Red 5 Studios CEO and Firefall creator Mark Kern has been in and around the gaming industry for a while. Best known for his time spent at Blizzard, over the years Kern has watched the industry evolve from what was considered to be a kid’s hobby to a mainstream pastime with a culture of its own. Video games have become a big business, though as Kern notes, it’s not always for the better.
“You’re either an indie game or you’re a massive AAA, IP-backed sequel with derivative gameplay that’s rehashed over and over again,” he told Eurogamer. “It’s the only safe bet you can make when you’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars. The failure is that there’s no middle ground.”
“The other troubling symptom is this wave of lay-offs we have after every product launches,” Kern continued. “People say ‘Oh, that’s normal, Hollywood does it all the time.’ Well, it’s not normal. It’s a symptom of your business being broken.”
“I think the model is broken,” he lamented. “You keep making these bigger and bigger bets and what that forces you to do is play it safer and safer. And if you play it safer and safer with your gameplay, people will get tired of the crap you’re serving.”
Kern also thinks that the traditional publisher-led model that supports today’s home consoles is dying. “The model is transitioning away from these big boxed games where you’re pouring hundreds of
millions of dollars into a title,” Kern claimed. “They don’t need the distributor to succeed, so a lot more money goes into the game rather than to marketing and you get to grow organically with your players.”
So something has to change. Consoles, I believe, are dead.
But he’s not all gloom and doom. Kern believes that that Mobile and PC platforms are the future of the industry, giving developers the ability to grow their audience while simultaneously keeping prices
low. Something that today’s big developers seem oblivious to. “Isn’t it ridiculous that you can buy these fantastic games on iPad, but then you get a publisher like Square Enix charging an astronomical price for an old game port?” he asked. “They don’t get that we have to lower the barrier for entry.”
Not that that’s completely their fault, he admits. “I’ll go out and say it,” Kern began, “Even if the heads of these big organizations do get it – which is questionable to begin with – being able to turn on a dime when everybody’s salaries and bonuses are vested in the old business models is a very difficult thing to do.”
And Kern thinks that the big publishers don’t have much more time left, especially if they continue down the same path that they’ve been on for years. “I think they’re at severe risk right now of being trumped by Apple, by Google, by Facebook,” he said. “Look at Riot Games and League of Legends. They have more users than World of Warcraft does. That’s crazy. And they don’t have a publisher.”
Who needs publishers any more? I certainly don’t. I couldn’t care less about them at this stage.