It’s time for another pull on the velvet rope labelled “too many games”. In fairness, this time the argument is a touch more involved than perennial moaning about backlogs – to whit, “there are too many games and it’s all the pandemic’s fault”. Nacon’s head of publishing Benoit Clerc has argued that the Covid lockdown years have bred too much investment in new games, and that we’re currently reaping the results in the form of an unsustainable glut of releases.
It follows the discovery last week that over 14,000 games were released on Steam in 2023, a record for the PC gaming storefront. At the time of writing, there have been 339 published on Steam this year according to SteamDB.
“There are too many games currently on the market,” Clerc observed in an interview with our handsome friends at GamesIndustry.biz. “We’re seeing today the results of investment made after [Covid] when the market was bursting, and every game was making a lot of money so there were a lot of investments being made. This is two or three years after that, so the games we’re seeing now on the market were financed in that time and there are simply too many for customers to be able to play them.
“When you look at Steam some days, there are 50 or 60 games released in one day only so it’s more difficult to get enough traction to expose a game,” he went on. “We’re seeing releases that are without a day one, to use the old retail expression, without any exposure of a title that has been properly marketed.”
There is ample evidence of a “Covid gaming boom” brought on by stay-at-home social distancing measures. According to one study, video game usage peaked worldwide at 2.7 billion people in 2020. The UK video games market alone made a record £7.16 billion in 2021. Some observers thought the good times would continue past 2023, but last year’s mass layoffs and cancellations paint a less-than-rosy picture, with several executives admitting that they had been overoptimistic in their financial planning.
How can smaller developers and publishers thrive in such a crowded, precarious commercial environment? Clerc’s (fairly familiar) advice is to get niche, match the right developers to the right audiences, and push the boundaries of specific genres.
“I’m not spending $200 million on promotion, so I need to target gamers that have a passion and expertise for off-road racing when I’m doing WRC, that have an expertise in rogue-like games when I’m doing Ravenswatch, or that have an expertise in sports games when I’m doing Cricket 24,” he said. “They know the sport and game mechanics very well, and I need developers in front of that who have the same expertise and share the same passion in order for those two groups to talk together.”
Clerc added that “games that have nothing super specific to say to a specific group of gamers” risk coming a cropper, and that “the standards in terms of production values, length of experience and knowledge of our medium from customers are going up”. As such, Nacon feel they need to spend more on projects these days to meet expectations. “Our medium is waiting for innovation, so we do need to invest more than we did in the past, like any other mid-tier publisher,” Clerc said.
Nacon have had mixed success at targeting those niches. Daedalic’s The Lord of the Rings: Gollum was certainly “super-specific” in casting you as one of Middle-earth’s least-loved characters, but the execution was a catastrophe. On the other hand, last November’s Robocop: Rogue City from Teyon (pictured above) was a moderate critical hit and Nacon’s biggest launch success, having managed the trick of being a competent shooter based on a well-loved but relatively unexploited license.