If you want a sense of how ridiculously high-risk so-called "triple-A" development has become, consider this: Square Enix has branded Tomb Raider a failure off the back of 3.4 million sales (not including sales from digital distribution). According to Stefan Ljungqvist, creative director of Avalanche Studios, ludicrous break-even points will result in fewer big budget blockbusters over the next few years, and that's absolutely fantastic if you're a fan of diversity.
"I don't think big-budget games are going away," he told Gamasutra. "There's going to be less of them. But that's a good thing, because maybe we don't need forty first-person shooters. I don't want to play them all, but maybe we need one, two or three." Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo, perhaps?
Ljungqvist thinks the bigger publishers now comprehend the value of investing in several smaller-scale, more original projects, rather than placing all their money-eggs in one, rickety franchise basket. "What I like now is that there are more opportunities to be creative," he continued.
"Maybe over the course of the past five years, developers have pitched creative or more artistic games, but publishers had been more careful of betting a lot on those games, because they're associated with some risk. But maybe now they can [take more risks] because they need to be more unique in the marketplace."
These sentiments certainly ring true of Activision, which recently confessed that a dependency on Call of Duty and World of Warcraft for profits could "significantly harm" it. At the other end of the ladder, Klei Entertainment's lead designer Nels Anderson thinks that labelling the big boys "risk averse" is rather silly, because "I can't think of a more risky thing than betting 50 million, 100 million dollars on a single game!"
You can explain away slowing sales to some degree as the inevitable effect of a long-lived console generation, but Ljungqvist suspects that there's more to the present stagnation than seasonal change, so to speak.
"You ask, 'What's the future of consoles,' but maybe there's no console anymore," he mused. "This is convergence -- Smart TV, Netflix is on PS3. It's already happening. I don't think we should disregard that 'consoles,' or whatever we call them, as they will be important to living room entertainment. But there is risk. Will the hardware install base grow as fast as the last generation?"
Over to you. Are you expecting more or fewer "big budget" games next gen? What exactly qualifies as "big budget", anyway?