For decades, the decision makers in video games have put their focus on the console business. PC games have ebbed and flowed over time, but the console cash cow has remained the place to be for what's known in the industry as "AAA" game franchises—Assassin's Creed, Grand Theft Auto and Need for Speed.
But that's changing. The rise of mobile gaming and the proliferation of free-to-play games on PC, mobile, and consoles has ushered in a transition that could very well spell the death knell for the traditional oversized box that sits beneath your HD TV. And that means new opportunities for game developers and gamers alike.
Improved tools for mobile game makers
Andy Hess spent seven years at Apple overseeing the relationships between game makers and the App Store where he saw developers under pressure to create traditional console experiences while also keeping an eye on the mobile market. "They know they need to extend their franchises into the mobile space so they can retain engagement with their customers," said Hess, now managing mobile and independent games for Epic Games. "That's been hard to do until recently because the tools that they use to build content on consoles to engage people in a very emotional way simply didn't scale for mobile. And the mobile devices, until recently, didn't really have the power to run console-quality experiences."
What changed? Credit the introduction of Unreal Engine 4 technology—now available for a $19 monthly subscription for anyone to access. (Those who want to sell games using the technology pay Epic a 5 percent royalty; those who want to just play with it pay nothing but the subscription.) Prior to March, developers and publishers would pay Epic millions of dollars for this same technology. This new model gives small teams and start-ups powerful tools to quickly and efficiently bring their ideas to fruition.
Game development has changed drastically. Just last year, many publishers would spend $30 million or more on a single team to focus on games for consoles and then hire a separate team with a much smaller budget of around $1 million to create a lower-tiered mobile experience. And there was no synergy between these two teams.
"Now game engine technology has emerged to take advantage of all these platforms, allowing the exact same assets to be used across PC, console, and mobile devices while still achieving a visual target that would be indistinguishable to the layman," Hess said. "What we're already seeing is more advanced mobile experiences designed for greater engagement over more hours that differentiates itself from the flood of game content developed by small teams."
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