Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Request hour: Browser games, and the birds and bees

Greg Tannahill and Daniel Purvis ask related questions. First, Greg wonders:
Is the traditional game market in any way threatened by the rise of free-to-play browser games?

For the time being, no. There's such a gulf in the types of games available that it's hard to see anybody voluntarily giving up console or high-end PC games for browser games. Plus, I'm pretty sure that the kinds of people who play Bejeweled and its ilk exclusively are not also shelling out for fancy graphics cards and cutting edge game systems. I think we're talking about two disparate groups here.

But I could easily see something like this happening down the line. As we know, it's not always the most advanced, cutting-edge hardware that ends up getting adopted by the masses. It's all about having the right technology for the right price at the right time. With computers becoming ever more powerful and cheaper, and web access becoming ever faster and more prevalent, I could see a day where you just don't need to buy a dedicated gaming system in order to get a relatively robust gameplay experience. We could see a convergence of hardware and software such that the best possible value for your gaming dollar is simply a low-to-mid-range PC.

The real question is what the revenue model is for games of this type. Quake Live is going to be an interesting test, I think.

Daniel follows up with:

Could you live off free-to-download and play games, such as Flash and independent titles?

Would you miss the so-called "AAA" releases?

There's no way I could do this. Like anybody, I can get addicted to casual games. I already mentioned my love for FreeCell, and the Puzzle Quest Galactrix Flash demo has already sucked me in for way too many hours. But when it comes to what I really want out of a game, it's those robust, narrative experiences that you currently need a next-gen console or high-end PC to play. But maybe someday the distinction between those types of games won't be so clear.

Also, for whatever reason, I am totally ignorant of the indie scene. Not sure why.

In the spirit of openness and inclusion, I will also answer Ben Abraham's question:

Where do babies come from?

According to the introduction of Yoshi's Island, they are delivered by an incompetent stork.

Questions have been trickling in. More still tomorrow.


shMerker said...

Your definition of a AAA title seems to spring not from the level of hardware required but the amount of investment from the developer.

The reason virtually nothing on the Wii is regarded in the same realm as blockbusters like Fallout 3 is that no one is putting that kind of investment into making a game for that system except Nintendo.

There's nothing stopping anyone from making a game of similar scope except that the hardware limits presentation and complexity and the installed base doesn't seem to care that it's not available.

More or less the same thing can be said of high-end versus low-end PCs. The thing is that people don't generally make those kind of games for older hardware because they think that anybody who would want to play something like Bioshock already owns the appropriate equipment or will be willing to work extra hours to acquire it. Meanwhile if someone has a dated machine they probably don't care about such experiences.

It makes me wonder what would happen if this whole dynamic was turned on it's head and people started investing large budgets in games that could be played on anything.

Greg Tannahill said...

Thanks for the answer! It's largely what I've been seeing others saying, although I'm not sure it's necessarily right. While browser games aren't competing with the Fallout 3s and GTAs of the world, they're right in the same space as Live Arcade, PSN and Wii Virtual Console. Games like Shift and Aether are taking steps towards telling worthwhile stories in this medium, and you've got stuff like Desktop Tower Defence and Gemcraft moving into the puzzle/strategy part of the market. The high-end titles aren't going to be hit but I think it's something that's going to affect the bargain-priced and shovelware side of the industry, either sooner or later.

Which is probably great.

Rick said...

dude, puzzle quest is awesome. i was blown away by the simplicity and level of fun in "challenge of the warlords."

have you ever seen kingdom of loathing? it was one of my favorite browser games.

Anonymous said...

i love browser games!

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