ROADKILL!! (The doom of indie mmorpg companies)

Dave Rickey: There are a lot of lessons Eve can teach us. But let’s not go off half-cocked and learn the wrong ones. Eve’s business position is so unique, it serves only as an outlier, a boundary point that shows what can happen, when a game has a niche to itself that grows so slowly that it attracts no competitors.

Raph recently put together some predictions about this industry and people nodded their heads in agreement. I have many thoughts about this but it’s not easy to put all of them together in a simple thesis. I’ll throw some of the thoughts here and maybe I’ll find a thread.

The first point to consider is that I find those previsions vague. At some point I could imagine me commenting, “It went exactly the opposite of what you said.” and Raph, “No, it went exactly as I said”. Some of those predictions are plausible (like the online distribution), you could even argue that the scenario he portrays is already here. More like a description than a prediction. But the title says “next-gen”. Next-gen supposes that things will change and this is exactly the apocalyptic scenario that both Lum and Psychochild have perceived. A tone confirmed by Raph himself:

Looking out at the future, what I see is an extinction-level event.

That sounds quite different from a description of the current scenario, it implies some huge paradigm shifts, innovation, revoloutions. Exciting times!

Well, my predictions are much more shocking than that: things will remain almost exactly as you see them now.

If you observe the situation with a huge magnifier then everything you’ll see will also appear huge and exhalted, but the truth is that it all falls in the average “normality”. Raph seems to predict significant changes, in particular he focuses on the extinction of the majority of the large projects for the rise of the indie companies. A plurality of offers, tiny blocks of innovation. The “spring of all the new species”. Even a new growth of the PC gaming market!

My suspect is that Raph wrote that while asleep and dreaming. A pretty, positive scenario that he wishes more than one he expects, I think. Again we could argue that all this is already happening. But where is the prediction? If it’s just a relative point of view the discussion would be pretty much null, what you see as “huge” and “next”, I see as “small” and “current”. Without an objective platform we don’t go anywhere. That scenario is already here or it is an incoming revolution? Because if it’s already here then I don’t see it as “huge”, I see it as “negligible”. Are things really going to change significantly? And for who?

Who will say what is “next-gen” when it will finally arrive? Because my suspect is that everyone will have a different opinion. Everyone will be convinced to be right even if everyone says a different thing.

So let’s focus on the three points I find relevant to discuss, at least:
– The Big Guys will crumble under their own weight
– Smaller, indie companies will flourish everywhere with a plurality of ideas
– Everyone will be happy (the market will grow, there will be more space for individuality and the offer will be richer)

Do you really believe that this is going to happen or you just wish that it is going to happen? My opinion is that things will change only if you go look in detail at every small trend, pretty much as things can already be seen from many different points of view right now. This is why I say that nothing significant is going to happen anytime soon. The genre will mature. Maturity usually brings to specialization more than variety. I don’t think we’ll see a plurality, I think instead that we’ll see a consolidation.

See? Things are already much different and still the same, at the same time. I say there will be a consolidation but this implies that there will be failures, projects going nowhere. This scenario not only is something already happening under everyone’s eyes, but it may even fall in that first point about the Big Guys.

It is going to be extremely hard for medium-sized companies to compete in the mmorpg market. There’s a race for the leadership. The upcoming scenario is an oligarchy. A few, consolidated titles, with dedicated development teams. The great majority of the companies that found their own space won’t have an easy, quiet life. They will have to fight and there will be losses because those smaller spaces will become more desirable when the market will saturate. This isn’t a process of extinction, this is a process of selection and assimilation. It isn’t even a trend specific of this industry. The mass market implies an hegemony. It’s the Borg process of assimilation and transformation. Things that will be rejected will be excluded, but after the process started it doesn’t stop, like the excessive growth of WoW. Beyond the normality. There’s a point where it transforms in a flood, the mass market culture permeates and convinces. Conforms and uniforms.

Who will survive in this scenario? The indie companies or at least the smaller sized ones that won’t fit in the Uber Oligarchy will only survive if they don’t draw any attention. Live of breadcrumbs. When they’ll rise their head and draw the attention they will get assimilated or wiped away. Or a project is too tiny to be relevant, or it will draw attention and it will be eaten alive. This is what happens when you draw attention. The Big Guys and every mass culture trend never live of innovation. Innovation would kill mass culture. They live of assimilation. They slowly recycle what happens around them. In this scenario the indie companies aren’t “next-gen”, they are just food for the dinosaurs.

What is sure is that the dinosaurs will continue to rule this land and decide what happens on a significant level. Maybe the small companies will have the blind illusion of being the center of the world, but they will only exist as long the dinosaurs want, as long they get unnoticed, as long they remain negligible. As long they don’t harm. As long they don’t poke their heads out of their holes.

And in the case they try to do that… ROADKILL!!

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