Housemarque declare “arcade is dead,” ditch the genre

“Arcade is dead,” Finnish studio Housemarque declared today. They’re overstating a little, of course, but they are done with the genre themselves. Housemarque have been making ace arcade games for over twenty years, from Super Stardust through to Nex Machina, but say they’re simply not making enough money to justify making more. So they won’t. They’re not done with games entirely, mind, and say we might be surprised by what they make next. Housemarque aren’t the only folks making arcade games, of course, but it’s a terrible shame to see even they struggled in the genre.

Housemarque said in today’s announcement that “despite critical success and numerous awards, our games just haven’t sold in significant numbers.” And while some have found large audiences by being offered ‘free’ through things like PlayStation Plus subscriptions, “this unfortunately doesn’t help pay for development, which gets costly for high production quality.”

This came to a head with the release of Nex Machina earlier this year, which has achieved only “lackluster sales.” And so, Housemarque say, this has “led us to the thinking that it is time to bring our longstanding commitment to the arcade genre to an end. While this genre will always hold a special place in our hearts, the industry is moving more toward multiplayer experiences with strong, robust communities, and it’s time for Housemarque to move forward with the industry. Hence Nex Machina and Matterfall will be the last of their kind coming out of our studio.”

So long, Housemarque arcade games! (Housemarqade games?) They say that now they are “exploring something totally different than what you might expect of us.” Intriguing! I’ll certainly be keen to see whatever they do.

At least they’re leaving on a high note. Matterfall only came out on PlayStation 4 but Nex was a corker. As Fraser Brown said in his Nex Machina review:

“There will be more twin-stick shooters, probably excellent ones, but if time stopped and all we were left with was Nex Machina, then that wouldn’t be such a terrible thing. Housemarque and Eugene Jarvis have created something very special, and I suspect, enduring.”

If we discover that Fraser has psychic powers of self-fulfilling prophecy, I’ll be right narked.

31 Comments

  1. shinkshank says:

    This is incredibly upsetting. Nex Machina is an amazing game, and it saddens me greatly to see that they’re dumping the genre.

    I also seriously hope that they don’t take that comment about where the industry is going as their plan. I love Housemarque, but unless you’re Blizzard or Valve, there is absolutely no guarantee that a multiplayer game is gonna be a success. Not saying that it can’t succeed, of course, but I think a well-occupied niche is a much better financial decision than a pebble in the ocean.

    • Germaximus says:

      Most indie games I’ve seen that are multiplayer only fail pretty badly and cannot keep a community alive.

      • brucethemoose says:

        Same.

        There’s a population threshold you have to meet to keep MP-focused games alive, and most smaller studios simply can’t meet it, no matter how brilliant the game is :(

  2. eraserhead says:

    “the industry is moving more toward multiplayer experiences” Please kill me now.

    • Premium User Badge

      Mungrul says:

      This. They may be popular now, but I have almost zero interest in dedicated multiplayer titles.

      Especially with all of them implementing some form of microtransaction. I was reading earlier about the new Call of Duty making the opening process a public thing in a dedicated social area so everyone gets to see what’s in your box.
      I’m sure Activision marketing and monetisation execs are wanking themselves in to a self-congratulatory frenzy over this, but I just want to puke.

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      I agree. I’m 100% sick of multiplayer-only games, particularly ones that force teamwork on a bunch of random internet strangers.

      PUBGlunkbat avoids it by allowing solo, but teamwork just isn’t reasonable without making everyone jerks in the process.

      Booo.

    • Baines says:

      It sounds like Housemarque is killing itself, anyway.

  3. Germaximus says:

    Yeah it’s pretty sad especially when their games are so damn good. Nex Machina specifically is amazing.

  4. Premium User Badge

    quasiotter says:

    I grabbed Outland when it was offered for free just right before Nex Machina was released. I don’t think I looked at Nex Machina, and it appears that they didn’t have any other games on Steam at that time, so I think the promotion could have been done better. I feel bad now :(

    Also, I’m playing Outland right now, and I highly recommend it as a linear platformer (not a Metroidvania, really). The luscious art and animations are the best part of the game, in my opinion.

