Develop:Rain on Rein

13 07 2006

Epic Games VP talks tough on new distribution model
Epic Games vice president Mark Rein shocked delegates at the Develop Conference in Brighton today when he declared that episodic development models made little sense, saying he thought the concept was a “broken business model”.
During his keynote address entitled “Avoiding the pitfalls of the next generation” Rein – whose company develops the Unreal Engine 3 technology popular with next-gen developers – said that he’d heard plenty said about episodic content but very little that actually made sense.
“Customers are supposed to buy half a game… then wait six months for an episode?” he asked rhetorically.
“When I put a game down, I want to try a new one,” he said, before going on to claim that episodic games would “inevitably” recycle content, implying that gamers will be bored as a result.
He also felt that episodic games would fail at retail because “you can’t buy retail marketing with a wholesale price of $15” and “distribution without marketing is worthless”.
Rein’s controversial views are seemingly at odds with a lot of his fellow PC developers, including Valve whose Steam model is considered very successful, and his views prompted howls of derision from a number of delegates.



One response

18 07 2006

OK, well, I think Mark has a valid point. At the $20 price point, that does not leave much left over for marketing costs, so how can publishers afford to sell what amounts to expansion packs over and over? Are they relying on the fact that the games are expansions to well-known franchises? And if so, is that really enough? Or is Valve making up for it through their Steam distribution which is better for the “long tail” anyway and also almost pure profit for each unit sold.

Will we continue to see HL and SiN episodes in retail stores? Can they afford to keep marketing it? And what about episodic games that don’t have the pedigree of Half Life 2, or for that matter even SiN? What about the brand new IP games that don’t already have an established fan base? What about development of new game engines? Can an episodic game pay for development of something like the Doom3 engine or the latest Unreal engine?

And I think it’s too early to call Steam a “success” So far Steam has yet to stand on its own two feet without the props of additional retail distribution for most of its titles. My guess is that Steam is profitable and a decent amount of Valve’s profits are coming from Steam distribution, but is it enough to fund mult-million-dollar game development? Without the retail channels?

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