4 release of game duds for the company to get absorbed). The article is right in that once you start to chase the money it ruins the vision, the game, and the success, ultimately that attitude ruins the company especially in a market that the barrier to enter is fairly low, yet once the founders leave pretty much anyone that takes over will care about the money/shareholders first, customers second and product third. As for the price of games ... well if you are like me and you play them on the PC and you wait about 1 1/2 years after release you get for $35 the edition with all the add on packs, all the extras and fixes and it is worth the $35.

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington