Activision has confirmed that Destiny’s 10-year budget is $500million (as reported by CVG News). Not only will Dr Evil’s finger will be getting quite the workout, that also means Destiny action is pretty much guaranteed for the next ten years. But wait a sec... New IP? Most expensive game ever? Long-term plan for multiple instalments? Why on Earth would this be ringing massive alarm bells in my head?
The answer may be predictable--and totally playing to type--but it has to be Shenmue. The game that cost so much to produce (roughly $100m in today's money by my calculations, although the exact figure is unclear) every Dreamcast owner would have needed to buy it twice just to break even. The game that many people blame for Sega exiting the hardware business. The game that only managed two instalments before being cancelled indefinitely.
But I’m sure Bobby Kotick and co aren’t just taking a punt here. Let’s see what he says:
"If you're making a $500 million bet you can't take that chance with someone else's IP," Kotick reportedly said (according to Reuters). "The stakes for us are getting bigger."
Know what that is? That’s the language of gambling. Sure, new series are always a risk, which is why most big-name publishers shy away from them. Most company heads want a tried-and-tested formula tied to a name that gamers trust.
Speaking of which, it does suggest an admission that Call of Duty’s days are finite. Acti’s flagship franchise undoubtedly has more profitable and spectacular games left in it (as Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare shows), but it’s no longer the peg on which Activision is hanging its ten-year plan. Otherwise the story would be about CoD getting a $500m investment.
And after seeing other Activision stalwarts such as Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk being milked for all they were worth before crashing spectacularly, it makes a lot of sense to invest in the future before the CoD bubble bursts completely.
"Bungie's very ambitious plan is designed to unfold over a ten-year period" an Activision spokesperson explained. "The depth of creative content, scope and scale is unprecedented and is required to bring Bungie's vision to life."
That’s highly commendable. I applaud it, I really do. Creating something new and backing it with the kind of clout only one of the world’s biggest publishers can do is a fantastic boon for our industry. It should show us what the new generation of machines can really do when pushed. And show us what Bungie can do when it isn’t bound by the decade-old conventions that people now expect—nay, demand--from the Halo series.
Maybe I’m reacting to it with such concern because I’ve been conditioned--by Activision itself--only to expect tried-and-tested properties when it comes to AAA games. Sony’s The Last of Us was a massively-deserved success in the end, but I distinctly remember a time when we were writing stories about The Last of Us and nobody was reading them. “I’ve never heard of it before so why should I care” seemed to be the thinking of the average GamesRadar reader. Naughty Dog and Bungie may be big names to you and me, but how many people outside our clued-up circle could tell you which games they have been responsible for?
Maybe Titanfall and its decent chart success (three weeks on top of the UK all-format charts at the time of writing, though it’s slipped to #2 this week) has convinced Activision that it’s OK to announce such massive figures and backing of a relatively unknown quantity. Sure, Bungie is a respected developer, but then so was Bizarre Creations. And after just one flop (Blur), that team was given the poison chalice of the Bond license, and then closed. Nobody is safe.
It’s that gambling analogy that concerns me. If it was down to me, of course I’d take the risk because I believe wholeheartedly in the pursuit of creativity. Heck, I’d commission Shenmue III right now if I had the cash, regardless of prospective returns. But putting so many eggs in one basket (and reducing the number of other baskets too, as seen with the Infinity Ward/Neversoft merger yesterday) is a gamble. And there is such thing as the ‘Gambler’s Ruin’.
Activision has plenty of money with which to put a big stake on one roll of the dice, but it is finite. Yes, if the worst happened and the game is a flop, the cost can probably be absorbed because of the CoD juggernaut's success. But, again with the Shenmue analogy, Sega was flush with cash thanks to the Mega Drive/Genesis’ success, then just a few bad bets later (Mega-CD, 32X, Saturn and Shenmue), it was all over bar the software.
Fortunately, all signs point towards Destiny being a success. It’s shooting stuff, it’s online, it’s Bungie, it’s Activision with all its mass-market clout and know-how… everything points to it being a great game and a commercial success. Plus it won’t just be one game. It will be several games, each recouping some of that massive development cost. A significant chunk of that will be used to market the game, so we’re going to have Destiny thrust in our faces for the next 10 years, whether we like it or not. Everyone will know about it and it will probably become as big as Call of Duty is in a relatively short space of time.
But ‘probably’ isn’t ‘definitely’. There is always the chance it will fail to ignite the public’s interest and goes the way of Haze, or Shenmue, or Okami. Sure, everyone loves shooting stuff. But what if the wheels fall off that genre like they did the racing games of the 1990s? Activision has profited from skateboarding, plastic guitars and first-person shooting. It's a brave move to suggest shooting (with RPG elements) is going to to be the next decade's must-have gaming genre too.