Despite the size of the video game market - it outpaced Hollywood for the first time in 2008, then posted an estimated $57 billion in worldwide revenues in 2009 - there are only a few game companies that are actually making a regular profit, usually only a few titles that cover the cost of all their other flops. More than 80 per cent of games lose money.
One of the tricks to making a regular profit is to franchise every popular game by following up with endless sequels and spin-offs and cashing in on name recognition and a familiar gameplay mechanic. But it only works for a little while and there is a risk that you could taint the franchise with one bad title.
In the same way recreational athletes can be forgiven for not going out and purchasing the latest gear every single year, plopping down $65 year after year for slightly better graphics, a few extra features and updated team rosters is prohibitive.
All this underlies the fact that the game industry, despite the revenues, is in trouble in a lot of ways. There are too many companies pumping out too many titles for too many consoles. Releases are too close together. The economy has limited how many games people can purchase. The opinions of critics - many of them jaded - carry a lot of weight with consumers. The audience is too diverse to please and development costs are through the roof.
As a result the industry churns out the same games over and over to sometimes diminishing returns.
In reply, two recent articles on video games sum up the issue pretty succinctly:
Item One is a column by comedian Michael Drucker on GameSpy.com, titled "Dear Videogame Industry, Please Stop Making Videogames for a Year." Among other things, Drucker complains that there are just too many "amazing titles worth playing to completion."
He has a point: movie studios are savvy enough not to release every single summer blockbuster on the same weekend, spacing them out so people aren't overwhelmed and their movies aren't in direct competition with other blockbusters. They do that despite the fact that movies are two to three hours in length and cost about $12 to see. By way of comparison it takes 30 or more hours to play a video game to completion and most new titles are between $65 and $70. As a result, the spacing between blockbuster games should be a little wider, but instead we are seeing four or five top tier titles every few weeks.
"Videogame Industry, you're literally releasing too many good games," complains Drucker, attaching a list of 46 games he's currently playing but hasn't had time to complete. He's literally paralyzed by having too many choices.