In days gone by, it wasn’t out of place to casually wander into your local gaming store, browse through the shelves and walk out with a moderately priced game. Not an amazing game, just something you would have played three of four times then put on the shelf to collect dust. Now think hard, when was the last time you walked into a game store and picked something up on a whim? It seems when purchasing games now we tend to go for one of two extremes. It’s either the Triple-A title on the day its released or the cheap indie the game that nobody can stop talking about. But that middle section seems to have disappeared from everybody’s vision.
Last week at the GDC (game developers conference) Cliff Bleszinski (maker of Unreal & Gears of War: Pictured below) made a passing statement in the middle of one of his seminars. He said “I believe the middle class game is dead”. A statement that at the time most people didn’t really understand and was brushed over. Over this last week, the more I’ve thought about this statement the more it seems blatantly obvious that the middle class of gaming has suddenly disappeared without anybody noticing. I personally can’t remember the last time I purchased a game that wasn’t either from an independent company or a AAA title
The more I’ve been thinking about it the more I’ve been pitching the blame in two directions The first is that the brick and mortar store seem to be a dying breed in the eyes of gamers. Using digital distribution systems like Steam or Gamersgate is much easier than walking into a store. Then places like Amazon and eBay make it much cheaper than the bus ticket to get to the store. So no longer do you wander up and down rows of games judging each of them by their cover and blurb. It’s all about the online marketing. If your game doesn’t have any, then you have no game.
The second is the financial climate. It’s been awhile since I went into any shop and casually bought anything without prior understanding of the product. Reason why my bank account won’t allow me to, And I know I’m not the only one in this situation. Many other people are feeling the crunch on their wallets and are choosing to only purchase things that they WANT rather than they would LIKE. If this fact is true, then this problem of middle-class gaming being a dying breed, should hopefully disappear as the recession does.
Less than 10 years ago, there were a large quantity of small companies thriving off the middle-class games market. Now it seems those companies are under threat and their employees potentially jobless. What many people don’t seem to understand is that nobody starts at the top in the games industry. Today’s indie developers are tomorrow’s small games developers and today’s small games developers are tomorrow’s AAA developers. But if the middle-class dissapears, then somehow indie developers need to make a giant leap into AAA titles with no understanding of how the industry works.. This will be the same as hiring the manager of your local computer store to run Microsoft’s head office.
With out the middle ground for developers to learn the tricks of the industry as well as the tricks of developing, there is a distinct fear in my head for the future of game developers. Yes franchises will go on, yes technology will advance, but without the people with the passion and desire to create these games and the industry know-how to get them to that point, the future of gaming could be built up on unstable foundations.
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