Levine on the demise of triple-A: "don't mistake the present for the future"

Developers should be wary of social gaming "gold rush"

Irrational Games head and Bioshock Infinite designer Ken Levine has warned triple-A developers against switching over to social games for the sake of it, arguing that "leveraging your brands" and delivering "really high quality experiences" is the safer long-term strategy.

"I think that there's always this goldrush mentality in the media space," Levine told us in issue 81, "and I was talking to a friend of mine who's in the social games space and he's definitely beating the drum of 'well, Ken, the big Triple-A games space is in danger of becoming a dinosaur and the social gaming space is where it's at'.

Bioshock Infinite is one the few big upcoming games that doesn't have multiplayer or social networking tie-ins.

And I said: 'Look, it's valid to think about the future and worry about the space of Triple-A games, that sort of thing is obviously something you have to think about carefully.' But I think it's about making really high quality experiences, focusing on really high quality experiences if you want to be in that space, but what I said to him is 'don't mistake the present for the future'."

Elsewhere in the interview, Levine claimed that expectations for $60 games had risen, and that the collapse of triple-A gaming isn't "impossible" if developers don't consistently deliver "something really special".

Budget-priced, cheaply produced mobile and browser games offer a temporary reprieve at best, he suggested; consumer demand for quality and, hence, developer expense will intensify as the sector continues to prosper.

"What's happening today is not necessarily the trend for tomorrow, and I think the biggest challenge facing social and mobile games is exactly what you're saying - that as expectations rise in that space, the cost of development rises and those [low] price points potentially would become unsustainable.

"I think you saw some of this on the Wii. You had this huge glut of people going for this goldrush and a lot of people wound up losing their shirts on that, because by the time it's a goldrush, the gold's gone for the most part. That's a truism in life.

"And it's the people who recognise this incredibly early and get in and get a foothold that really establish themselves, and use each of their successes to leverage other successes. And that sort of narrows out the opportunities for other people, because they were among the first prospectors down there in the river panning.

"Angry Birds? If they're smart, they'll leverage it. Rovio can leverage that and are entitled to build other brands. Especially with a potentially shallow-ish brand where it has the potential to run out of steam, you have to leverage that to grow other opportunities for yourself."

Last November, Epic's Cliff Bleszinski told OXM that the triple-A game might be "going away". Publishers need to be more selective, he insisted; "we need not only to be creative but also to be surgical in terms of the games we make."

For Levine's thoughts in full on Bioshock and the industry, pick up issue 81 - you can order a copy online with free delivery, find it on Apple Newsstand or download it from Zinio.