Will new consoles shake off malaise?

by Shane Dillon

IN A break from games reviews, following the onslaught of triple-A titles recently (news that my eyes and wallet are doubtless grateful to hear), comments by an influential gaming figure caught my eye and are, indeed, useful in showing the state of uncertainty found throughout much  of the games industry at present.

As a key figure within top games company BioWare, Dr Greg Zeschuk was one of this current generation of consoles’ leading lights, in terms of not just creating games but also in terms of providing insight into gaming in general, as it matures as a cross-generational activity.

However, although he (and fellow BioWare founder, Dr Ray Muzkya) left the company last September, and retired from gaming, Dr Zeschuk has continued to offer occasional thoughts on what seems next for gaming, and what future developments might hold.

In this case, his thoughts on where the industry is going next caught my attention and, presumably, the attention of lots of people in the industry.

As to his credentials, under Dr Zeschuk and Dr Muzkya, Bioware nurtured its reputation as a studio with a great interest in story, script and characters – qualities that tend not to be focused on as much as, say, sheer processing power, or grunt under the hood of a gaming platform.

Speaking to GamesIndustry International, he said: “Everyone’s kind of holding out hope for the new consoles, but I honestly don’t think they’re going to be that big a deal.

“I worry a lot that unless Microsoft or Sony pull something magically out of a hat, it’s pretty much the same old, same old repackaged and I don’t think they’re going to change the dynamic of the retail market.

“The console core sales are slowing significantly – you can’t get around that fact.”

Impact

While, of course, such words are the opinion of an individual, rather than, say, the conclusion of an industry-wide study or government paper, they still raise the spectre that nothing is set in stone – that although extremely powerful consoles are on the horizon, nobody’s quite sure just what impact they’ll have, or how soon they can turn around the malaise that’s crept into gaming in the past five years.

For example, as recently reported here, and elsewhere, even triple-A titles can’t guarantee a smash hit at retail any more, with the criticically-praised Tomb Raider pulling in decent sales rather than having spectacular success.

A dozen other heavily promoted games with high expectations – and disappointing returns – could also be listed there, with the same common theme of the certainty that once surrounded the elite” top tier of games being a sure-fire sales (and financial) success no longer existing.

With the next wave of consoles set to have pretty spectacular gaming capabilities – for the studios that can unlock them – it’s still a cause for concern that, a few curios aside, there doesn’t yet seem to be anything particularly innovative in the pipeline in terms of, y’know, the games.

Perhaps it’s this kind of concern that saw Dr Zeschuk apparently underwhelmed by where the industry is heading, despite the shiny appeal of the incoming consoles.

However, one year or so from now, Dr Zeschuk and all of us should have a much clearer idea of what’s changed.

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