Troubles ahead for the game industry
Gamasutra features a very interesting interview of game designer Raph Koster about various trends regarding innovation and the video game industry (at the GDC07 his talk was interestingly entitled "Where game meets the web"). His claim is that the video game industry is "doomed because the web is stealing their thunder", which is an impression I share. Looking at the statistics shows that some web games such as Webkinz, (2.5 million uniques in December), Toontown or Club Penguin (4.5 millions uniques in december) attract more than MMOs. Why is that? mostly because they "don't think of them as being part of our industry", which oh-so-true given that they often feel more concerned by 3D engines, realism and AI. When chatting with companies about Habbo or Toontown, I have often encountered people telling me that "nah this is not in the video game industry so this is not our problem". Some key excerpts I found relevant:
" there’s something up with the ways we do our development practices. The web principles are release often and fail fast. We don't do that. We plan for two or three years, putting something together and then dumping it out there. With the web guys, it's just a whole different method of operating. Flickr patches every half hour.
I think we have to look at the current game industry as being a subset of big media, and big media is running into some issues lately. It's not that they're going to go away, and it's not that they're going to have less power. Well, maybe they will have less power in some ways. But what's happening in the other industries, like film, TV, music, publishing, is we are seeing a radical redistribution of power--where the money is going and where the eyeballs are going. Some of the industries have adapted better than others. We shouldn't kid ourselves; we're in the exact same boat. The only reason that isn't happening even more with us is that our industry isn’t relying on proprietary record play. Can you imagine if there was a standardized platform games, if PC were it, what would happen to the games business? The answer is, we'd be screwed. (...) The one thing the web makes sure of is that there are enough content creators to make any given content creator irrelevant, or superfluous at any rate."
Why do I blog this? I share Koster's concerns and don't really know how this will evolve. Personally I do think that the Web is a great platform because of (1) availability of a critical mass of users, (2) presence of open standards, (3) fast development process, less cycles.