E3, the annual gaming industry conference, was in Los Angeles last week, and many celebrated the coming evolution of gaming from its core target audience (mostly young and male) to a new audience encompassing more age groups and genders. Driving this will be the power provided by the new gaming consoles, which will enable whole new levels of realism in game play. This could open up whole new markets and turn gaming into an industry which rivals film production. Some game developers fear this "Hollywoodization" of the games industry, however, with its prohibitively high production budgets that could sideline companies with more shallow pockets.
Me, I could care less, though that might be a contrarian leftover of my 4 1/2 years living in Europe. If I had to count on my fingers the number of times I heard a European sniffily claim "Hollywood is incapable of making quality films," I'd be like some multi-tentacled monster from a 50s horror film. The statement became downright rust-colored given the enthusiasm with which those same individuals flocked to the next big budget release out of Hollywood.
People LIKE big budget productions. I don't hear many people complaining about the huge budget George Lucas spent on the final Star Wars installment. "The Incredibles" can't be done on a shoestring. Big budget films offer something people want, and that's clearly shown in the numbers of people who go to see these movies.
The same will apply to big budget video games. That $40 million game of the future might mean that smaller studios can't offer anything comparable, but that doesn't make that $40 million game any less spectacular. If people don't like those high-budget games, people won't buy them. That's unlikely, though, which is why the gaming industry is approaching the arrival of the new game consoles with some trepidation.
Industries change as they mature. Michael Dell might have started his business out of his garage, but don't believe you can do the same thing in 2005. It takes a LOT more money to enter industries with a well-developed market for a product. Gaming has reached that point, and that will involve change.
Small players can still play with the big boys. They just have to be truly innovative and offer something that big brand names, with their profit orientation and the risk aversion that can come from that, can't manage. Lower budget films come out all the time, and pull an audience by offering something different. "28 Days Later," "Shaun of the Dead," and "Blair Witch" all managed that in the film world (my choice of examples probably provides hints as to my film interests). The same will apply in gaming.