Tim Willits Part 3 – Games are ‘too hit-driven and it’s getting worse’

In the final part of MCV’s discussion with id Software creative director Tim Willits, we discuss idTech, the hit-driven nature of games and RAGE post-launch support.

In your opinion, is gaming still a hit-driven industry?

Yes, but it can’t be. The big titles will only get bigger, but it’s not sustainable.I think it’s getting worse. The big titles, they’re hits – make no mistake. There are a few titles that do really well and all the other ones struggle. Look at what Call of Duty sells versus what Crysis sells, and Crysis is a good game. There’s millions and millions of copies in difference, and there’s very little between them in the fun value.

What do you think that means for developers and publishers?

It is becoming tougher and tougher, it really is. The games industry is so much more expensive, key talent is much more expensive, it’s risky to develop a new IP and take a gamble. If you take a gamble, you’d better make sure you’re going to hit that home run.

RAGE is the only game in the top ten list in the back end of this year which is a new IP. And the only reason we can have done that is because of Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein. Nobody would care about RAGE if it wasn’t from us! At GamesCom, at this judges’ event, we had Modern Warfare 3 next to Diablo 3, we had RAGE, Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3 and Batman 2. It was almost the row of threes.

What are your plans for idTech this time around?

We’re actually not licensing it anymore, which is so nice, because it’s always such a pain in the bum. It really was. Our engines have powered some huge titles like Half Life, Call of Duty and others, but it was never something that John [Carmack] was really attracted to. We’ve always made more money making games. We never had a tech crew, never had a guy dedicated to external projects and licensing or anything. So yes, all new idTech will be under the Bethesda umbrella.

What do you think will be the biggest change facing gaming as it transitions from a boxed good to an ongoing provided service?

It is tough to do service, because you’ve got to make sure you build your game to support that from the beginning. It just costs so much money to pay people to maintain something you’re not getting revenue back from. In the future, you will see companies focus on the big franchises, and having a big plan from the beginning saying to the consumer ‘This will be your service, this is more than just a boxed game.’

For us, we always try to support our community with patches, Quake levels and John giving away source code and mod support. The business aspect of it has to join in at some point, and we will begin to see economic models that support those types of games. So, we’ll see more games which support those types of models for sure, although I’m not sure what those might be: more microtransactions, more pay-to-play, new content etc. Developers have to take the risk at the beginning.

So for consumers, their risk is that if they support games which are less than AAA, the game’s ‘event’ status might be just a flash in the pan. The guaranteed best user experience gets pushed upwards into more of a RAGE level of game quality.

Yes, and that’s one thing that I have spoken to before, is that people put down their USD$60 investment and their time, and they want you to invest in that game as well. (RAGE is the perfect game for DLC type things. It has so many different tools and areas you can add to mix it up.) But yeah, people do want to see improvements, patches, DLC and developers definitely have to support that. Even initially, to convince people to buy in.

But this shift in the model, you will see more and more of that as games become services. You have to make the choices about how you can integrate that stuff at the beginning of development, when you’re just starting. There will definitely be shifts coming, we just don’t know what they’ll be yet.

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