I have been busy working on an update to FlickEm now for a while and its been going pretty slow, mostly because I am responsible for all parts of the app now. Before I was just doing design, programming, and putting everything together. I never had to worry about Art, or Sound. Now I have to tackle all aspects of the next update and new game mode on both iPhone and iPad. But the good news is, even though its going slow, I am pretty exciting about some of the new features, and when I have more that I have in a state to show, Ill share with everyone.
I learned a lot from the last year or so working on mobile. Most important is that running a business is hard. And that there are lots of struggles for the small developer unless he hits the app lottery. The amount of people that are making a decent living on making apps is pretty small compared to the ten’s of thousands of developers out there. I knew this when I decided to get into it, and I told myself it was ok, as long as I felt like I was doing good work and learning something. I had a lot of setbacks, but I have been trying to stay positive and do my best at focusing on the product and not think as much about the money side of things. Taking contract work when it comes available, and searching for that sweet gig that I feel is the right fit for me.
However, that sweet gig is going to get even harder then ever to find since the state of the gaming industry is in decline. Its not dropping as fast as it did a few years ago, but its been on a slow and steady downturn now for at least a year or more. Console houses and major publishers have been devastated by the down economy with no real light at the end of the tunnel. Just like the housing market, the console game industry was ripe for the bubble to burst.
A correction was long overdue since there were far too many studios out there who’s business model was creating budget titles. These games were mostly targeted at the consumer with lots of disposable income that was plentiful before the recession. Sadly, as peoples disposable income shrank, so did the market for those budget titles. This was due in part to more savvy consumers who wanted to get the most for their money. The blowback from this condition was that many Dev houses, who’s entire business model was based on the budget title strategy literally disappeared overnight. THQ was heavily hit by this, causing them to shutter the majority of their studios. This hit me personally since I was working at one of those shuttered studios in 2009. And the last time I checked, their stock was down under a dollar, which is far from the 30 dollars it was at when I worked there. It would seem that the days of creating a profitable console game that sells less then 500,000 units are gone. The industry is becoming a smaller, hit driven business with less studios, and a greater divide in income disparity. The same thing happened to the film industry in the late 60s and 70′s with the death of the B-Movie, and rise of Blockbuster.
With the closing of so many studios, a great majority of developers have had a hard time getting jobs and many have left the industry for good. Others like myself turned to mobile and casual games. Facebook startups seem to be really popular right now, but I worry that historically social network trends change so fast and so wildly that long term, focusing a product reliant on another product isn’t really sustainable long term. The internet consumer is fickle to say the least.
For the console industry to bounce back, we need to stop training consumers to expect more without raising prices. We have to train our market to understand that quality costs money. We need to back away from these pricing wars or accounting gimmicks (free to play) where there are no real winners. And yes even the consumer is a loser when there are less and less choices because developers cannot sustain a living wage. Everyone in the game industry knows what the problem is. The costs associated with creating quality games keeps rising every year, yet we are so scared of losing market share that we don’t raise the price of the product to keep pace. Instead we rely on the hit driven system where the barrier to entry is so high that only a select few can get into the system. If things keep going this way, I don’t foresee a future where the consumer has lots of choices. Instead consumers will be plugged into groupthink where everyone is playing the same 4 or 5 titles. This will lead to more sequels, and less creativity. Where risk taking is almost impossible, which ultimately for the consumer is a bad thing.