What will all-digital gaming mean for developers, especially indies?
The great thing about editorials is that they inspire people — you and me alike — to think about how we feel about the way things “should” be going forward. Over the past two weekends, I’ve published discussions of the future of digital downloads on consoles, generating a great dialogue with readers in the process. This weekend, I’m responding to reader A.M., who posed a series of interesting questions on the all-digital future of games. He writes:
I read your piece on VentureBeat titled “going all digital” and totally agree with your points but I have a question to ask you. (Hard one which I am asking myself)Once all platforms have gone digital and games become platform agnostic, what happens to all these developers who switch platforms in order to gain attention because of overpopulated platforms? (If mobile is overpopulated, imagine all platforms coming together)We see that devs switched from PC to Smartphones and back last year. What happens to them once all platforms merge?Will we see a huge loss of jobs in the gaming industry? Will big publishers become even stronger than presently because of direct access to the aggregate number of game consumers in one click?(platform agnostic games coupled with cloud streaming technology)Will the market be split by marketplaces or publishers? Will the publishers owning digital stores (example Valve) become untouchable or will it be the companies such as Sony, Microsoft and Razer who will redirect their energy and capabilities from their hardware operations to focus on cloud technology (started) and digital distribution (started) who will take the prize? (Who wins this race in your opinion)All revolutions pass by three stages: ridiculous, dangerous and evident. I am afraid that I am in the “dangerous” state of mind when thinking of the future of gaming related to indie devs. I am sure something will come up which will actually make it better for indies to compete. I would be interested to hear of your view.I hope you find this subject of interest and I will be looking forward to your answer if an answer ever comes my way.
But as is always the case, unfettered growth will lead to a period of contraction. There is no way for the market to sustain Steam’s 7,600 annual games. Statista says that the iOS App Store had over 783,000 games as of last year, while only the top 25 percent of iOS developers make over $5,000 per month — a number that’s not enough to support two full-time employees. At some point, a 75 percent chance of not actually making enough money to live is going to thin the herd of developers.
- What happens to developers who switch platforms to gain attention? More likely than not, this isn’t going to be a viable long-term strategy, but people will keep trying it. If there’s a new platform (say, Switch) that has some unusually high sales, developers will test the waters — and perhaps get marketing support from the platform’s needier owners.
- Will we see a huge loss of jobs in the gaming industry? Will big publishers become even stronger? I think big publishers will become “safer” employers for developers who have talent but neither the money nor the spark to hit it big on their own. As the insane size of modern triple-A game development teams illustrates, there will be plenty of big studio opportunities for good people. They will also be hiring people to keep working on games they launch as services. And big publishers will have superior marketing resources to actually sell games.
- Will the market be split by marketplaces or publishers? If I had to choose one, I’d bet on marketplaces versus publishers, only because the marketplace can offer a wider variety of software and doesn’t have to front any money itself for development. But both can succeed — if the publisher makes good investments.
- Will the publishers owning digital stores become untouchable or will it be hardware companies that redirect their attention to digital sales and cloud streaming? Owning any form of digital store that earns commissions from selling third-party software is nearly a license to print money. Selling self-developed software depends on the publisher’s internal quality. Cloud streaming is going to be an expensive, challenging business, but we’re going to see a bunch of new companies try to get into it over the next few years. Because of real-world latency and bandwidth issues, I’d bet on digital downloads to win this battle for the foreseeable future.