"The middle class game is dead," former Epic Games man Cliff Bleszinski observed back in March 2011, referring to the way under-funded, relatively generic retail titles from mid-tier publishers have lost ground to more adventurous, low-cost indie efforts, released on digital stores.
Now, Microsoft Studios corporate vice-president Phil Spencer has suggested that there's light at the end of the tunnel: digital publishing platforms have given smaller publishers a shot in the arm, too. Moreover, the growth of digital distribution on consoles means that they're able to offer a more diverse, ambitious array of titles, while continuing to serve up game types that are no longer practical on PC.
"I think a real saviour for us has been the advent of the digital stores, whether it's PSN or Xbox Live Arcade," he commented in a chat you'll find in our latest issue. "What it's meant is that studios don't have to look at retail as the only way that they can sell their content.
"I think five to six years ago, there was a real concern that we were going to lose those mid-tier games because they maybe weren't games that could scale up to compete with Halo, Call of Duty, or GTA, and there was no other avenue for those games to actually find consumers.
"A couple things have happened: you've seen the advent of [Apple's] App Store, Android, and large-scale devices where a lot of those developers have gone, and there's been some great games created for those devices."
Microsoft has rebooted and streamlined its Xbox Live publishing policies to suit the changing times. There are now fewer checks and fees when it comes to submitting and updating digital games, and the manufacturer has launched a full-blown self-publishing program, ID@Xbox, the first fruits of which are expected this spring. Here's a chat with program director Chris Charla.
"The indie program that we're running - Sony's obviously running an indie program - we're opening up the stores more on console, and the nice thing is, I think consoles will now start to feel more like the other devices in terms of the breadth of content," Spencer went on.
"A unique capability on consoles is to play a game like Ryse; there may have some of that on PC, but most of the PC games are service based, just because the retail market for PC games is a real challenge: to sell a single-player offline game.
"There's some things that have been successful, like Diablo, but it's more challenging. I think console can actually manage on both ends of the spectrum, we can put beautiful, long triple-A content on-screen -- it's a unique place for that content - but also embrace the breadth of content that comes from smaller studios and us as publishers, we just have to be aware that both ends of the spectrum are important and can be successful."
Agree or disagree? Let us know. In other news, Spencer thinks that Sony has done "a nice job" with the PS4, and that Nintendo's IP catalogue is "amazing". I love the smell of mutual admiration in the morning.
You may also be interested in our chat with Microsoft's other Big Phil, Mr Harrison of Sony Worldwide Studios fame. Here's what he had to say about Xbox One's first-party game projects in the UK.