Both statements contain the kind of carefully worded optimism you’d expect to see in most acquisition announcements, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t much truth to be found in them. In fact, Kuittinen may have brought up a particularly inconvenient truth when he said he doesn’t want Housemarque to shy away from going his “own course.”
You may recall a recent report by Jason Schreier of Bloomberg, which, among other things, led some to speculate that the PlayStation team is currently focused on “too big to fail” Triple-A entries in established franchises over smaller, shorter, original games. While that’s a simplified version of the story, again, there’s at least some truth to it. Escalation of video game production budgets and time investments have resulted in more and more major studios pouring their resources into large projects with well-known names that are most likely to succeed. That’s just a good thing.
Still, there’s another side to that corporate strategy that makes some people (including former PlayStation executives) a little concerned about the future of Triple-A gaming. As more studios push for $70 next-gen exclusives, the gap between indie and Triple-A developers is widening. While there’s an emerging “Double-A” scene trying to keep those parties together, it feels like fewer Triple-A studios and first-party developers can turn their success with bigger releases into an excuse for smaller projects and new ones. to pursue properties. Instead, it seems like more and more publishers are seeing the time and money they spend on those smaller projects (no matter how modest they are in comparison) as resources that can go to the next big game.
For most of its history, Housemarque has focused on developing smaller titles with “arcade-like” gameplay. They were exactly the kind of games you wouldn’t expect from many major modern publishers and developers, and they certainly helped put Housemarque on the map for that reason. However, in 2017, Housemarque published a letter boldly titled “Arcade is Dead.” In it, Ilari Kuittinen had this to say about the realities of the modern video game industry:
“Despite critical successes and countless awards, our games simply haven’t sold in large numbers. Although some of them have reached a huge audience thanks to the free game offer through various digital sales channels, unfortunately this does not help to pay for the development, which becomes expensive for high production quality … it’s time to move on to new genres. Moderate sales of Nex Machinea led us to think it’s time to end our longstanding commitment to the arcade genre.”
While some speculated that that letter meant that Housemarque would soon focus on open-world games or online multiplayer titles (the studio even hinted at the latter possibility in a follow-up letter), their next major release turned out to be instead. Return: A delightfully strange roguelike title with hard-hitting horror stories that retains some of the studio’s best arcade-style gameplay ideas. It’s one of the best games of 2021, proving that adapting to the needs of the modern game industry doesn’t always mean creating a specific type of title.
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