In the expansive and rapidly evolving world of video games, the stakes have never been higher. The rise of increasingly intricate and expensive game schemes has not only upped the ante for game developers but also heightened the expectations of an ever-demanding audience. The tumultuous release and reception of the vampire-themed game, Redfall, by Arkane Studios, a subsidiary of Bethesda, brings these complexities to the fore.
“Game schemes are expensive. They’re getting bigger and bigger. The standards of the audience are getting higher and higher,” lamented Ray. He noted that the high cost of game development and the ever-escalating expectations of audiences place immense pressure on developers and publishers alike.
The release of Redfall, a vampire-themed game, has spurred a critical conversation around these pressures. This is particularly relevant because vampire games have traditionally struggled to gain traction in the market. “There’s not a lot of vampire games that really became hits,” Brandon noted. “Games never really had the hit vampire game, except for if it’s like maybe mixed with Western or something.”
Even Microsoft’s Phil Spencer, executive vice-president of Gaming at Microsoft, had to publicly address the controversy. “We don’t 100% control everybody, right? And we still kind of trust our developers,” Spencer said in a recent interview. But he went on to question the level of trust vested in developers, hinting at the need for more oversight and quality control.
“Game schemes are expensive. They’re getting bigger and bigger. The standards of the audience are getting higher and higher”
Indeed, the balance between creative freedom and business efficiency is a delicate one. As one Brandon puts it, “You get freedom, but then you also have to set boundaries.” The push and pull between developers and publishers can often be a source of tension. The developers are often seen as the creative visionaries, while the publishers are viewed as the ones providing the necessary resources and financial backing.
However, the reality is more complex. As Ray emphasized, “there’s a lot of dead time while figuring these things out. And the creatives, you know, the ones that actually have a say in things, really shoot themselves in the foot.” This suggests that game development is a process fraught with challenges and setbacks, many of which are not directly attributable to the ‘big bad corporations.’
The issue is further compounded by the high stakes and enormous budgets of modern gaming. As Ray puts it, “budgets are higher, there are fewer risks available to take. And because the budget is so much higher, there’s a lot of dependencies that have to work.”
Moreover, the industry is witnessing a shift in the dynamics of game releases, where day-one patches and subsequent updates have become the norm, despite potential backlash from the community. While this approach may have worked in the past, the source suggests that this is becoming less tolerable: “It’s less forgivable now. I do feel like with this reception that liberty to be able to keep patching things has to be more careful now.”
In the case of the much-anticipated Starfield, also developed by Bethesda, the pressure is on. As Ray noted, “if you think Starfield is going to come out and be a perfect game requiring no patches, you’re probably wrong. But especially Bethesda, their games come out pretty rough on day one. And so I am pretty sure because Bethesda and the fanbase know that folks are going to overlook a lot of the issues.”
Still, Brandon believe that a shift has occurred with Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda. “Something changed in the water as soon as Microsoft bought Bethesda. There’s like a higher standard now,” suggesting that the tech giant’s involvement has raised expectations for the games produced under its brand.
Microsoft, however, seems to be taking a different approach. According to Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s strategy is more focused on expanding the accessibility of games across various platforms, with Xbox Game Pass serving as a primary vehicle for that strategy. “The folks have chosen their console for the console war. And Microsoft has lost,” Spencer said. “But they are not in that war. They’re trying to bring games to people on many different platforms with Game Pass.”
This strategy, however, doesn’t diminish the high stakes of game launches under Microsoft’s brand. As the industry and its players continue to evolve, the dynamics of game development, distribution, and reception are bound to change. As the release of Redfall demonstrates, there’s a lot at stake. But the broader lesson is about the delicate balance that needs to be struck between creative freedom, financial imperatives, and audience expectations.
This shift towards digital gaming also adds to the complexity. “This is the worst generation because this was a generation of people who moved to digital,” Ray quoting what Phil Spencer said. Digital libraries in different ecosystems make it challenging for gamers to switch platforms, creating another layer of commitment and expectation.
From the bumpy release of Redfall to the high expectations for Starfield, it’s clear that the game development landscape is more complex and high-stakes than ever. As developers and publishers navigate these challenges, the gaming community will be watching closely, ready to pass judgment with their voices and their wallets.
A Deep Dive into the Industry’s Current State and Emerging Trends
“Starfield seems good, but thinking that it will lead to a mass exodus from PlayStation is wishful thinking,” Ray commented, a sentiment that sets the tone for the nuanced discussion that followed. The gaming industry has been witnessing a shift in strategies from major players like Microsoft. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, recently indicated that Microsoft’s strategy is more focused on expanding the accessibility of games across various platforms through services like Xbox Game Pass rather than directly competing at the console level.
In light of these changes, the reaction to new game releases has become a critical barometer for the success of these new strategies. The troubled release of Redfall, for instance, underscored the challenges of meeting high player expectations.
“Starfield seems good, but thinking that it will lead to a mass exodus from PlayStation is wishful thinking
“Redfall’s story is more than just about the game. I felt it was a turning point in tolerance from gamers,” Brandon said. Drawing parallels with the disappointment around EA’s game Anthem, he emphasized that a game’s success depends heavily on meeting or exceeding player expectations, which can be incredibly high for games developed by successful teams.
