Why Midway Games Will Fail

February 19, 2009

I live down the street from Midway Games in Chicago, and have blogged about them before. They have been having a bit of financial troubles, and have teamed up with Ubisoft to publish their next game. Now, Midway has a second chance that a lot of companies don’t get.

Unfortunately, they are using this chance to release Wheelman, featuring Vin Diesel…great. This means that someone at the Midway offices said “Hey, we are on the brink of failing as a company, let’s release a GTA clone featuring Vin Diesel to win back the public’s affection and money!”. I could be wrong, and Wheelman could turn out to be a good game, but, to me, it looks like Midway still doesn’t get it.
If they keep releasing mediocre looking games like this, I don’t see a future for Midway.

Are Gamers Relevant?

December 10, 2008

Recently, EA has had to grapple with the problem of making good games that don’t deliver the sales numbers they expect. EA, who’s name used to be synonymous with corporate greed in the industry, has really turned around this year and delivered some original IP with innovation to match. Recent releases like Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge are praised by critics, but EA is not doing as well as it was.

This year, EA has shipped 17 games with a Metacritic score of over 80, compared to 7 last year. So, if they are making better games, why aren’t they making more money? The answer to this question lies in the fact that the “hardcore gamer” is not a relevant market anymore for big companies. Sure, there are probably millions of people who are pretty deeply interested in games, but this number will always pale in comparison to the number of people who just play games. For every person playing Counter-Strike competitively, there are probably four more who play for a bit in public servers now and then. For every person who preorders a collector’s edition copy of a game the day it comes out, there are many more who will simply buy it when it is convenient to them. Video games are a mainstream industry now, and orginality and good gameplay will not always mean success for a game. As more and more people play video games, the market of people who actually follow and care about the industry is becoming less important. More and more games are being released, and they are getting crappier and crappier.

Now, those of you who are well-versed in game industry history will probably realize that this is a bit like the industry situation before the big crash in 1983-84. However, it seems people do learn from their mistakes. Market saturation isn’t really a problem anymore because the barriers to developing games is so high now. The developer-publisher relationship that we have now, didn’t exist like it does now. The games industry is in the hands of a handful of big companies, and these companies are out to get the money of more than just people who consider themselves gamers. They want everyone’s money.

Right now, the industry is stuck. Games are being made that offer small amounts of innovation, but anything done is very incremental. For example, Gears of War can be considered innovative for its use of cover. It was one of the first games to pioneer a cover system, and one of the first to do it right. People have been hiding behind objects and shooting at each other for about as long as guns have been around, though, this shouldn’t be something to get too excited about. This means that it took almost 15 years from the first FPS games(Doom, Marathon, Wolf 3D) for someone to finally add the ability to hide behind stuff.

This lack of innovation stems from the fact that most publishers don’t want games that will only appeal to people who are good at or interested in games. They want to sell as many games as possible, and they are willing to let gameplay suffer. It’s no secret that in game development, more time and money is spent on art assets than any other area. The general public has to be tricked into buying these mediocre games by fancy explosions and bump-mapping on walls. There are attempts at innovation in the industry, but overall, our industry is producing crap. Even the games that are generally accepted to be great games, simply aren’t as could as they could be (Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty:World at War, I’m looking at you).

Because video games are viewed largely as a source of entertainment, the mainstream aspect will probably never go away. Publishers and developers both need to realize that game quality is lacking, and that they can’t keep stifling innovation in an attempt to make more money. People may be buying cheap rehashes of previous games(Call of Duty:World at War, you again), but can this last forever? How long can you ride on the coattails of a successful franchise?

Simply put, the industry is slowly disenfranchising its core market, and I don’t think that gamers will put up for it much longer. While a industry-wide collapse is probably not likely, I don’t predict that people will look back on this time favorably in the history books.

So, are gamers relevant? Do we make a difference in the industry that we follow? Yes. We are still recognized as a large source of revenue for the industry. Ultimately, it is that core audience that can make or break a game, and to be a true part of the industry, we need to evaluate ourselves as game players and purchasers.

