“Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” – Mark Twain
We all know that old adage of big risk resulting in big rewards. People sometimes forget that video games are a business like any other, with profits acting as the driving force behind it. As much as we love them, if the unlikely day ever came when video games failed to turn a profit, they’d vanish from store shelves as if they never existed. Because of this, some companies are hesitant to take chances on ideas that aren’t a sure thing (meaning they’ll recoup their devolvement costs and pocket some additional revenue in the process). Square Enix, on the other hand, has no trouble speaking up and stating that the path less-traveled is also where new frontiers often lie.
Company executive Phil Rogers recently touted their upcoming Deus Ex project currently in-development, after their latest financial report revealed that “large scale” online games would become their focus in the future. Rogers followed up by stating that risk is necessary to “… innovate and create great new gaming experiences. What we won't do is stand still. Online games are a way to facilitate that…” It’s also important to remember one key fact: we’re referring to a genre that has yet to produce titles with any real staying power (outside of hits like World of Warcraft). Let’s face it: the franchises we know and love (which have long term longevity of 10+ years) fall into the FPS, sports or platforming categories. How many MMO’s have come and gone over the years? To say the least, putting all your eggs in that basket is taking a bit of a chance (one that Square Enix is about to take). But if they’re right, this gamble could result in a huge return.
Speaking of which, this got me thinking. What other similar gambles have paid off over the years? Square Enix isn’t the first to bomb a hail marry pass down field and hope it connects with their wide receiver. So let’s take a look at a few huge success stories that all started with VERY uncertain beginnings.
Master Chief…try Master Chump:
I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I’ve lost to a Halo multiplayer lobby over the years! This is one of those true butterfly effect stories. Do you own an Xbox One right now? You can thank Halo. Are you looking forward to the upcoming release of Bungie’s new epic Destiny? You can thank Halo! When Microsoft decided to enter the console race in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, it was the desperate need for a killer app that would ultimately result in their success or failure. Many saw this new venture as a complete waste of time (one that threatened the very lifeblood of the companies OS and related software divisions). No one would have thought an unknown sci-fi shooter could turn the tide. Boy were they wrong.
How a black eye turned into a Goldeneye:
While Goldeneye’s influence on the FPS genre is legendary among gamers (with some crediting it as THE reason console shooters gained the popularity they enjoy today), did you know that it almost didn’t happen? When Nintendo approached Rare with the concept, they could not provide them the finalized specs of their new Ultra 64 (the name eventually changed obviously) yet still expected the developer to give them a projected estimate of what the game would cost (as well as designing it with what amounted to one hand tied behind their backs). At first, Rare said no thanks. Luckily they changed their minds, in what eventually became one of the bestselling N64 games of all time.
Grand Theft Almost canceled:
I’m sure I don’t have to remind you just how freakin’ successful the launch of the latest Grand Theft Auto V was last year. It set records out the ass, and still enjoys a strong online component to this day. However, the original Grand Theft Auto (the top down version that is very different than today’s iteration) almost never made it out of the gate. According to a recent retrospective, it was an “unplayable mess” from start to finish. Couple that with a barrage of bad press in the media (due to its violence and criminal themes) this game came close to cancellation on countless occasions over its four year development cycle. It was fan support after the game’s release that proved this new title was a viable financial entity. Pull on that thread ‘till you get to Grand Theft Auto III a few years later, and the rest is history.
While these are just a few examples of high-risk investments that proved wise, not all pan out this way. The latest example is the crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Many come here with dreams they’ll finally get their works off the ground after decades of planning in some cases. However, a recent study shows that a large majority of investors never see these promised projects come to light (as they simply don’t get off the ground). It’s not just the Indies that suffer from this either. A huge company like Nintendo has also found themselves rolling the dice on several risky ventures. The Wii U is the most recent example of a bad bet, yet they’re also in the process of developing even more hardware for overseas markets (which could prove to be another costly mistake).
The moral of the story is this: it’s impossible to pick winners and losers accurately every time. Crawling out on that limb and hoping it doesn’t snap is often the only choice. Problem is, sometimes the fall can be a LONG way down.