As we approach E3 we are hearing speculation that many of the competitive shooters from AAA studios may be planning to add a Battle Royale mode to their titles. In the wake of Fortnite and PUBG reaching these levels of success it makes sense to attempt to get a piece of this pie. However, I think AAA couldn’t be more wrong in trying this.This seems to be a trending failure with AAA investors; trying to predict financial success from a competitive title or using a system from outside the game industry to justify the budget for a current one. Click To Tweet
If we roll back to the movement of titles that have reached world success like Fortnite we seem to see a pattern; they were made from the AAA titles or companies by fans or enthusiasts (DOTA 2, League of Legends, Counter Strike). In other words they did not have a corporate structure to what made them, they were made because they were fun. They were made by fans for fans.
This seems to be a trending failure with AAA investors; trying to predict financial success from a competitive title or using a system from outside the game industry to justify the budget for a current one. The failure here is not that it is justified, the failure is trying to make sense of the justification. Let’s take a minute and try to explain the MOBA genre; we take the RTS (Real Time Strategy) genre and take out all the units that we use to build the games progression and replace them with a single character. These units now become NPC’s which, when killed, help power up that single character to fight other ones. The entire foundation of the RTS genre is changed here, justifying a total shift of this genre is difficult to put on paper.The failure here is not that it is justified, the failure is trying to make sense of the justification. Click To Tweet
The same goes for Fortnite. Fortnite, as we know, was originally a survival based game. In the wake of PUBG the team thought that trying a Battle Royale mode in their game might be a fun idea. Try to explain that to stakeholders; “We are going to take out the entire enemy wave survival mode but keep the building mechanic”. You can imagine the question marks and frowns forming on the faces of suits. But Fortnite was about getting creative by making tools for the player and how they use those tools is up to them. Another example is Minecraft. It is called by some as “Lego: The Game”. Essentially it is. Originally Minecraft was survival based. You build a fort to protect your character from Creeps in the night. Over time people thought that it was a good idea to just build things, whatever they wanted, however they wanted. This became the core of Minecraft.They failed because trying to logically justify the success of a title like Minecraft or Fortnite cannot be done with only statistics and forecasting Click To Tweet
Now we have seen these said tools tried in a fashion before in a corporate structure, both leading to abysmal failure. But there is also something we can observe. Microsoft came up with Project Spark. The theory was similar on paper. Give the player a bunch of tools and see what cool ideas they come up with. The same goes for Disney’s Infinity Toy Box mode; build your own worlds and play in them. Both Spark and Infinity no longer exist. It wasn’t because they didn’t follow the rules. They most certainly did on paper. It looked sound. Good enough for stakeholders to look at the proposal and give a team a large budget to make a game. So why did these titles fail? They failed because trying to logically justify the success of a title like Minecraft or Fortnite cannot be done with only statistics and forecasting. There is a ton of failure involved, and that failure means a large amount of money to be spent with no guarantee of success. That is where the issue lies.
Trying to explain Super Mario Bros. to someone who has never seen or heard of the game before makes someone sound like they are insane; a plumber jumping on turtles while being powered up with mushrooms and flowers to defeat them. However this game remains a landmark title for developers and players alike. If Activision or EA tries to build a Battle Royale system in their Call of Duty or Battlefield the reaction would be mediocre. It is clear that both franchises are being threatened by Fortnite and PUBG, but building towards those games by looking at numbers and statistics is not the single solution. Time must be given for failure, and time costs money. It is very hard to find a space in AAA development for this.Time must be given for failure, and time costs money. It is very hard to find a space in AAA development for this. Click To Tweet
It is not to say that this is impossible for AAA to do so. Call of Duty Zombies was created by a small group at Treyarch as an experiment during crunch time on World at War. It was never part of the development cycle, it was not approved and marketing did not want to touch it. It had nothing to do with Call of Duty, but it was fun! Now you cannot have Call of Duty without Zombies in it. In other words Treyarch took a risk and it paid off.
Taking risks is part of forging new genres and great games. We all know this. However taking risks by following a plan or book that was built on a game development system is only useful in securing the funding for the project. The actual development time and process for the team needs a less corporate approach. Build a system that allows the team to experiment and fail, and fail a lot. Let them try the most outlandish things without having to justify it on paper or in a meeting with a pitch, just start making cool ideas and see what sticks. It’s why we are in games in the first place. We are here to do new and awesome things, not what everyone else is doing. If we did, then we can always try another career. In this career we should be taking risks. Huge ones.