Cliff Bleszinski Knows What Gamers Want – Inflated Budgets


Anyone that’s been following gaming for any amount of time is aware of Cliffy B (Gears of War). He’s one of the most polarizing figures in the gaming industry due to his outright lack of subtlety and flamboyant personality. The man doesn’t care what you think of him, and this being the internet, his social commentary seems to make the rounds more often than not. When I say he’s a ‘polarizing’ figure I mean, in general, that he has a love hate relationship with gamers. The man boasts nearly 200,000 followers on Twitter and is constantly in demand in every corner of games media. He’s like the Brock Lesnar of video games. Even if you hate him, you literally can’t get enough of it. And as they say in many industries, that puts butts in seats. Being the quintessential ‘heel’ or ‘black hat’ of the gaming world means that you’ll be inspiring the detestation of many, and the fervent loyalty of others that respect you for your showmanship and uncompromising attitude.

A recent string of tweets from Cliff’s Twitter account have caused a bit of an uproar among gamers and games media outlets:

Jim Sterling had himself a bit of a field day with Bleszinski’s commentary, and some may say his words rang true. Many gamers hold true to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality. One of Sterling’s examples of outdated tech that continually brings down the house in terms of sales is Activision’s Call of Duty franchise. Infinity Ward and Treyarch are annually regurgitating military shooters with little update as far as aesthetics go, and they continue to rake in cash. We’ve come to a point in gaming where the lionshare of consumer dollars are spent within minutes of a product hitting store shelves, and an elite list of games (especially in North American markets) command gamers allegiance.

To that point it sounds like competing products (publishers) need to attempt a bit of one upmanship in order to corner any part of the NA market. That’s where hundred million dollar budgets come into play. Companies like Square Enix desperately want to capture a large portion of the Western gamingsphere. This has been evidenced by shared documents that recount the publishers financial woes, and justify their current corporate restructuring venture. The Japanese game publisher attempted to wow gamers with epic survival experiences like 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, a fresh installment in the Hitman franchise, and a brand new IP called Sleeping Dogs. The trio of games ended up costing Square Enix hundreds of millions to produce, and due to those swollen budgets, they failed to meet expectations. All three titles released to fan and critical acclaim, but the well was too deep to fill.

For the most part it seems like there’s a misconception on the end of publishers, and maybe, we as gamers are to blame for some of the miscommunication. Publishers think they know what we want, and so does Cliffy B. Many of us tend to eat up games that deliver cinema like experiences with vast set pieces, famous voice actors, and film quality cut scenes. When we think of Xbox 360, our thoughts drift directly to Halo and Gears of War when high quality exclusives like Mark of the Ninja and Shadow Complex exist. The same can be said about the Playstation 3. Exclusives like the Uncharted, God of War, and Infamous tend to dominate the landscape when acclaimed titles like Machinarium, The Unfinished Swan, and Guacamelee lie in wait.

Only a handful of indie titles have found large success on the console platform. Games like Minecraft, Fez, The Walking Dead, Braid, and thatgamecompany‘s Journey have enjoyed monster sales on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Those five titles may have been successful, but combined they haven’t even scratched the surface of an annual CoD’s profit margin. To heavily counterpoint that observation, the PC platform continues to see indie titles hit it big. Games like Hotline Miami, Monaco, Super Meat Boy, and more have all triumphed in the PC scene without gigantic development and ad budgets.

This platform hierarchy may be heading into a transition when November rolls around. Sony has been influenced by indie success on a very real level, and to that end they’re embracing small developers. Giving indie developers free reign to publish and price their products on the PS4 should help gamers find great games without the bloated price tag.

All things considered, Cliffy B may look like an A-hole, but he’s been around for a while. He’s seen development budgets stack up to sales figures first hand, and on regular occurrence. Many of my CoD playing friends could care less about gaming news and internet controversy. They aren’t the vocal minority, and many of them make a single game purchase on a yearly basis (bet you can’t guess what that is). When Bleszinski makes blanket statements like:

You cannot have game and marketing budgets this high while also having used and rental games existing. The numbers do NOT work people.

it’s because he’s talking about the larger consumer population that just buys things and enjoys them. They don’t continually need upgraded game engines and graphics because they’re content with what they have. Many may argue that this sounds like the blind leading the blind, but numbers don’t lie.

If we want Cliffy B and publishers to realize big budgets don’t make a great game, we need to show them by being selective in our purchases. If you don’t like Call of Duty, but your friends do, let them play without you. It’s not going to have an adverse affect on your friendship. What we really need to take a look at is the stunning rate at which we consume games. If we didn’t constantly complete games, we wouldn’t need the next big thing to fill the void (I’m guilty of this as well). Game publishing is a business, and it’s influenced by numbers, positive and negative. Someone that’s been on the business side of gaming is going to cultivate a completely different outlook on the industry, and it’s likely that they’ve made a more informed decision than you or I. So next time you’re enraged by something Cliffy B says, or are in disbelief when Call of Duty 30 hits store shelves, take a minute to think about your own consumer habits and how they’re communicated to the people that create and publish your games.

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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  • TheManiacLovesYou

    Cliff Bleszinski is a one hit wonder that refuses to go away, who cares what he says?

  • Reg

    He is right though. Used games are a free ride for companies designed to part developers of money they deserve. If used games gave a percentage to the dev. this wouldn’t be an issue. That’s never going to happen and everyone needs to realize that eventually ALL consoles will have the Xbox One’s concept of limiting used games. It will happens. Xbox One is just too early to the show. Someone needs to take the brunt of this before it becomes commonplace. Time to get over it.

    • rhetoricmonkey

      Some reasons I see why used games are a temporary solution for what needs to be fixed with digital only games:

      7 day money back guarantees.

      The way publishers don’t split the initial profits with developers that they don’t own is a crime.

      Users that buy multiple copies of games for their households and or friends can get them cheaper.

      Current DRM doesn’t allow the level of management that a disc does to the consumer.

      What isn’t addressed by either is the fact that a lot of Americans still aren’t connected. A lot are, but a lot aren’t. If 80% is the statistic for the haves, what percentage of them are capable of highspeed downloads that aren’t capped? What percentage of that 80% are gamers?

  • rhetoricmonkey

    Dylan, I think about my consumer habits all of the time and I feel as though more damage is being done by some publishers to the developers than anything I can ever hope to help or hinder. I think Cliffy B has more of the type of publisher that I am referring to in him than the developer that I want to help.