Most FPS games lose money, says TimeSplitters dev

Free Radical founder says Call of Duty and Battlefield are only profitable shooters on market, publishers afraid to pursue projects that don't follow established formula.


Call of Duty and Battlefield are the only first-person shooter franchises making money, TimeSplitters developer and Free Radical founder Steve Ellis recently told Edge. As a result, the longtime developer believes publishers are wary to green-light projects that buck established trends.

Publishers won't pursue a unique FPS, according to Ellis.
Publishers won't pursue a unique FPS, according to Ellis.

"I spent the whole of 2008 going round talking to publishers trying to sign up TimeSplitters 4," Ellis said. "There just isn't the interest there in doing anything that tries to step away from the rules of the genre--no one wants to do something that's quirky and different, because it's too much of a risk. And a large part of that is the cost of doing it."

Crytek UK (the name Free Radical took on when Crytek purchased the outfit) recently confirmed that TimeSplitters 4 was not in development despite the game having been announced in 2007.

"Nobody really buys any FPSes unless they're called Call of Duty," he elaborated. "I guess Battlefield did OK, but aside from that, pretty much every FPS loses money. I mean, [look at] Crysis 2: great game, but there's no way it came anywhere close to recouping its dev costs."

Ellis left Crytek UK in February 2009 to open a mobile game studio called Crash Lab. He explained that the FPS genre today has morphed considerably from what it once was.

"We've been through more than a couple of console generations and seen things grow and grow to a stage where it's not really the business we got into," he said. "It's not really what we signed up for at the start."

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Avatar image for MasterBrief

I agree with this in part. The FPS genre has changed a great deal but I dont believe that a Timesplitters game wouldn't sell well, I don't know how well but look at Borderlands 2. That has a quirky, humorous side to it and I think it has sold considerably well. I think if they got a good story mode with lots of funny and awesome moments, tweaked the multiplayer with some new modes, have a good selection of maps and coop features and a good ad campaign I think that Timesplitters would sell well. I haven't bought a COD game for a long time and have bought a couple FPS games MOH, BF3, Borderlands, Dead Island, Killzone. So I think they definitely need to plan their release right but I think it would sell well and it also has a huge fan base.

Avatar image for aletepes

@offspring94 It's not an FPS but it's 3rd person and FP RPG, called Skyrim, old graphics and many people like it despite its horrible environment and lack of newer age graphics. It's using 2004-05 graphics, they just put a lot of crap in it in, the game had no direction for me and I couldn't stand it, but many people love it.

Avatar image for aletepes

People may not like my opinion, people at my old work use to say "Oh, you need a newer pc to take advantage of it" or "Oh, that's because it's completely open", even "you're not good at RPGs then", in which I reply "6-Core Phenom II 2.7ghz, 10GB ram, Radeon HD 5570 1GB GDDR5 dedicated, highest settings, no lag, still see no difference, even with high resolution mods", "There is one point of being open, I don't call walking up the side of a mountain where it'd be virtually impossible to in real life, I call that poor programming and world design, that and the compass is pretty dumb to use to find anything, ever heard of a mini map? and having to download a mod to enhance your experience and not have it right there defeats the purpose of buying a game to play as intended", "I've played more RPGs than most people I know, Zelda, a link to the past SNES, Mario RPG, Final Fantasy 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12, Zelda: Ocarina of time, Majoras Mask, Master, Tales of Symphonia, Tales of Vesperia, Fable I, II, III, Infinite Undiscovery, Bioshock II, a plethora of Korean and Japanese mmos(ie: Ragnarok Online, Shaiya, Fly for fun) Blue Dragon, Neverwinter Nights I, II, Lost Odyssey, DDO, Diablo I, II, and much much more, all of which have an awesome thing called a mini map or trail system(Fable)" "Take an arrow to the knee?"

Avatar image for offspring94

I wonder what would happen if a great game were released to mass markets with a 2004 graphics and a low budget. Not a niche "indie" game, but a full-featured game in every way except for graphics.Honestly, that's what I would prefer. I still play Soulcalibur 2 with my roommates; there's nothing obsolete about the gameplay in that 10-year-old game. I would much rather have a marketplace full of creative, risky, games with bad graphics than a handful of COD clones with cutting edge technology. At least, it is my understanding that the cost of developing games up to current-gen graphics standards is what eats most of the development budgets.

Avatar image for Vortec33

I really never understood the hate with Crysis 2.