  5. TΛPETRVE says:

    Those arrogant dunderheads are vastly overestimating their own importance. The market is chock-full of arcade games, and we’re not just talking watered-down light beer, but genuine stuff, esp. on PC. Here’s the thing: Most of those games are cheaper, offer more content (and in some cases also better gameplay) than Housemarque’s products, and put less toll on the hardware; and people take all of that gladly over the visual spectacle with what they consider a premium price tag. I love Nex Machina, it’s been one of my favourite releases this year, but even I can’t help but shake my head at the absolute lack of awareness those guys put on display here.

    • tnzk says:

      Hey dude,

      I think that’s the point of what they’re trying to say: the kind of high production arcade games that they’re trying to make is not justified by the amount of sales needed to continue.

      I for one, admire their work from the looks of videos online. But it’s not a priority for me to buy it, because it’s an arcade shooter.

      Whether they realise they can make low-budget arcade shooters for a profit, or whether they would rather eat their hat is another matter altogether.

      • TΛPETRVE says:

        Not really. They’ve been desperately running after what amounts to a revival of “arcade culture”, which simply is not a thing anymore outside of, well, actual bloody arcades and clubs that offer the actual social experience. You cannot replicate that on home consoles and PCs, and no number of leaderboard and replay options are gonna help you with that; it’s a public thing. It’s the same reason why all those skill-based arena shooters such as Lawbreakers are failing; outside of the small competitive scene they cater to, they’ve been part of a specific social environment – network parties, with booze, grub, sleepovers – that simply doesn’t exist anymore, and cannot easily be replaced with an online experience.

        • prkl says:

          That is what they are saying. The type of games they make don’t sell enough so they are trying something different. Nothing arrogant there.
          “Theyre overstating a little, of course, but they are done with the genre themselves.”

      • Baines says:

        I kind of side with TΛPETRVE’s read of the situation, specifically because Housemarque went as far as to say: “the industry is moving more toward multiplayer experiences with strong, robust communities, and it’s time for Housemarque to move forward with the industry.

        Really?

        Online multiplayer has long been a deadly market, with games of any quality struggling to establish, much less maintain, robust communities. And if they surprisingly don’t mean online multiplayer, well, even the local multiplayer market has seen a glut of lower budget releases.

        It doesn’t sound so much like Housemarque is moving forward with the industry as it does that they are blindly driving forward to the bottom of the swamp.

    • Catterbatter says:

      It really is a shame. Robotron has always been, and always will be, my favorite game. And so I desperately want to play Nex Machina. The price isn’t the issue; even if it were, I could have gotten it 40% off at launch, or even cheaper recently. But based on the minimum and recommended specs, my PC would take one look at it and just refuse. It’s not that I wish Nex Machina were less gorgeous… but if Housemarque would dial it back and make a string of games “like that, but less,” I’d be all over them even at the same price.

      • postmanmanman says:

        Agreed — Housemarque makes excellent games, and they do look great, but frankly I’m not playing them because they’re pretty. It actually shocked me how taxing Nex Machina is. The game runs fine on my (relatively beastly) desktop, but I assumed it would scale down onto my laptop (still reasonably strong… as in it’s got recent dedicated graphics at least) and was shocked to try playing it only to realize it’s way more of a resource hog than you’d think.

        Surely they could produce the same games on a tighter budget if they were willing to let go of the (frankly unnecessary and actually prohibitive) fancy graphics. There’s plenty of ways to make these kind of games look great that don’t require a literal gaming desktop to run. There’s absolutely still demand for arcade experiences, but they seem to be targeting people who want both arcade experiences and cutting edge tech. The intersection of those groups is very, very tiny.

    • Czarus says:

      I bought Nex Machina, then refunded it shortly after. Easy mode was far too easy, normal mode required reflexes I don’t have the time to hone, visual effects made seeing anything that I needed to see a pain in the ass.

  6. Core says:

    I bet their next game is some battle royale type game..

  7. Rane2k says:

    This seems like a bad strategy to me.
    Who knows if multiplayer is still the “big thing” whenever they finish their next game?
    This reminds me of the way our (Germany) school system is struggling: “There is a great need for engineers!” -> Lots of people start studying in the technological fields, and by the time they are finished, the gap has long been closed by other means.

