Size matters – digital distribution refocusing the industry

Size matters – digital distribution refocusing the industry

What we want from video games continues to change. The amount of game we get for our dollar remains important, although more gameplay doesn’t necessarily mean better value. More often than not, I’ve found games feeling increasingly bloated, padded with cut scenes, plot twists and pointless features. Even great games can overstay their welcome.
Over time, the scale of games being made has gotten smaller and more focused, thanks in part to a changing economic climate. The digital distribution of games on consoles has opened the door for smaller developers making smaller games. Take for example Flower from thatgamecompany, an excellent example of how to explore big concepts using minutia as a theme and core mechanic.


Size matters 1 - Hotline Miami is the perfect example of a small scale game harbouring important themes and concepts

Hotline Miami is the perfect example of a small scale game harbouring important themes and concepts.

Smaller scale games can be important too, though until now on consoles, have been unable to enjoy the financial success of large-scale game development backed by marketing campaigns.  But I get it. Games cost money. People want value for their dollar. Think back to a time bookended by a dying PlayStation 2 and a launching PlayStation 3. A game’s worth was judged by its length. Even a good game that took less than five hours to complete was considered a rental, at best. In 2014, a good video game clocking in at five hours is considered ‘good writing’.
Bloated games aren’t necessarily the fault of game developers. They are simply meeting demands. Forums, critics and publishers want better value for their dollar. The result is a hodgepodge of gratuitous features included to tick a back-of-box checklist, often to the detriment of the game. If you lived through a generation of great 3rd person action games burdened by superfluous multiplayer, you’ll know what I mean.
With a new year comes promise, and new development hardware in studios across the globe. We can wonder what a year in review will be like for the PlayStation 4. Sony carefully crafted messages before launch saying the PlayStation 4 would be the friend of small developers, stressing its architecture was user friendly and cost effective.
Small games are the way forward for the PlayStation Vita, finding a second life as portable portal to indie games. Historically, the PlayStation 3 had a lower attachment rate than the PlayStation 2 (meaning consoles owners owned a lower average number of games than the previous generation). Perhaps cost effective, bite-sized games could entice an audience to download and try new games via the PlayStation Network, rather than risking money on a full priced game?


Size matters 2 - Despite its scale, Dota2 continue to demonstrate we have time to commit to games if they command

Despite its scale, Dota2 continue to demonstrate we have time to commit to games if they command.

Of course, the elephant in the room in terms of length and scale is the free-to-play model. New to consoles, free-to-play games illicit video game monogamy. While we may claim we are time poor and want smaller, more focused experiences, there is a reason Dota2 and Minecraft are the success stories of this genre.
As the average age of people buying games increases, their time available to play games decreases. Simply put, we have less time to play games.
With the expansion of PlayStation Network, we want games that can succeed, where their financial success is made possible by their balance of scale and quality. And while it may sound like the obligatory penis joke, it isn’t the size or length; it‘s what you do with it.
– Paul Houlihan
This article first appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine Australia and has been republished with the approval of Citrus Media.