Braben: “The $50m game is not dead, but perhaps it is taking a nap”

By Stace Harman, Monday, 11 April 2011 11:58 GMT

In his latest Develop magazine column, industry luminary David Braben has questioned whether or not the $50m blockbuster is still a viable proposition, concluding that triple-A development may be “taking a nap”.

The Frontier boss conceded we’re unlikely to see the death big budget blockbusters that beget the fervour of midnight launches and product endorsement, but said a rethinking of how such games are marketed and distributed might be necessary to avoid costly mistakes and further studio closures.

“The $50m game is not dead, but perhaps it is taking a nap. Roll on online,” he said.

With Park Associates predicting that the social gaming scene will be worth $5 billion by 2015 the super-game may be becoming less popular with publishers.

If you take a look at the numbers involved and it’s not difficult to see why.

“With a typical $50m shrink-wrapped ‘core gamer’ title, perhaps $20m is spent on development, $15m on marketing and $15m on cost goods, and this doesn’t include the large overhead of many publishers,” explained Braben.

“All this before a single penny is earned back.”

Whilst many will scoff to think that the udders of a cash cow franchise such as Call of Duty might ever dry up, there is a real danger of the law of diminishing returns kicking in if gamers feel the formula is growing stale.

Braben feels that, with pre-owned sales cannibalising new sales within weeks of release, changes in the retail model brought about by digital distribution will ease some of the pressure, but advised in his piece that looking at alternative revenue streams such as product placement and advertising will become more important.

“Games are better suited for product placement and advertising than film,” he said. “In games it can be done regionally and contemporaneously as the graphics are rendered on-the-fly.”

Braben remained upbeat about the future, but it’s clear he feels something has to change.

“We have an opportunity to shape expectations for big budget games online. Yes, retailers are prematurely killing off shrink-wrapped games by gouging most of the revenue, but ‘shelf space’ is much less of an issue online, so the long tail becomes more viable,” he said.

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