Avatar image for buddybuk

FPS fatigue everywhere. I am very simply tired of the same formulaic COD every year. People buy a copy/pasted game simply for its name these days.

Avatar image for onewithtoenail7

call of duty is a giant self-sustaining pile of money. given this generation's utter lack of concern or interest in anything that doesnt allow them to communicate impersonally with people they barely know, and who prizes convenience over quality to such ludicrous extremes not seen since the invention of home television, i can see the problem. CoD barely has to do anything to make horrendous amounts of money because it perfectly reflects a modern society of people who barely do anything and expect to be rewarded just as disproportionately. the mere effort of having to do more in a game to entertain yourself than pointing and shooting is a huge obstacle to overcome, not to mention the lack of seventy-gajillion dollars to spend on development, or working within a development cycle that was designed for a game series that has bottomless funds and needs very little time to make.

its definitely tough going, but we need games like fallout and deus ex to reverse this trend and get people to realize that stuff you have to work at tends to have a much greater payoff than the stuff that does nothing but kill time between texts and facebook.

Avatar image for Briantb_2008

If you made a great FPS with a Great story and heres the main kicker a Campaign that takes longer then 5-10hrs to beat I have a feeling you would make whatever money you put into the project back. Look at Fallout 3 its not just a FPS its a RPG mind you its buggy as hell on the PS3 after 20hrs of play and even more so with the dlc. But it was a great game. And it made out well enough for Bethesda to release Fallout New Vegas which was even more buggy then Fallout 3 and they did well on that as well to release an possible Online fallout which if it comes to the PS3 I plan to stay the hell away from it.

Rage was a great game but by the end of it I felt like I only played half a game and I did everything in about 25hrs. No replay value ethier.

Avatar image for dark_rage864

Crytek stop being a bunch of wimps and make the game. TimeSplitters beats COD any day! >:(

Avatar image for Serpentes420

Yup except for the Bioshock series, Resistance series, HALO series, Killzone games, Rage..etc.. Not to mention hybrid RPG/FPS like Fallout and Borderlands. No FPS games are successful except Call of Duty and Battlefield 3.(sarcasm)

I don't like the modern FPS nonsense that the kids these days seem to love so much either. But I am getting sick of so many in the gaming industry always blaming everything but themselves for their lack of success.

I've never played a Timesplitters games before (that I can recall) so I can't say if it is good or not. But there are still plenty of non CoD or Battlefield FPS games being produced (thank goodness). So quit whining and up your own game, don't complain about what other developers are doing.

Avatar image for Briantb_2008

@Serpentes420 Rage was good but it was only half a game and most of the team who made it where laid off if I remeber correctly so I dont think it made money. Thou your right the rest of those did really well.

Avatar image for BabylonBadness

Timesplitters will always be the number one multiplayer FPS in my opinion, it's just so much fun. It's a shame that so many "gamers" buy CoD just because their friends are buying it. I haven't brought a CoD game since the pile of crap that was Black Ops, and they will never see any money off me again. RIP Timesplitters. I'll just have to dig out my PS2 for some monkey splattering goodness.

Avatar image for pedodleche

@BabylonBadness Exactly, it has become more of a social thing than an actual gaming thing. It is the same reason why one buys PES or FIFA, it all depends on what game your friends are playing. If they play FIFA, one buys FIFA, if they play Call of Duty, one buys Call of Duty...

Avatar image for BabylonBadness

Timesplitters will always be the number one multiplayer FPS in my opinion, it's just so much fun. It's a shame that so many "gamers" buy CoD just because their friends are buying it. I haven't brought a CoD game since the pile of crap that was Black Ops, and they will never see any money off me again. RIP Timesplitters. I'll just have to dig out my PS2 for some monkey splattering goodness.

Avatar image for Morphine_OD

Crysis 2 was subpar as a game and made only to help sell Cryengine. Crytek's main source of income is selling it's engine to non-game projects.

Avatar image for vx24

I think the FPS genre has a limited range for innovations due to the simple setup: 1st person, gun, storyline. So I understand that the setting of the story (like Fallout's world or Borderland's comic surroundings) makes out most of the difference. Now, as ghosts, zombies, aliens, ghouls, soldiers, beasts, mobsters, nazis and what- or whoever have been targetted in the games, people simply don't buy this genre anymore and, consequently, publishers fear the investment.

To my mind, the coop-mode for 3-4 players like in Borderlands has been the last real improvement, but, to my mind, now a major change in the FP or storytelling is needed.

