Gaming & Technology

It's time to sell games short

It's not quite a final curtain call, but the music-based games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band might have peaked in popularity.

Retailer GameStop said a few weeks ago in its quarterly financial conference call that the music games were not selling quite as well as expected.

Then Electronic Entertainment Design and Research analyst Jesse Divnich released a report stating that those games are starting to level off.

That's not to say they're dying. On the contrary, he expects music games to be around for the next decade or so. It's just that there aren't many potential new customers out there.

The game industry, however, thrives on growth, and if music game sales have hit a plateau, then the race is surely on for the next big fad.

And I'm not sure anyone knows what that next big thing will be.

For a while, I think there was some expectation that Spore would kick off an entirely new type of game. But while Spore was fun, it was not the revolutionary, awe-inspiring title we'd been led to expect, and the buzz around it has evaporated.

I don't know what's coming next, either, but here's something I'd like to see the industry attempt: low-cost, short-duration games.

Only a tiny fraction of gamers ever finish most games they buy, I'd wager, so instead of paying $60 for a 30-hour game, how about $20 for a five- or 10-hour game?

Same production values and technical sophistication as today's full-priced software, but something that most gamers could easily beat in a weekend without resorting to caffeine pills.

One major developer is getting ready to experiment with this model.

Bungie's Halo 3 spinoff — dubbed Halo: ODST, for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper — is being released next fall as a three- to five-hour game that will sell for less than the regular $59.99.

If that game is a success, and any shooter with the word Halo in its title seems destined for the best-seller list, I wouldn't be surprised to see other developers do something similar.

Of course, you'd still have your epic, 80-hour role-playing games like Fallout 3 and Final Fantasy 197, or whatever number we're on now, but those games would be balanced by a ton of short games.

And if the economy is still as junky in a year as it is right now, top-notch budget games could be a hit with the penny-pinching gamer.

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