Our industry has been around for 40 years and has evolved in many unpredictable ways. Still, we should not hesitate to look at other creative industries to see how we can continue to improve. They may not always be relevant, but they can at times offer insightful suggestions.
In March, Lionsgate announced a slate of “micro” movies funded with smaller than typical budgets. This is a continuation of a recent trend. Over the past few years, the movie industry has seen a growing number of distributors and studios invest more attention into smaller and independent films. Every major Hollywood studio has its own “art house” style sub-studio dedicated to indie movies (such as Fox Searchlight, Paramount Classics and so on). Each hope to land the next “Big Fat Greek Wedding” or “Paranormal Activity”.
The move to directly develop and fund smaller budget movies is smart. The basic math is simple. Tiny budgets (relatively speaking) means low risk. If even just one out of 20 funded movies is a gem, it will more than make up the cost of investing in all the other films. For Lionsgate this is a cheap experiment. Even if they all fail, it is still a very reduced loss, especially compared to the box office failure of a normal movie.
This is a strategy that both big and small games publishers should embrace and adapt to the games industry. I’m not the first to suggest this (and Ron Carmel probably said it much more eloquently). Put aside $5 million (the budget for a small AAA game) and invest it in cultivating 10 to 20 smaller prototypes. Not all of them need to be finished and released. Instead, take the most promising projects and expand on them. If necessary and warranted, allocate bigger budgets for those that need it. 20 small prototypes should lead to 2-3 great games, at reduced risk, relatively low costs and with potentially high revenues.
With such a low cost, it would seem like a worthwhile experiment for someone like EA or Activision to dabble in.