An MMORG with instances and the FPS-approach for combat would be cool... something like the Lord of the Rings Online engine, which switches to FPS when it comes to fights. All the other aspects of the game like visual changes (horror), crafting and selling (e.g. weapons) or (slowly) skilling the charakter should be in place. That must not be a fantasy-world, though.

This approach should give a rich world for a story and a slower pace for longer lasting fun. I wouldn't mind a learning curve of 6 months.

Avatar image for pedodleche

He does have a point....No FPS today compares to the greatness Half Life or Duke Nuke or Quake had....Those where games where the player who was better was better because his reflexes and skilled improved, rather than having perks which, to some, is unfair. The problem is, consumers have shifted to FPS lacking some sort of storyline or anything that is actually interesting. Call of Duty's popularity relies much on the fact that people play with others via online. FPS with good storylines continue to be published, they just don't see as much commercial success as Call of Duty or Battlefield. That does not mean, they are commercially unsuccessful. Crysis 2 was actually quite successful, hence the development of the 3rd. Problem is, less budget is provided to the development of this and other games alike because their rent-ability per dollar is much lower than that of Call of Duty (not to mention the fact that Call of Duty games are all very similar)

Avatar image for Briantb_2008

@pedodleche You forgot DOOM

Avatar image for Ghetto_ninja

Let's even back up further to the source of Call of Duty's console success. Ironically it happens to be a game that used the Source engine, Counter-Strike. It successfully transferred the feel of the most popular online FPS into an experience tailored for a console. Then they took it one step further and added perks and custom classes, which are features the industry has embraced from Battlefield to Uncharted. As for Battlefield well they just took what was already successful on PC and brought it to consoles. You know for a guy(Steve Ellis) who makes video games for a living he sure doesn't quite understand anything about the market. Well maybe that's why his company failed and he had to resort to making mobile games.

Avatar image for Ghetto_ninja

Um and missing the big picture here how is Timesplitters 4 quirky and different? It's a sequel to a franchise that hasn't seen a sequel in almost 7 years. Timesplitters doesn't have the longevity of Duke Nukem and look how well that sold even with the critical smearing. Speaking of Gearbox games, did this guy forget that Borderlands existed? Doesn't get anymore quirky and different than that. It was also a smashing critical and commercial success. Then you have Deus Ex, Portal and Bioshock. So yeah just a big whiner trying to publish a game that at best has niche fanbase and would never be able to compete in a market with the like of aforementioned franchises. It would be another Syndicate.

Avatar image for Ghetto_ninja

Jesus is this guy DigitalPixelBit in disguise? Crysis 2 had to have made a profit. I'm pretty sure EA wouldn't go ahead with Crysis 3 if it hadn't. I mean I don't see them publishing Bulletstorm 2 or Shadows of the Damneder anytime soon.

Avatar image for Psycold

Crysis 3 = 2 oops

Avatar image for Psycold

Crysis 2 was pretty good, but was not as good as the previous games which they made with a much lower budget, and it is still worth a debate as to which game looks better with mods, etc. However to say that Crysis 3 did not sell well or recoup it's dev losses, I highly HIGHLY doubt that. The game sold over 3 million copies and was widely boasted as a big seller.

Avatar image for Drealgrin7

Crysis 2 was fantastic. But thanks to your average imbecilic game consumer who spent their mothers hard earned cash on cod black ops we have crysis 3 being developed into basically a carbon copy of crysis 2. Stupid consumers encourage stagnation when we could be getting technological marvels

Avatar image for Rigges

Well, it is true that COD is getting most of its sales on previous success. There was a period where the old Infinity Ward wanted to remove COD from COD:MW2 to set up a new franchise called Modern Warfare, but Activision refused as by their statistical analyses, removing COD would result in fewer sales.

For a game to break into this market now, it has to be very good and very different. This results in a catch 22, because during times of economic recession, publishers are less likely to invest in something new and different and more likely to invest in a tried and tested formula that will guarantee success.

Another example in the history of Call of Duty, based on the original Infinity Ward having wanted to do Modern Warfare since Call of Duty 1, and not being allowed to because World War 2 was working. It didn’t mean a modern warfare game wouldn’t work, as clearly it did eventually, it just meant at that time the publisher wasn’t willing to take risks.

The interesting thing is that this climate does leave room for indie developers, as the best chance of finding something really original is from a small budget operation that may or may not require a publisher.

