Sumo Digital's Gareth Wilson reckons mature-themed racing titles like Blur, Split Second and Motorstorm are more reliant on new hardware launches than other types of game. Without an Xbox 720 to raise technical thresholds and rejuvenate consumer interest, the genre risks strangulation at the hands of "risk-averse" publishers.
Formerly design manager at Project Gotham Racing studio Bizarre Creations, Wilson is now chief designer on Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Transformed, an IP-littered kart racer that thinks it's a boat sim that thinks it's a plane combat game. Look out for enthusiastic, adjective-splattered thoughts on that presently.
"I guess the games industry is going the same way as every other media," Wilson told us shortly after we went hands-on with the game. "It starts off and it's a bit Wild West and there's lots of ways to make a little bit of money, but as it matures you get these AAA blockbusters and tiny, tiny stuff. If you look at film, you've got people making Youtube stuff and then Clash of the Titans at the other end. It's the same in music.
"IPhone games are like TV and AAA games are Hollywood blockbusters. I think it's the way it's going, but it's hard in the middle. I think publishers are becoming very risk-averse. This game got signed up two years ago and it makes you wonder if it would have been signed up now. I think as a Sonic title it's sure to make its money back, but it is a very tough market.
"I think our game's got more of a future because it'll appeal to kids and families. Parents are desperate to find games that aren't about blowing people up. Then we've got all the retro fans - people emailing us from fanclubs asking us to put things in. Then we pick up some mainstream gamers too."
Underwhelming Blur sales contributed to Bizarre Creations' demise in November 2010. Parent company Activision commented at the time: "Over the past three years since our purchase of Bizarre Creations, the fundamentals of the racing genre have changed significantly. Although we made a substantial investment in creating a new IP, Blur, it did not find a commercial audience."
Wilson thinks the game might have performed better as a downloadable release. "The problem with Blur, Split Second or Motorstorm is they're probably just a bit too niche for the modern market. They'd probably do great as downloadable titles but the market just isn't there any more.
"We need a new console," he went on. "Racing games always do well when a new console comes out, and you do a new physics engine and improved graphics, but towards the end of a console cycle it's always quite hard to push racing games, I think, because if you've DiRT 1 do you need DiRT 3? If you've got PGR3 do you need PGR4? I'm not so sure. It really relies on technology, the racing genre. Maybe more than other genres.
"Moving from PGR2 to PGR3, I remember when we did the PGR3 launch, we invited all you journalist guys and we were playing it. We said, 'and now we're going to an in-car view,' and it was a fully-modeled Ferrari dashboard and there was an intake of breath from all these cynical journalists. That would've been impossible on the previous hardware.
"So with the next hardware we should be able to create features with another level of immersion and quality. We're talking about simulation racers here - this game is a completely different racing experience but even so, there's stuff we can do with this generation that we couldn't before, and with the next we can make everything that bit more awesome. Racing games need that."
Sure you don't want to announce Xbox 720 at E3, Microsoft? We'd sure like to play another Blur. In the meantime, the new Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is shaping up rather nicely.