I wrote previously that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 broke 1 million sales in a months time, an accomplishment for the series. Soon after, it came out that the game was made with only about 40 percent of the entire team as other members worked on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Naturally, discussion ensued of how the game would be different, better if the entire team worked on the title. Whenever news of development woes comes out, fans dream of what the game could have been. However, having a bigger budget or more time does not always make a better game. Often, direct investment doesn’t always equal success. The industry thrives on the spastic creation of truffles.
Truffles are a fungus that mankind has not been able to reliably farm. There are ways to improve the chances of a truffle, but there is no way to guarantee a truffle. Video games are a lot like the truffles as what makes a game a success may not be obvious. Sure, a bigger budget and more time can do more good than harm, but in no way does it create a breakout hit. Often, some of the most successful titles were produced under less than satisfactory conditions. Conversely, the landfill of the gaming industry is full of titles with almost limitless budgets.
Even within the last generation or two, we have seen numerous truffles created out of nowhere. Minecraft is a block game that was created by one guy with simplistic 3D models. The game became a massive success and made its creator a billionaire. Player Unknown’s Battle Ground was another game made by a small team that has become one of the biggest successes of 2017. None of these games were created in an “ideal” environment. Instead, the creators had to deal with limited time and resources; however, their limitations did not hinder the success of these titles.
Therefore, in order to be successful in the game industry, companies need to constantly cultivate new truffles. Companies must find new and interesting concepts that will capture the market’s attention. However, the AAA publishers often ignore this fact instead insisting on living on the truffles of the past. Activision Blizzard is one of the best examples. The company is keen on finding potential success, but they often drive them into the ground due to overuse. In fact, all the big publishers are relying on games that were made in the 8th generation. Look at the major successes of Generation 8: Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and Destiny were all created in Generation 7, yet these companies have not produced any new titles to really hook the market.
The issue will be Generation 9. Sony and Microsoft depend on third parties to drive the install base. When the new systems come out, will consumers want to buy these expensive machines to play the same games they played in Generation 7 and 8? In the PC space, consumers have a plethora of choice and can just avoid the AAA games entirely. In fact, some of the biggest truffles have come out of PC gaming where consumers have more choice already.
Moreover, as EA and Activation focusing on microtransactions, will consumers risk putting up with these titles in the long run? Additionally, Microtransaction are somewhat of a curse as these publishers are more focused on running dry their successful series to get some short-term profiles all while not attempting to produce new truffles. This practice distracts them from their prime directive: make hit titles.
Time and time again, the path to success in the industry is to make truffle: great games that capture the market’s attention. Perhaps then, this is why budget and time alone don’t always create a hit title. I started this article talking about Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Now, Xenoblade is nowhere near the success of Minecraft of PUBG (and likely never will be), but from its initial sales and consumer reaction, it will likely go down as a cult classic for the system.
There a lot of conditions and factors that produce these truffles, and, sadly, the conditions needed aren’t replicatable. Nevertheless, if you want to succeed in this industry, you need to cultivate the kinds of titles that will be truffles and make the company millions. This may be a lesson that publishers will have to relearn in the future.