Is the next generation of consoles going to destroy the middle tier of games? Right now there are still three tiers. The highest tier is the Tripple A releases that cost millions of dollars like Call of Duty and is funded by one of the large publishers. The middle tier is the smaller games that are not necessarily using the same budgets, and have smaller publishers. Lastly, there is the indie games tier in which the games generally have small budgets and generally rely on new game concepts rather than groundbreaking and costly graphics.
It is this middle tier, and these smaller publishers, which are in danger of ceasing to exist. THQ has gone south, Capcom is struggling, and the few remaining publishers, not named EA, Activision, Valve, or 2K are all in danger. When a new generation launches, gamers will expect better graphics, which costs millions of dollars more. These small publishers, the few remaining, can't provide the funds to compete with big name games. Especially now when there are estimates that virtually no other first person shooters besides Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Halo make money. Gaming is headed for its darkest hour.
We are headed for a time when we are barraged with sequels until the franchises are dead. Look at Tony Hawk, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero; the franchises were overused for quick cash instead of long term stability. At the same time because the cost of development is so astronomically high, there is less innovation because the risk is so high. Developers stick to a proven formula and beat it to a pulp. Then they go out and find a new formula to follow.
Competition is good in the marketplace, and the loss of a middle tier stems competition in favor of mega publishers. Don't like the extra charges on Call of Duty Elite? Doesn't matter. There are no other good shooters out there. Imagine a world in which there are fewer games and there is less innovation. Publishers have free reign over consumers due to this near monopoly. It's the bleak future we are headed for.
Currently the games industry is oversaturated with games and companies. Yes, the games industry is growing and more people are playing games than ever before, but sales of declined in the past few months in the next gen buildup. We are headed for that all too familiar dip in which developers are laid off, studios close down, and publishers are bought out.
Bobby Kotick has no problem with using this model for games development. He has hailed taking the fun out of games development, and has killed his franchises. As Tim Schafer once said, "I don't think we can approach it like we approach bars of soap, where you're just trying to make the cheapest bar of soap." We are definitely headed for that when games are this expensive, if we aren't there already.
This death of the middle tier is a grave loss for consumers who are forced to play games crippled by always-on-DRM because there is no one to stand up to mega publishers. There are fewer publishers than ever before, and the number will only decrease. We need these small publishers as a voice of sanity to stand up to the mega publishers. These small publishers not only make better, more passionate games, but also are more innovative than mega publishers. We need them if gaming is going to become an art form, or if it will gain more prominence than it has now.