Video Game Free Agency... let it begin!
Lebron James may command the attention of the press in regards to his free agency, but there are several video game developers that could potentially draw the same interest if our industry was ever to get into a bidding war.
In effort to avoid many of the expected – though a few are easy to predict – we have purposely left out Bungie, Epic Games, Insomniac Games, and Valve to concentrate on three developers that are building a unique fanbase on their own terms.
Up first is the most predictable: Crytek. Engineering the CryEngine in 2002, Crytek has been on a tear since they arrived on the scene in 2000 with a tech demo at the European Computer Trade Show. In their first act, Crytek announced to the world that they weren’t to be taken lightly as 2004’s Far Cry won many Game of the Year awards. The ride didn’t end there though; Crytek moved on from Far Cry in a hurry and built a relationship with Electronic Arts to release Crysis. Gorgeous on high-end PCs, Crysis took a pint of water and made an ocean out of it.
Now, nearing the release of Crysis 2 and having recently announced a collaboration with Microsoft Game Studios for Codename: Kingdoms, Crytek is performing at an all time high and don’t look to have many hurdles in front of them outside of their past success. Whether it is creating beautiful environments, a robust engine or managing to sell a million copies of their latest release, Crytek is a must-have for any publisher looking to spend big in the free agent market – provided they have enough money to invest.
After the demise of Clover Studios, another fantastic studio popped up in its place in the form of PlatinumGames. Currently in a four game deal with Sega, PlatinumGames is quickly approaching the end of the deal with their upcoming third-person shooter, Vanquish. Scheduled for a winter 2010 release, PlatinumGames may soon be on the market again, and looking for a publisher to take their ideas and projects to a level that Sega couldn't.
While their titles aren’t lighting up the charts with sales, Platinum Games has built together a roaring cult of fans who will spread the good word about their titles. In addition, their games have often had a great reception from critics and press alike, so sooner or later they are bound to have their first multi-million selling release. The question is, will Sega wrap them up for another deal or will they go back on the market testing the “free agency” to see what others have to offer.
A drifter of sorts, From Software is another developer who is bound to have a breakthrough sooner or later. Demon’s Souls could potentially be considered their diamond in the rough, but it didn’t break the 1 million threshold. Matter of fact, From Software has yet to break that plateau with any single title they have developed, so it’s definitely a caveat that publishers have to be aware of.
On the flipside, titles such as: Demon’s Souls, Otogi, Metal Wolf Chaos, Chromehounds, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and several others have garnered the attention and critical acclaim of so many diehard gamers and enthusiasts that it would be a mistake to overlook From Software. Having established franchises that include Tenchu and Armored Core, From Software would be a steal for the right price.
In the case that there ever comes a day when publishers freely start spending money again, I wish them the best as the market of independent game studios has increased exponentially since the recession and closings of studios such as Ensemble Studios, Factor 5, Pandemic Studios, and countless others. I wouldn’t want to be the guy in the auction chair with the potential to earn the winner’s curse. One example that has been beaten to death but stands as a precursor to the frugal landscape of modern times is Microsoft’s purchase of Rare. The price paid and results received from the purchase stands as a warning that bidding on video game developers needs to be done with a fine-toothed comb.