Interestingly, this discussion on the developers’ role in creating successful games led to a conversation about accountability in the gaming industry. Brandon argued that the responsibility for the success or failure of a game lies ultimately with the developers: “It all goes back to the developers. They know what they’re doing, what they’re putting out there in the world.”
However, this acknowledgment of developers’ responsibility did not overshadow the recognition of the complexities of game development. Ray highlighted the difficulty of turning a game’s prospects around once development has begun, and how the industry has had to resort to trial by fire to figure out who is best suited for the job.
With the increasing shift towards remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the podcast participants also discussed the impact of this trend on the gaming industry. They noted the challenges remote work poses for large creative teams, especially in terms of mentoring and brainstorming, which they argued are irreplaceable aspects of game development.
Reflecting on these changes, Brandon said, “I feel like publishers are a little smarter about what games are in the process of it. Gamers are a bit more pushy and, if anything, more forgiving.”
As the gaming industry continues to navigate these challenges, Brandon and Ray expressed hope for the future. They spoke optimistically about the potential for remote work to reconnect old colleagues and noted how some of the best games have come from teams that have faced trials by fire and stayed together.
The Generative AI Bubble
“Do you know we do AI too, right? Did you know we do generative stuff?” said Ray, mimicking the current buzz in the tech industry. “And it’s like, well, you were slowly thinking about the ethics of it and you’re developing these things. You had a huge team of researchers publishing papers. But now that it’s commercialized, there’s a rush to talk about it.”
Ray raised concerns about the accelerated pace of AI development, fueled by investor interest. He suggested that this rush could potentially lead to a “generative AI bubble,” hinting at the possibility of an overvaluation and subsequent crash in the market. He warned that despite the hype, not all AI startups would survive, and that this rapid commercialization might overlook important ethical considerations in the development of AI technologies.
The pair touched on the evolution of tech trends, from the metaverse to NFTs, and now AI. They highlighted how market dynamics and investor interest often determine these trends, which can lead to overhyped tech bubbles. They also noted that AI, despite being the “new hotness,” has been around for quite some time and is just being rebranded due to renewed financial interest.
Brandon pointed out that while there is a lot of “fool’s gold” in the AI market, there are still some transformative technologies being built by individuals with the right mindset and goals. He stressed the importance of discerning between the hype and the actual value offered by these technologies.
Ray, on the other hand, pointed out the rapid emergence of AI tools in the market, many of which are simply user interfaces placed on top of pre-existing programming tools, often making them appear more impressive than they are. This, he suggested, could be a sign of the bubble they are currently in.
I feel like publishers are a little smarter about what games are in the process of it. Gamers are a bit more pushy and, if anything, more forgiving.”
Despite their concerns about the hype, both Brandon and Ray acknowledged the potential benefits of AI, particularly in enhancing productivity. However, they also cautioned about the potential for AI to replace human creativity and ingenuity.
“Accelerating people’s productivity… I don’t know if it replaces people directly because it lacks the soul and the heart,” said Ray. Noting that while AI can take over many tasks, it cannot replicate the creative spark that artists bring to their work.
Ray emphasized the importance of mastering the fundamentals, whether in programming or art, rather than relying solely on tools like AI. “I think folks that understand the fundamentals in a lot of areas… if you really care about it, then you should learn those things,” he said.
Brandon, while agreeing with Ray, also pointed out the necessity of making products that are fun and sellable. “You have to put something out in the world to get judged,” he said. “If you’re doing something for entertainment… it’s about the end product, right?”
As the conversation wrapped up, the pair emphasized the importance of balance. While AI has its uses and can greatly enhance productivity, it should not be viewed as a replacement for human creativity or a shortcut to success. Both agreed that understanding the fundamentals of one’s craft is still essential, regardless of the technology available.
Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence
AR, despite being currently niche, is expected to become increasingly mainstream. Its integration with the real world rather than isolation from it is what makes AR compelling. Ray noted, “You can’t close somebody off from the real world. You have to integrate into the real world. That’s what makes [AR] more compelling.”
The conversation also addressed the need for a “killer app” to catapult AR into the mainstream. Google’s instant translation lens was cited as an example of such an application, though its impact was muted due to Google’s marketing missteps. There was consensus that Apple could be a company to watch in this area, due to its track record of successfully introducing and marketing innovative technologies.
The speakers then moved on to discuss AI, a subject that draws a wide range of opinions. Some see AI as life-changing and as big as the Internet, while others are more cautious. “I think you have to be somewhere in between… some cautious optimism,” one participant advised. “I see how it can increase productivity and make menial tasks better.”
AI’s impact on creative industries, from game design to music, was a significant part of the discussion. Many creatives are grappling with the implications of AI, with fears of job losses due to automation. Companies like Blizzard have openly announced the use of AI to assist with production, stirring both excitement and concern.
The dialogue also touched on the impact of AI on the music industry, which has been dealing with issues related to AI and copyright since the days of Napster. While there are AI-generated music applications, they were swiftly shut down when they began to sample licensed music.
Brandon and Ray concluded that the best response to these technological advancements is to adapt and learn how to use them as tools. This sentiment is shared by many in the industry, including Elon Musk, who has launched his own AI company.
Despite the varying opinions, one thing is clear: AR and AI are here to stay. They present opportunities and challenges that will continue to shape our future. And as these technologies continue to evolve, so too will our understanding and use of them.