There are many gamers who buy most big name games simply because they feel they have to, and this needs to stop. The term “gamer” should not refer to someone who goes to Gamestop regularly to snag their preordered copy of whatever big name title just came out. I consider myself a gamer because I care about video games. I want to see and play the best video games I can, regardless of who makes them. The mainstream industry has the power to create some awesome things with today’s technology, but the pursuit of money is keeping these things from being realized. The industry is refusing to acknowledge its core demographic, and if this continues, I can see a lot of unhappy gamers looking elsewhere for their games.

So, what can gamers to do stop this? Don’t buy games. If you suspect that a game might be mediocre, don’t buy it right away. It usually only takes a few days for everyone to know if a game is good or not, but gamer culture tells us that we have to have the newest games right away. A prime example of this is Kane & Lynch, a notably mediocre game that has gone to sell over 1 million copies. I bet that if everyone who preordered or purchased the game at release waited a few days, this number would be about half that.

In our free market society, ultimately the buyers have the power, especially with a nonessential item like video games. If enough people stop blindly buying games, the industry will eventually get the clue. If not, then the mainstream game industry will eventually turn into what the mainstream film industry is today, a joke.

Digg this post.

Midway’s new game is supposed to look “as good if not better than Gears 2” according to a creative director. I recently discussed what I think Midway needs to do to stay viable in today’s industry, and this is exactly the opposite of my advice. This is not a problem Midway can just hype away. They are a company in significant financial trouble and need to address these problems with a real business plan.

Playing the same “huge hype” game as other big publishers just isn’t going to cut it. Anyone who knows anything about the game industry should be rolling their eyes at this. Midway will most likely end up as the new Interplay.

Diversity in Indie Games

November 26, 2008

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I recently saw the above picture on an indie games blog, and something about it really bothers me. These three people are supposed to represent the leaders of the indie game movement, and all three of them are white males.

Women make up a large part of game sales, and in certain age groups, the percentage of women who play games is higher than men. Why do women only account for 12% of the industry?

Minorities have also been shoved to the side in the video game revolution. Almost every minority video game character is a blatant stereotype. Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter both had their Native American stereotypes, and The Escapist details the lack of black characters in games. The large majority of games feature white protagonists.

With the way independent developers are making names for themselves these days, I really hope to see something make it big that isn’t developed by a white guy. We aren’t the mainstream industry, so let’s not act like it.

The Future of Midway Games

November 23, 2008

Midway Games is currently in jeopardy of losing their listing on the NYSE. Midway hasn’t been doing too hot for a while now, and usually, as in the case of Interplay, when a company gets delisted, they go under soon after. I actually live within walking distance of the Midway Games HQ in Chicago, so this news hits somewhat close to home(sweet pun, yeah).

Sadly, Midway’s biggest problem is usually itself. They are seeing some good returns on smaller scale, more casual, games, but still spending huge amounts of money on titles like Stranglehold, which was decent, but nothing special. At best, Midway has been providing mediocre games. The most recent Mortal Kombat games were very entertaining, and very replayable, but at the same time, they were nothing revolutionary. Midway is pouring money into average quality games like Area 51 and Hour of Victory when they should be taking this opportunity to innovate.

Midway is a small publisher when compared to giants like Activision Blizzard, or the internal publishing of Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo. They are not even in the same league as EA, who has cut off any competition in the sports game markets. The closest competition Midway really has is THQ, and they are having financial troubles of their own. Midway cannot afford to compete within the AAA scene, and needs to invest its money elsewhere.

There has been mention of Midway attempting to start up a casual games portal, but there are already established players in that market. If Midway wants to viable, they need to do what they have been doing for years, make console games…except, now they are going to have to make them well.

Midway Games can be successful if it stays in the console market and produces GOOD games. If they put half the money into game design and gameplay that they do into graphics and advertising, Midway will stay in the game. Take the katamari series, for instance. It was a relatively low budget game that definitely came out past the PS2’s peak. However, it was incredibly fun, and proved that a game could be successful even when the next generation loomed.

I know Midway can make great games. They have pretty much proven themselves to be pretty solid over the years. My advice to Midway is to quit trying to keep up with the other publishers and just make something that people want to play. Midway Games is responsible for so many games which have been influential in the industry, and I am one person that would like to see them stick around.