Devs urge caution as publisher deals ebb

Studios could be left waiting as publishers look to maximise efficiency
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Studios could be left waiting as publishers look to maximise efficiency
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A panel of developers have expressed concern as publishers look to trim their portfolios in a post-recession era.

Taking part in this week’s Develop Jury, Assyria Game Studio’s Adam Green predicted there would be further studio closures over the next few months.

“Publishers during the recession didn’t sign a great deal of product,” he said.

“This is leaving a quarter next year where there is a lack of new releases. This is a gap they will be looking to fill, and realistically developers can’t produce retail scale titles in the given time, therefore it is likely that publishers will look to the smaller-scale digitally distributed games to fill this gap; as they can be produced quicker, cheaper and can get to market faster.”

The opinion falls in line with a recent move made by EA to buy social game studio Playfish, in a deal worth at least $300 million. Playfish told Develop that key to the studio’s attraction is how it can release a profitable game far quicker than usual AAA titles.

Green added that many publishers were fairly “cash-strapped” and were looking to minimise risk.

Zoe Mode general manager Ed Daly, meanwhile, was confident that internal developers were past the worst of it.

“But I could imagine more problems for independents, as across the board, publishers seem settled on releasing fewer and fewer titles,” he added, “relying on a few key brands that can developed by the remaining internal teams or by long established external partners.”

A variety of publishers have previously spoken of narrowing their product portfolio, reducing any speculative risks by sticking to key brands and familiar game templates.

Meanwhile, Daly touched on the present risks for Wii and DS developers, as both Nintendo consoles lose their heat in the marketplace.

Cohort Studios CEO Lol Scragg added that the wait between work for indies between projects can be “catastrophic”.

Said Scragg: “A fair few publishers don’t seem to have access to the finances they previously did – or, it has become far more expensive - which has reduced commissioning… that makes for a particularly tough world for indies at the moment.

“For any independent studio, retaining existing customers has to be key, but there will always be some that are simply unlucky and can’t remain viable for a wide range of reasons.”

However, Scragg showed that the industry is coming towards the end of a commissioning lull, with more publishers looking for rapid product turnaround for the Christmas period.

“Maybe there will be a reinvigorated move towards external development as internal costs continue to rocket,” he added. “[That’s] good for independent developers, but bad for those internal guys who have to start looking for jobs as internal studio headcounts are reduced.”

Elsewhere in the Jury – which you can read in full here – Four Door Lemon boss Simon Barratt admitted that times have been tough as one of its publishing partners went under.

“Things do seem to be picking up slightly now and hopefully project funding options will increase as we go through the year,” he added.

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