Infinite Crisis and the Cra-cra-crazy world of video game studios
This week, Turbine, a video game developer and maker of the game Infinite Crisis, announced that two months into its official launch, the company is pulling the plug on the multiplayer online battle arena (or MOBA) game featuring characters from the world of DC Comics.
According to Hiawatha Bray of The Boston Globe, Turbine announced on Tuesday that they'd be fully shutting down Infinite Crisis in August. The reasons, according to the article, were the potential marketing costs for Turbine parent company TimeWarner, and the small amount of players participating in the game daily — the most well-known MOBA, League of Legends has about 7.5 million people playing at any time, while Infinite Crisis normally had about a thousand.
I don't know the ins-and-outs of all there is to know about the video game world, but I do know a couple things went wrong with Infinite Crisis that both show a pretty big shift in the gaming world and how volatile an investment game studios can be.
Turbine was well-funded for a long time, with more than $75 million in investment backing from Highland Capital, GGV, and others, before being acquired by Warner Bros. in 2010. It also developed some successful Dungeons & Dragons games, and still has some new games in the works. Infinite Crisis should have been slam dunk for Turbine; the game featured highly popular characters like Batman, the Joker, the Flash, Wonder Woman, Superman, and others. Applying well-known entities like these that are almost brands to themselves to the world of MOBA made a ton of sense.
However, problems persisted. The company had to let go of developers early last year, and kept pushing back its official launch. At the popular PAX East gaming conference in the early 2014, I watched a large crowd watch while teenage eSports players participated in a live tournament for Infinite Crisis, which was launched in beta form online.
However, the delay in launching and the fact that it may have been a bit too mainstream, in a gaming world where independent studios are all the rage, made what should have been inevitable now completely unlikely.
Making games for the larger developers, known as AAA studios is a similar process to making a movie. Jobs come and go, people are laid off when they are no longer useful, and sometimes, anticipated deadlines shift.
There is a lot of money to be made, and companies like Riot, which makes League of Legends, and well as gamer news hub/broadcast site Twitch seem to be financially healthy and lucrative. But if Infinite Crisis demonstrates, something that looks like it has all the ingredients to be a win, is always at the mercy of the consumers.
Turbine will continue to develop games, but it is making a shift to focus on mobile games, which is another trend hitting the gaming industry. Why make a costly MOBA, even one with characters like those from the DC universe, if you can make it on a smaller scale and be far more successful.
The continued growth in mobile gaming won't necessarily dethrone the larger games like those made by Riot, that have huge followings, but it may lead to less jobs in the industry as well as a different approach down the road from VCs and financial backers who believe there is an opportunity in the gaming space.
It will be interesting to see how other larger studios deal with what seems to be a shift in the industry, one in which having Superman and Batman battling each other doesn't necessarily means that you will have an instant user base.