The Beginning of the End

Matthew Razak over at That Video Game Blog revealed in a post today that the new episodic game Penny Arcade Adventures has set a record for being the highest grossing debut of an Xbox Live Arcade game. The article says:

It must be good to be the PA guys. Not only are they basically nerd gods, read by millions, funny and the originators of one of the most popular gaming conventions out there but now they’re also the creators of the highest grossing debut in Xbox LIVE Arcade history with their new episodic game Penny Arcade Adventures. The game has made a massive $330,000 over three days, obliterating Worms HD’s previous hold on the spot by $50,000. Yup, it is pretty good to be Gabe and Tycho.

“Massive” might be overstating it, $330,000 over three days translates to 16,500 downloads – and it remains to be seen how long those initial download rates will hold – but two things are clear: download game content of an episodic nature IS viable and XBLA as a distribution platform for this sort of content IS gaining traction. Is this the beginning of the end for the traditional game development model?

Grimm Musicians

Grimm Musicians

Razak goes on to say:

It’s also good to be XBL Arcade. Not only did this game prove that people are willing to pay a bit more for bigger games, it also marked the arrival of said bigger games with Penny Arcade Adventures being the first game to exceed the 150 MB limit. This is also the first outrageously successful episodic content to be released on XBLA and if the second chapter, which I’m sure is now being pushed forward with even more gusto, is just as successful, hopefully we’ll be seeing more game designers jumping on board with the method.

I think the “hope” that game designers will jump on board is a valid one. But the issue isn’t game designers. Of course they want more platforms and models to push their ideas upon. The obstacle in my opinion is the publishing environment. With the exception of a few specialized (Gametap being one) publishers, the concept of digitally distributed small-to-medium scale game content is still regarded with suspicion – even hostility – by the publishing establishment. This resistance is of interest to me – and I think it should be of interest to game makers and gamers as well.

In many ways digital distribution of game content threatens to destroy the current box product based financier-publisher-distribution model. It renders useless the mechanisms of marketing, packaging, distribution, and perhaps most importantly – financing. Ultimately, it means freedom for content creators and consumers – but a “captured market” is suddenly lost for retailers, publishers, and marketers. This same thing happened to music, almost overnight.

At the same time I recognize the “threat” – that big publishers aren’t fully embracing smaller budget, faster scheduled, inexpensively distributed episodic download game content is a bit of a mystery. There’s always opportunity in change. It seems that the ideal “game producer” (I mean producer in the Hollywood sense) would model itself after a company like Jerry Bruckheimer Films – bridging the gap between commercial, TV, film, and more (btw, I’m not saying they always produce good content, just that their wider format model is something to be envied.)

The market of the future there will always have a place for $100mm Grand Theft Auto 4 type “blockbuster games” – and in fact, it might turn out that publishers ONLY want to make big budget blockbusters, the same way Hollywood would prefer to make a $100mm movie over a $20mm one. The format is big – the gamble is big – and the reward is big. This has been the logical progression over the last decade. But a gap is left – a space filled by commercial/TV/mini-series content in the “linear world” – and one that can (perhaps should?) be filled by casual/episodic/downloadable content in the interactive world.

Like Penny Arcade Adventures, Grimm is an experiment in this new model. It gives me hope that PAA has done so well – it means there’s a mechanism and an audience – supplying good content is what’s remaining to prove the model.

We think Grimm is great content. I hope you will too.

One response to “The Beginning of the End”

  1. I’ve been following your blog for a while now, mainly because I’m looking forward to playing Grimm, but also because I’m fascinated by the opportunities that downloadable, episodic content seem to offer.

    I don’t make games, but I do make animation, and I have been trying to interest UK investors in online dlc – with limited success. The ones I am talking to just don’t seem that interested in abandoning their traditional (and ailing) broadcast model. Maybe it’s down to my product, but I suspect that it’s going to take the likes of PA, and hopefully Grimm, to prove to investers that the model has legs. Obviously games and narrative animation have inherent differences, but I look on your project with interest, hope and admiration.

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