2016/12/09

The Problem of 2016 ... (update 2)

... is that major blockbusters which usually sold millions aren't. The latest iteration of Call of Duty seems to be 70% under previous sales (unconfirmed number), Titanfall 2, the best rated game of the recent shooters was sandwiched between the CoD and BF1 release - has trouble to sell. Watchdogs 2 - much better than the first and some even claim their sandbox is better than GTA V - doesn't sell well. And one of my favorites Dishonored 2 isn't selling well despite excellent marketing presence & reviews in all countries.

Even though the consoles are selling better than the last generation and the PC market is stronger than ever.

Why?

As usual there isn't a single reason.

Genre Overlap
If three major shooters target the same audience some of them will suffer. Thats a logical reason. That EA launched Titanfall 2 between BF1 and CoD is bad - even though they claim differently. Experience from the past tells us that Titanfall 2 is dead and it is EA's fault. March would have been a much better month for it. Some might argue CoD and BF1 target different audiences, but no, both target male 13-26's - the difference is style & taste and preference.

Games last longer
Something which we all saw coming and has started with the last console generation and really took off 2016: games are now launched as a service and try to stay alive as long as possible. For this they adapt a lot of MMO techniques and even some f2p mechanics. Check out Destiny or The Division, those are as close to f2p online games as they can be but are premium titles.
Even BF1 has mechanics inside like progression, unlocks etc. to keep players busy for months. And players love it - and play for weeks and months. No one will buy CoD if they are deep into BF1 - or any other game which operates as a service.
This trend will get even worse next year. So the future isn't releasing your key IP every year, but to keep your key IP alive for years with one launch. Just like MMO's do.

Bored
Some players are bored as the sequels are "more of the same". So they skip a generation and play something else. Some are even bored with the systems and play someplace else. Like on mobile. Or they play other games which are unique. The sales of some of those titles being special show that effect.

The jump between last and current generation of these sequels isn't as large as it was in the past.

Not enough time to play
There are just 24 hours per day. Years ago you spend a lot of these hours in games. Now? You spend hours checking social media, your mobile phone, your day to day tasks in your favorite mobile game, on Netflix binging a series. Here is the problem. People do not have the time anymore to sink into a single game. There is enough competition of entertainment in your hands which distract you from hourlong gaming. And its getting worse as the choices are increasing and everyone fights for the users time.
This is the primary reason why sales aren't the key indicator anymore - it is engaged users. Something Activision is even now telling their shareholders in their calls.

Fucking Expensive
Sorry for my words, but really. Games are expensive to develop and if you try to do a AAA product we talk millions, often hundreds of millions. The games industries blockbusters are more expensive to create than most Hollywood movies now. And mobile games aren't easy either. Meanwhile we talk budgets of millions too. This leads to the conservative sequel effect we now encounter even in mid console cycle where we usually see creative sparks. Not this time.

And games are expensive. $69. WTF. Add a season pass. WTF #2. Locked user, he won't be able to spend more for another games. Years ago he could buy two or three for that money he now spends on one of his favorite games.

Oh, and now upgrading consoles. The new thing. So go Pro on PS4 for some new games. The core will do, the rest will follow. Another $399, maybe less when you sell your old (which lessens sales of new consoles).

Too much choice
The app store showed it. Steam is following. Too many games. Too much choice. The entry barrier for world wide publishing is gone - the flood gates are open and thousands of titles are being released.

Yes, a lot of crap is among them but here and there we find gems which never would have seen the light of the day in the past. It is amazing, and in my opinion the only light in the darkness of 2016.

This means
The market is cleaning itself. You either are among the top 10% of the low key indie type titles. The middle will die, quickly.

This means if you run a studio you either go big or you go small, lean agile. There is no other choice anymore.

You see studios dying. Or being closed. 2016 was already bad, 2017 will be worse. Consolidation is happening the the big ones eat up the talent left and form further mega studios to create their huge titles. Some will form smaller studios and lean produce creative gems. And many will fail. And the cycle repeats.

And beware when the current console generation is shrinking. It is not as far away as we hope. The last generation lasted 8 years. This one? Maybe 8 years, maybe 9. They hope to prolong it by updating their hardware. So we are in year 3, 5 more to go. Good luck boys and girls. Make great games and do not follow the main stream.

Update
Some feedback noted that NPD isn't tracking digital sales and most customers moved to digital now. This might make the numbers a bit better but not really so. Todays games with their 60GB downloads aren't for everyone (see previous post).

Another note regarding FPS: Overwatch seems to have taken a lot of these customers and locked them into their grind feast, so they won't have time for others as well. A title I overlooked in the above post.

Pro Tip for AAA pubs: there are more games out there then FPS. Do not forget the genres other people play or mid sized publishers will take them away from you.

Update 2
Most of the hit games I mentioned including CoD, Titanfall 2, Dishonored 2 are on sale for half the price. An indices that they don't sell as well as expected and wrongfully training customers its better to wait than to buy on release. Bad habit.


1 comment:

Guido Henkel said...

There's a lot of truth in what you say here, Teut. I've been playing one key title for a year now, for example, and all thoughts of other games fell by the roadside. It is only now that I've practically finished that game that I am looking for something new to play. Sure, I've looked at other games along the way, checked them out for an hour here or there, but really digging into it and spending major bucks on them, no, not going to happen. Especially not at the outlandish $59 or $69 price point.

The engagement approach, while true and defiinitely evident, is a strange one, though, because of the monetization issues it brings with it. One would think publishers were more interested in churn so that they can sell more products. The fact that they instead want to have people play longer instead makes little sense to me. Like I said, I've been playing one game for a whole year. If it had been shorter and not such an open world, I might have played—and paid for—three or four games in the same period. Not only would it generate revenues, it would also bring down development costs to rmore reasonable levels again, dramatically limiting the development risks.

Guido