Life and Death
Genres are a categorization of a certain style of a thing. The thing can be an object, film, book, or video game. We don’t see genres as having a life cycle though. Horror games will be around forever, as will action-adventure or puzzle games. Sure, many of us have probably seen the birth of a genre (3D-platformer comes to mind) but I, personally, have never seen a death, and despite Housemarque’s recent statement about the death of arcade games, I am still questioning whether I am seeing the death of a genre or not.
Arcade is Dead
Housemarque is an indie studio that (used to) specialize in the development of arcade style games. Recently, they were praised for their visually and mechanically gorgeous release Nex Machina. However, even though the game received critical acclaim, the studio claims that the game sold nowhere near the amount they needed it to. In a blog post on their site the CEO of Housemarque, Ilari Kuittinen stated: “despite critical success and numerous awards, our games just haven’t sold in significant numbers.” He went on to discuss how their games have amassed large audiences, but only due to their games being offered, through services, for free. This definitely does seem to be the case. The CEO even goes further into saying that the studio will no longer make arcade-style games, like Matterfall or Nex Machina, but will deviate from that genre and create entirely different types of games. He did, worryingly, also mention the rise of “multiplayer experiences with strong, robust communities” and mentions how it’s time for his studio to adapt. There is a lot to unpack here.
Should We Listen to Housemarque?
First, let’s discuss the authority of Housemarque. I think it is safe to say that they are very qualified to make such a bold statement as saying that an entire genre is dead. They have a very long history of making arcade-style games and if anyone would know the state of sales of those games, it would be them. However, even though they may be qualified, I still question whether or not their stance on the subject is right. There is a big difference between the games Housemarque has made versus other games in the arcade genre. The biggest one is the presentation.
Most games in the arcade genre tend to not feature the best visuals. You expect to see some “floaty” animations and graphics that aren’t exactly revolutionary. This, along with the price of the game, gives us a hint at how much it cost to make the game. Games in the arcade genre tend to look and cost cheaper so, therefore, are cheaper to make. Housemarque’s arcade-style games are very clearly not a part of that specification. They look absolutely beautiful and usually cost as much as any other AAA game. Although this allows the quality of their games and the passion of the developers to shine through, it does cause problems for their sales. Why should I buy Housemarque’s $60 USD twin-stick shooter when I can easily find a different one for $20? Yes, hard-core fans would still purchase Housemarque’s polished versions, but the polish isn’t enough to drive the product toward the mass market.
So, is this the End of Arcade Games?
This begs the question, is the genre really dead? It is true that the biggest and most revered studio in that corner of the industry is departing from its niche, but that doesn’t mean that that corner will cease to exist. I still believe that there is a sizable audience who cry out for more arcade-style games. Personally, I love the sense of competition and action that those sort of games brings. I remember long hours spent playing Housemarque’s very own Super Stardust HD on my PS3 and would love a reason to jump back into the genre. Housemarque also claims that the industry is heading toward multiplayer-central types of games. This definitely does seem to be the case.
Multiplayer games are usually the games that have the longest reach due to Twitch streamers and YouTubers. However, I believe that this is an added strength of the arcade-style genre. Arcades were places where people went in order to play games together. They were multiplayer in nature, and adapting that system online is no different. Arcade-style games will benefit from a multiplayer central industry. They are competitive in nature and are so very easy to monetize in the form of microtransactions. I found this part of Housemarque’s argument to be very weird. There seems to be a disconnect there between mine and their perspectives on the industry. If that is the basis of their entire argument, I think that they’re just wrong. Instead of completely abandoning development of those types of games, maybe they just need to adapt them to the modern industry.
So no, despite what Housemarque claims, I don’t think that the arcade genre is dead. There is definitely a market there, and as with anything else you try to sell, you just have to do it right. However, despite all my criticisms of their statement, I am still very excited. I am super excited to see what projects Housemarque has in mind, and I am excited to see if anyone will try and prove Housemarque wrong by releasing an amazing and successful arcade-style game. Change, such as the one Housemarque is making, can sometimes feel like an attack. But it is important to remember that a shift in perspective and interpretation is always necessary for the advancement of anything.