I think one of the more interesting questions of this generation as it turns over is the trend of the middle tier game. There is a trend, perceived to be real, that middle tier games that are ‘okay quality’ are not selling well and that the developers that make them are being shut down. I think there is probably some analysis that could be ginned up to support that, but the question become does it matter.
I tend to think that is matters very little because what we are seeing is not so much the loss of a middle tier of games forever, but a reallocation of resources and a shift in how middle tier games will be made in the future. I say it matters very little because middle tier games are not gone for good, but rather they will slowly shift from one segment of the market to a different segment.
To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn) / There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn) / And a time to every purpose, under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die / A time to plant, a time to reap / A time to kill, a time to heal/ A time to laugh, a time to weep
Now if you were to ask why developers are closing and the games are not selling I would say “Because the economic model for them is broken. And, types of games ‘churn’ from top to bottom or from selling well to selling poorly as the hardware cycles change what games are played and who plays them. The churn of games bring some developers to the top and other to the bottom, and small game to the top and then big games, indie development to the forefront and then solid long term businesses.
The churn of games up and down is natural...we need the churn.
I see the middle tier game coming back within three or four years. That does not mean you will not see those games it just means you will not see hundred or thousand of them being made in all territories until the business model I see coming becomes firm. In a sense, I see the problem with middle tier games being about the business model. Currently middle tier games are made the same way Triple-A effort games are made. About 60 to 130 people at a development studio come together for a projects that will take 14-20 months to complete. Top-level talent is not often there but the solid middle level coders, artist, and other staff are on hand. But, they're paying the same salaries, they are taking the same amount of time, they are often building tools custom like a Triple-A game. So they cost is not different. The game come out taking too long, costing too much, and having too much pressure to sell nearly a million just as a Triple-A game does.
A lot of money is spent needlessly on middle tier games. A lot of meetings and effort is expended in planning, many changes are allowed late in the production, and a lot of last editions are shoved into the game play to make it “more marketable”. That means any decent idea is expensive to being to market, because a lot of pork barrel spending occurs. For a Triple-A effort game the talent and vision is often there and the sales are there, and often there is a well-established IP that skids the rails to allow it to succeed. The middle tier game has none of that so it fails or lacks the profitability to really necessitate it a second game occurring or the studio staying open.
It does not take a genius to see why this is making the middle tier game impossible to make. Yet, the solution is simple. Middle tier games need to be stream-lined productions that use known tools and solid ideas well and that add innovation possible in a smaller game that might need only sell 75K units to make back the costs and only sell 150K to be nicely profitable. However, that DOES mean the whole process needs to be re-thought just as a production line, so that efficiencies occur and real world results are achievable. Medium sized games can be innovative, interesting, and affordable. But, the games need to stay medium sized, the amount of content needs to be producible in the shortened development cycle, and a smaller team using proven tools need to be utilized.