The games industry's obsession with $100 million games that retail for $60 is seriously harming it, according to Saints Row 4's senior producer Jim Boone - one of the survivors of this console generation's most infamous bankruptcy, the collapse of THQ.
Speaking to us as part of a wide-ranging chat about the latter's final months, published in the current issue of OXM, Boone added his voice to claims that mainstream console games cost too much to produce, and are thus priced beyond what many will pay.
The sheer fact of a titanic publisher investment won't persuade consumers to shell out, he told us. "We're all hardcore gamers at Volition, and at the end of the day I don't care how much a developer spent on a game - it doesn't matter to me. Its $60 of my money either way, so I don't care if he only spent $80 million versus $200 million. What's the best game - that's what's going to get my money.
"But that makes it really tough, because in my opinion gamers buy fewer games because of these $60 price points," Boone went on. "If I'm going to buy six games a year then I'm probably just going to buy six of those $200 million games and call it a day - I don't have to worry about anything else."
This in turn obliges the developers of those games to be more conservative. "You can't really innovate much any more, because the games are so expensive publishers don't want you to take chances. That means you've got to do the best you possibly can and spend a ton of money or you're going to do things that possibly won't be the best they can be, in which case people won't buy it and they'll just go buy the game that did cost all that money."
Boone is hopeful that the situation may change, however, as the new consoles and their fancy digital distribution strategies bed in. "But now with all these different sorts of platforms - even with next gen now - I'm hopeful that this means they can come up with different price points. It's certainly the implication from what we're hearing from Microsoft and Sony - that there's more ways to distribute games and more ways to price games."
Should publishers fail to rise to the opportunity, Boone predicts that more companies will go the way of THQ. "I just feel like if we keep going down this path of having to spend couple $100 million per project - man, there's quite a few publishers and developers that are going to go out of business."
Speaking to OXM last October, Klei Entertainment's Nels Anderson offered a similarly downbeat take on the fortunes of the larger companies. "People say large publishers are very risk-averse, but I can't think of a more risky thing than betting 50 million, 100 million dollars on a single game!" he told us. "If I was a betting person I'd much rather spread that money out amongst ten different games rather than put everything on black 18 and hope it comes up."
I also queried the creators of Bioshock Infinite and Aliens: Colonial Marines on the subject this January. Irrational's Shawn Elliot had this to add:
"Where games are at now - the big budget games - you have the potential to be extraordinarily and unpredictably successful. But the risk, the bet you're taking is that you can also fail utterly. It's like playing at an extremely high stakes table, where the stakes are bigger than anyone knows - the stakes as far as the losing are known because it's as much as you've put in to it, but the stakes are far as success is concerned are far less of a known quantity."
Any thoughts? Don't miss the full chat with Boone - he had plenty to share about both the "triple-A" game's future and the inner workings of THQ's downfall.