The Fate Of The Budget Publisher
It wasn’t up until I was a couple of years into my teens that publishers really became a blip on my radar. Though this is no excuse, I blame my own ignorance at the fact that at the time I was simply more interested in the games themselves. Surprisingly to me, though, was the lack of appreciation for the budget publisher. I’m talking about the mid-tier guys — the ones who were making games that weren’t always huge, knock-out multi-platform titles. Over the years they’ve helped — in cohesion with their respective developers — churn out some really amazing games, and though they weren’t on the scale of the triple-a publisher, they did play their part in the history of this industry. For those of you who don’t know, they’re the ones who produced silent gems such as Aggressive Inline, Burnout 1 and 2, Bust-a-Move 2, Crazy Taxi, WCW Nitro, Red Faction series, Darksiders, only to name a few.
These guys were the guys pushing the envelope in terms of what they were churning out and with what resources they had, but the reason they died wasn’t because of their quality or their small market reach. Middling publishers died because gamers don’t want that anymore, they weren’t needed. As sad as that is to say, it’s the truth — and although you may be a fan of one these games they, didn’t sell well; not well enough to warrant a sequel, at least. This isn’t to point a finger at anyone or to say it was all but one factor to blame for the disappearance of this type of publisher — but no smart investor wants middling results. In this economy you want as much profit as possible and the hum-drum of this last generation has only pushed that threshold further.
We are no longer in an industry where we can get away with OK sales and have a sequel, that much is clear. The industry could at one point get away with not having to spend 20 million on a game and have it make a profit — not so much anymore, at least not after this current generation seriously skyrocketed video games as a very standard and broad form of media. This left a hard push for the budget publisher to want to catch up to companies like Activision/Blizzard and EA. What has become of the industry as these types of publishers begin to wane (now entirely) out of existence? Here’s the thing: In an almost sad way, these guys were easily replaced by markets that were booming on their own. The emergence of the iOS device and its eventual popularity pushed it even further. Cheap games sell well, sometimes even if they’re bad. It was this generation that indie games really made a push onto our consoles and gained attention. They also helped in the eradication of the budget publisher.
Alas, there was even a bigger push, one that no one really saw coming, and that was crowd-funding. Believe it or not, while the budget publisher is dead, they have been replaced by you, the gamer. With games like Star Citizen, Broken Age, Massive Chalice, Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues, among many others being funded by the gamers themselves, this era of games is coming to a close and opening a door of possibilities… and problems. As many of you have heard by now, while crowd funding can create massive success stories, it also has its fair share of issues. This is where crowd-sourcing sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo start to lose a bit of their credibility and fairly enough because of its recent (and very public) failures.
This all comes back to me being 15 years old asking myself why Acclaim had been closed and why I hadn’t been paying closer attention to its track record. These kinds of things really start to give you a sense of the dire situations that developers are usually in when involved in a big project. Publishers have the right to dump a project if they feel it is not progressing in the right direction, but unlike them, you can’t make your money back twice over by simply making a new game. So where does this leave you, the gamer, the player, the funding party of that specific Kickstarter?
I’d like to think that we all want to have a say in the games that are released and teased to us, but at the same time, I shudder to think at what cost. So at this point in time, what is the most important step for the industry to take, and where will that decision leave the gamers in return?