    The large game publishers can make this kind of strategy work by various means:
    – Brand recognition: (Overwatch would not have been a smash hit if it weren´t made by Blizzard)
    – Massive marketing budgets
    – Large player bases. Multiplayer titles need a sustainable player base. This simply does not work when you are starting with small numbers (10.000 users or something), as usually the player count only goes downwards, very rarely upwards.

    A risky move, I think. But on the other hand, if their current strategy can not sustain them… at least they are recognizing it before going bankrupt.

    Also Nex Machina looks good, thanks for the recommendations (in article and comments), I might check this out.

    • tomimt says:

      A bad strategy would be for them to continue making arcade stuff if it clearly doesn’t pay their bills.

      I know it’s a kind of a red cloth for many players, the MMO, I don’t enjoy them either, but I see where they are coming from, especially because there are Finnish game companies that have done mint with mobile MMO’s, while Housemarque that is one of the oldest game companies here doesn’t manage to catch a break no matter what.

      • Rane2k says:

        Yeah, as I said, I realise that they had to make “a” change to survive, I am mereley questioning why exactly “this” change.

        The multiplayer market seems very hard to break into.

  8. Artiforg says:

    All I want to see from Housemarque is Dead Nation on the PC.

  9. FredSaberhagen says:

    Why don’t they make dead nation 2? It’ll sell a ton. I would buy a console just to play it… got a ps4 only for the remaster lol

  10. Moraven says:

    Seems like Housemarque missed the opportunity that the Nintendo Switch offers (while porting their games to PC also). Their arcade and twin stick games fits perfectly with portable hardware.

  11. MonkeyJug says:

    Nex Machina and RIVE are two of the finest games released in the last ~12 months. Both seemingly unable to sustain their respective devs.

    Then I consider the absolute dross that people DO buy, and it just makes me sad…

  12. tslog says:

    Dead Nation was my favourite Housemarque game, and played that over 10 times. Outland was pretty good too, bought that on 360 and PC.

    I’ve honestly cared less and less about their other games and I’ve nearly played them all. I’m far less interested in arcade genres that don’t do much to advance then what was available years ago.
    I want a deeper dynamic gameplay, with smarter enemies from that genre. Not dominant changes being with some changes to faster player movement or increases the stupid enemy count. And generally speaking, especially something that’s not obsessed with the exclusionary cult of diffiCULTy.
    And a real variety of combat encounter design would be nice for a change, from all games that have combat.
    Haven’t played Nex Machina yet, because I don’t believe the (not so )“critical” review hype from the games media. Thanks to them i’ll be waiting till it’s at a much lower price.

    —————————

    This news also demonstrates the increasing division between the media hype and the reality of some games popularity.
    And that Hi scores/ high opinions from media thats given out like candy means much less nowadays then it did before.
    So it’s a stupid idea than it was in the first place and more than ever before for game companies to reward developers using Metacritic as a reward basis.

  13. wackazoa says:

    Curse you EA!!!!!!

  14. Mandragora says:

    I can tell them what the problem is. When the game was announced I was all over it, couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. The fateful day arrives, I gleefully download and… Game wouldn’t launch. Try again, and still no launch… Okay, wait for a patch. And wait. And wait. In the meantime, I look at lots of other forums and notice I’m not the only player with this problem. Other gamers have suggestions about manipulating this thing or that to get up and running; everyone other than Housemarqe. People cannot play the game, and they’re getting angrier by the day.

    Two weeks go by and Housemarqe has not only not solved the problem, but hasn’t said much of anything to us who couldn’t play this game we spent our money on. So I refunded the last day I possibly could on Steam. I waited 2 whole weeks for them to do something, say something, and nothing happened.

    And I’m not the only one.

    Admittedly, I sometimes go all in if I see something I like, and I did that here knowing if there were any problems, Steam would let me refund. But plenty of people look at other users experience before they buy. I’m not the only one who looked at those other players being upset about buying a game they couldn’t play. If possible customers see current customers angry and refunding a product, they won’t buy said product. Sorry Housemarqe, that’s just how it is. You can complain about sales all day, and it won’t matter.

    Don’t sell broken games and then wonder why nobody’s buying…

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