Not too long ago, Cliff Bleszinski (sorry, but I refuse to call this guy Cliffy bloody B), went on record to say that “the middle class game is dead.” He believes that the videogames industry, like the movie business (supposedly), is now a place in which mid-tier, mid budget products can no longer exist.
Not only do I not believe this to be true within the confines of the current market, but it is something that I genuinely pray never comes to pass. In terms of the now, the relatively successful release of Call of Juarez: The Cartel (is there a more apt example of a middle class game?), Brink and Dungeon Siege III surely prove that there is still a place on the shelves for the humble middle class game. While none are likely to do huge business, they’re all likely to make a profit and will each find a raft of gamers more than ready to submit to their slightly unpolished charms.
Although I do agree that there is currently a greater emphasis on big budget AAA releases and iPod friendly bargain bin gaming, to say that middle class games are dead is something of a brazen and somewhat foolhardy comment. Some of my favourite gaming experiences of this generation have been unashamedly middle class. They may not have been the most polished or perfectly crafted experiences out there, but that roughness around the edges is often what gives these games their unique charm. Imagine a world without the flawed brilliance of Deadly Premonition or the sheer wackiness of Shadows of the Damned, a world filled with nothing more than call of Duty, Gears of War and Angry Birds. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a world I want to live in.
There may not be as many middle class games on the shelves as there used to be but make no mistake, they’re still there and will continue to be there for as long as the industry exists. Sure you’ll find plenty of imagination in the so called indie games adorning XBLA and PSN and you’ll find all the polish and consistency in the world in the major marquee releases but the middle class game, well, that’s where you’ll often get the best of both worlds. While often familiar enough in structure, the reduced budget and expectations allows for the kind of experimentation and twists to classic gameplay conventions rarely seen in their more expensive, higher class counterparts.
The thing is, you’ll always have smaller development teams with grand plans and fantastic ideas. They may not have the same kind of budget that the biggest teams get to work with, but as games such as No More Heroes, Demon’s Souls and Katamari Damacy prove, amazing things can be achieved on the back of a good idea and a strong development team.
They may not appeal to the ever growing casual market but as long as core gamers exist, so will the middle class games. I’ll admit that they aren’t exactly flourishing right now but middle class games are long, long way from popping their clogs just yet.