Over at IGN games there is an editorial discussing whether franchises are killing videogames. It is an interesting discussion, the idea that as gaming companies become more conservative and focus on ‘tried and true’ franchises, they stifle creativity.
There’s some measure of truth to that and I do agree that franchises drown out ‘shelf and mind space’ for smaller game company products but it is certainly not true that franchises are bad in and of themselves. Some great games never hit their stride until the second or third, or further installment in the series (Grand Theft, for example). Improving or iterating a franchise can inject a great deal of creativity… look at how Mass Effect 2 has changed from the original, from what I’ve read most people view the changes positively. Basically I don’t think franchise means stagnation. But you have to have the right people at the right company to do it… well right.
And of course the gaming industry always has opportunities. As the heavy-weights (EA, Activision) and such clog traditional gaming device pipes (PC, console), leaner companies and individuals are carving out niches in the mobile industry, specifically the iPhone/iPod/iPad. These smaller companies actually have several advantages over the big publishers… mainly that their labor is cheap. What I mean is that a couple college guys whipping together a fun game are not spending a wad of money to develop it. A big company will have to. (When I was still at BioWare anytime I was doing calculations on profit from a game for the iPhone or other ‘small game’, I always came up with the dreadful realization that as long as I was being paid, the game wouldn’t make money. I simply was making too much for me to be profitable on a small team. My genius (sarcasm) wasn’t going to compensate for my wage).
What independents lack is advertising budget but with twitter, facebook and other social networks becoming more and more pervasive (and more of them popping up, i.e, Empire Avenue) game recommendations can make a lowly independent iTunes app into a success. A smaller company, making something unique, will, in my opinion, have a great probability of relative profit than the big giants… the only way these companies can compete is to outsource the material, or lay off entrenched and highly paid staff and replace them with newbies who are paid with peanuts and swag.