Avatar image for RE2LeonS

Good, somebody give me some new survival/horror then

Avatar image for Alpr1010

That's because other FPS's try to mimic CoD and they fail miserably, and they make bad games. I don't like CoD anymore, but it is still a great game even though they only change the setting in each game.

Avatar image for stomponyahead

I blame the new generation of gamers and their conservative gaming ways. If it dont play like "This" game mentality is whats messing up the FPS market. Example: Perfect Dark Zero. because it didnt play like halo, nobody liked it. People these days cant adapt to change. :(

Avatar image for sharpshooter188

@stomponyahead I didn't like perfect dark zero because the schematics of combat were too sluggish. Takes way too many shots to off someone when considering how wide and quickly your sight recticle expanded. Characters were far too slow and the aiming was just flat out bad. I liked call of duty originally because it's aiming was nothing short of perfect. If more games had aiming like it did, I would certainly be more inclined to purchase them. The guns don't really interest me in CoD because they are just real world variations of each other. Resistance I got into but the online community is almost dead.

Avatar image for TrueGB

Did they ever consider the possibility that they were refused because the Timesplitters franchise, aside from the second game, didn't really sell that well in the first place?

Avatar image for dlCHIEF58

Sounds like all the old Free Radical guys are doing nothing but whining lately. Between this guy and the other trashing Lucas Arts for supposedly sabotaging Battlefront 3, I am not sure what to think of them. Sounds like they are just mouthing off for attention, blaming others for their own shortcomings.

Avatar image for Atheno

I'm no expert but, working at a Gamestore my self, Crysis 2 was sold quite a bit. I'm pretty sure it made a profit. Big or small, well that is the real question. Sadly not everyone bought Haze though.......

Avatar image for chingchow48

Also, Halo is very profitable, as long with Medal Of Honor sold over 5 million units, this guy is just whinny that h isn't getting the go ahead from the publishers to make his project, if it was good enough, they couldn't say no man, I THINK BRINK WAS EVEN PROFITABLE! so his comments hold no merit!

Avatar image for chingchow48

Im pretty sure Crysis 2 made a profit, if it didnt they wouldnt be pushing out Crysis 3 so quickly, I mean Crysis 2 sold atleast 3 million units, probably closer to 4 actually... so I think this is a developer just whinning that no one wants to do his project and wont give it up

Avatar image for Skrewdriven

well can they blame us for not buying every single FPS that comes out, and there are TONS of them, they all tend to be the same, Crysis 2 was a pretty good game, but it was not as good as the first.

Avatar image for Drealgrin7

@Skrewdriven You're insane. Crysis 2 dominated the first game in every way.

Avatar image for sortajan

was he telling the truth when he said crysis 2 lost money, or was he just making shit up? and what does he mean battlefield did "okay?"

Avatar image for aletepes

@thewastedyouth You mean Goldeneye 64

Avatar image for dlCHIEF58

@aletepes @thewastedyouth

I think you mean Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake, Unreal, and Marathon started the FPS thing - all others just stood on the shoulders of these giants.

Avatar image for MagicLango

I don't know whether it made a profit or not, but it would have sold more if EA let it go on Steam. I might have bought it in that case.

Avatar image for wyan_

Is he exaggerating a bit? Did Crysis 2 really not make any profit?

Avatar image for GodOfSyn

I love Crysis 2. Such a beautfiul game on PC in DX11 mode.

Avatar image for jayjay444

how about a game with the choice of play style, for example 1st and 3rd person views with the click of a button then u will get 3rd person gamer's and 1st person gamer's buying your game. I know i would like a game that changes views when i click a button not played one like that since battlefront 2 on the pc. just a though peeps probs isnt doable.

Avatar image for Serpentes420

@jayjay444 thats what Fallout is, it just isn't multiplayer so it isn't as popular with the ridillin addicted monkeys of my son's gteneration (i.e. young teens)

Avatar image for TigusVidiks

@jayjay444 I know a game like that. It's called Skyrim.

Avatar image for VisualPendulum

I don't understand what these articles are suggesting. Does that mean that developers need to make games similar to Call of Duty to be successful?

Considering I no longer enjoy playing Call of Duty, I would hate for developers to move on to CoD knock-offs. It's bad enough that the majority of comments I see for other shooters are berating them for being similar.

Avatar image for tsunami2311

FPS genre is pretty much dead to me. COD/Halo/MW and all those killed it imo...