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Sell game environments, without the game?

With games costing an average of $30m (£20m) to make for consoles, I was wondering what the cost of creating a procedurally-generated game-world with no gameplay might be. A lot less, I’m guessing, leading to the possibility of funding by small consortia (200 x £30k each = £6m). And potentially better profits, cheaper prices, and more sales longevity.

Here I’m thinking of high-fidelity natural ‘open world‘ environments running on licenced engines, such as those of the photorealistic minimal-controls The Hunter (PC, 2009), the flawed Fuel (2009), or the polished-but-ageing Endless Ocean (Wii, 2007). And with no “loading…” screens because they’re running on procedural engines. Hunter and Endless Ocean are games where I’d be happy to just stalk the animals in them, and bag the best possible big widescreen screenshot of those animals. I don’t really need the game mechanics, icons, buttons, score charts, storylines, etc, to have a great experience. In fact, the clutter rather gets in the way of anyone with the imagination to find their own way of enjoying such virtual places. The Brainy Gamer blog coined the neat phrase “meditative games” for such games.

theHunter 2009-0
Screenshot from The Hunter.

Without the need to pour man-hours into game characters, story and game mechanics, there’s an untapped potential for a whole raft of ‘non-game games’, funded by small consortia of investors and delivered via joint ventures leveraging the passion for PC game development evident in Eastern Europe and Russia. I mean, who wouldn’t want to stroll around the splendour of Ancient Egypt or Alexandria during the time of Ptolemy, recreated properly with a modern game-engine such as the Avalanche Engine 2.0 + professional sound design? Yet, at the moment we don’t even have one single walkable 3D game-engine recreation of the Giza Pyramids complex, even from the “serious games” educationalists. There are any number of other famous and sublime ancient places — many with precise measurements and building-plans sitting in some public-domain 1920s archaeology book — that grown-ups with modern PCs / 24″ LCD monitors / headphones would love to stroll around for hours on rainy nights. And of course affordable stereo 3D is a few years away (2013?), literally likely to add another dimension to such ‘virtual tourism‘. Small-scale family-size co-op exploration adds yet another dimension, but along a social axis.

One other option would be for game developers to make money by selling, to a very different audience, cheap versions of their games with just the full walkable environment. No game elements included, no learning curve. Maybe even a different name. For instance, the deeply-flawed but spectacular Assassin’s Creed — I haven’t played it, but I wonder how well a walkable version of the medieval-period Holy Land sites would have sold to Christians titled as Walk the Holy Land? Well, I’d guess. Could Far Cry 2 be stripped of enemies, and be renamed Walking In Africa? Or how about a game-less authentic 3D medieval Venice, taken from Assassin’s Creed 2? How well would that sell to tourists (armchair and actual) for the next decade? …



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