Superheroes, Games, and BudgetA column article, Mission: Professional by: Steven Savage
Previously I'd written about Superheroes in Video Games and how games needed to be a combination of concept and proper mechanics. This raises an interesting question about superhero and comics-based games, namely - how expensive does their production have to be in an age of cheaper games?
We live in an age of where we see a lot of smaller, cheaper, downloadable games, at-times-independent, often of exceptional quality. As a long-term gamer I've been amazed at the bargains available for incredibly good games that are simply downloadable. These may not be the triple-A expensive titles, but the value for money is exceptional.
So I began to wonder - could we deliver superhero/comics games using the faster, smaller, download-oriented models we see coming to prominence?
As superhero games in particular (and comics games in general) would require well-developed themes and mechanics, are these something that can be produced by the smaller, nimble game companies we're seeing? Yes these companies make incredible games - but a superhero game, a highly thematic and mechanic-centric game, might be beyond them.
A superhero game needs to have the proper thematic elements - the right look, the right voice actors, etc. That can get pretty expensive as is - especially as many superhero games involve elaborate designs, environments, and characters. I figure we can leave out licensing for now.
This may mean that a delivered games are not only pricey due to talent, but also have to deliver a lot of content - voice files, graphic engines and resource, and so forth. It may mean a game can't take advantage of the cheapness of downloads versus regular distribution - on top of other expenses.
Here's where we start getting into the real expenses.
A game for superheroes has to deliver the proper mechanics to fit the character(s). This requires a lot of development time and testing, and could easily involve non-standard or unusual game elements. That's going to take time and talent - and development tools that exist may not do everything that's needed (meaning more time developing).
This also brings in, again, the problem of delivering the content. Extensive superhero elements may also prevent a game from taking advantage of convenient downloadable opportunities and have to go standard (and more expensive) distribution.
As much as there's amazing stuff available for download, as much as there are clever, small nimble studios, there's a cultural limit to how people regard them. For the large gaming audience (and the valuable more-casual audience), downloadable games may not be seen as big events, and marketing them is still a developing art.
It also is unpredictable. What is the ideal profit level sought? What has to be done to promote the game to get the ideal profit level? There are a lot of questions and little data.
So, yes, even if you could deliver a fantastic superhero game in downloadable form, it may be hard to get interest generated.
I don't think it's time to turn to the smaller, downloadable game model for delivering high-powered superhero games. The time and expense to develop the right themes and mechanics, the size limits currently in place, and the ideal marketing is hard to envision.
I think superhero games are going to be AAA-budgets and titles for some time to come.