Developers uneasy about new game consoles

Game developers fear industry domination by a few big companies that can afford to produce top-shelf titles.

Warren Spector, who's been developing games for more than 25 years, has mixed feelings about the eagerly anticipated Xbox and PlayStation game systems.

The erstwhile studio director of Ion Storm, responsible for titles ranging from "Wing Commander" to "Deus Ex," thinks the new video game systems will be a player's paradise. With high-definition graphics, incredibly fast processors and surround sound, the experience will be leaps and bounds beyond anything console gamers have seen before.

But with that will come consequences. Spector and other developers are worried that the game industry will become ever more like Hollywood, with huge budgets, huge productions and lots of sequels, dominated by the few big companies who can afford to produce a top-shelf title.


What's new:
New video game consoles will feature high-definition graphics, incredibly fast processors and surround sound, creating an experience that will be leaps and bounds beyond anything gamers have seen before.

Bottom line:
Developers worry that the game industry will as a result become ever more like Hollywood, with huge productions and huge budgets.

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"Once hardware guys give us the capability to do something spectacular, someone's going to spend the money to do something spectacular," Spector said. "The quality bar is going to be raised. Someone is going to spend $20 million or $30 million or $40 million, and the rest of us who don't have deep pockets like that are going to have to find some way to compete."

This ripple of anxiety is moving quickly through the world of game developers and publishers as the hype machines for the Sony's PlayStation3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 grind into gear. The game industry is evolving on both the business and creative levels, and it's a good bet that nobody knows exactly what that means.

The last several years have proved beyond a doubt that gaming has hit the business mainstream. Sales of video game hardware and software topped $9.9 billion in the United States alone in 2004, according to NPD Group. That's a few million dollars higher than Hollywood's total box office take for the same period.

But the process of making games has changed substantially in the course of reaching those heights. Games were once the product of just a few people, or even a single person acting on inspiration. "Pong," the game that kicked off the video game craze in the early 1970s, was created alone by Atari's Al Alcorn, on instructions from company founder Nolan Bushnell.

By the time the industry reached the PlayStation2 and Xbox league, the biggest games were created by teams numbering in the dozens, with budgets often reaching upward of $10 million. Some in the industry have been grumbling for years that this has sapped creativity, with game genres standardizing around the core big sellers: sports, shooters, strategy games and role-playing games.

Some innovative projects do get off the ground. But most big titles are familiar, critics say. Eight of the top 10 best-selling games in mid-April were sequels, some on to their fourth or fifth iteration, according to NPD Group.

"If look at history of games, the industry grows by creation of new styles," said Greg Costikyan, a game consultant and independent developer. "One innovative game appears, and then you

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