Middle ground video games lose footing in weak economyBy Nathan Proctor | 01/23/2013 11:00pm
Production quality has never determined entertainment value in entertainment. In reality, the majority of my favorite games from my childhood and our current generation were flawed, broken or otherwise outwardly mediocre.
I love A- and B-tier games. Despite their nomenclature, this labeling is not of a qualitative nature, but in its financing. High concept and highly funded “blockbuster” or AAA games are growing to define the landscaping of mainstream development. It’s these titles reaching the widest possible audience and easily iterated upon that allow developers and publishers to stay in the black.
For this reasoning, many have lamented the death of the “B-tier” game, products often defined by a few interesting conceits or mechanics saddled by technical failings or budgetary constraints (see: Freedom Fighters, Earth Defense Force 2017 and Deadly Premonition.)
These games are very rarely actually unprofitable, but within an industry plagued by a weakened economy necessitating higher profit margins, only industry giants can take the “risk” of funding projects more likely critical darlings than mainstream successes.
More striking however, are signs the single – A middle ground may be losing its footing. Though its failings are not wholly the fault of its mainstream products, (much is the fault of poor management and the Udraw gaming tablet catastrophe) seeing THQ fold and sell off its IPs is in a way shocking. Producers of A quality, but not massive hits, they were unable to pull themselves from the brink of bankruptcy, despite a recent fleet of high quality games and successful franchises.
Metro, Company of Heroes, Warhammer 40k and the Saints Row franchises were well-made games that sold well and innovated in the industry, yet could not right the ship of a well-known, long-time studio. Large corporations such as the monoliths of EA and Activision can afford to push out titles earning less, but even they have little interest in doing so, each making their own business-centric statements regarding the requirements of franchise and multiplayer options.
A future where large studios can only produce high-quality games, be they in the vein of a more innovative Mass Effect or that of a dragging Call of Duty series, and indie and mobile development continues to thrive is far from Dystopian. It makes business sense, still provides an avenue for creativity and growth, and raises the bar for accessibility and general polish. That said, I’ll truly be sad to see it go.
Unsuccessful but interesting games have long inspired future developments (see: Killswitch) and guilty pleasures, (see: embarrassingly enough, Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction.) It may not be the end of the industry as we know it, and the PC market alone may continue to sustain a great variety of niche titles, but as we shed our current generation of gaming, I shed a silent tear for the dearly departed intriguingly mediocre game. RIP, my friend.