THE GAME INDUSTRY CAN’T SEEM TO STOP itself. Software sales alone jumped 34% to $8.64 billion in 2007 from 2006 and are predicted to surpass $10 billion in 2008. Growth is always healthy, but are creative and fun games becoming replaced with bigger and better versions of proven genres?

After I made the move to a current generation console, I was neither expecting to nor thrilled about buying $60 games. What happened to the glory years where games ran a cool $40? The answer is that big name games cost much more to develop than in the mid-90’s. An $800,000 budgeted Playstation game would be considered a smash blockbuster if it sold over 1 million units. A single AAA current generation game costing upwards of $20 million is seen as a disappointment by a studio if it only sells 1 million units.

I’ve noticed the increased price for games has changed my purchasing habits. Years ago I would be much more willing to try out a unique looking title that may only be receiving 7’s or 8’s in reviews. At $40 a pop it didn’t seem too bad to go out on a limb every once in a while and try something new. But with games being more expensive now, I tend to not even think about buying a game with reviews less than an 8. If I go out and buy every $60 game that I think looks even decent, how am I gonna be able to afford the $2 Pabst at the bar?

Since studios must rely on such large software sales, they aren’t as likely to release the creatively fun and original games that I idolize. Look at some recent/upcoming games: Devil May Cry 4, Gran Tourismo 5, Grand Theft Auto 4, Ace Combat 6, Call of Duty 4, Metal Gear Solid 4, Virtua Fighter 5, Tekken 6, Resident Evil 5″¦ While these games are all quality titles and some of my personal favorites, they are all just fine-tuned modified versions of the originals. The market is potentially becoming stale and filled with clones.

Luckily a handful of original games come out every year that still can rock the foundations of game design. Digital distribution is also providing a great outlet for smaller developers to get their titles into consumer’s hands. By not needing a publisher, developers can afford to charge less for games distributed online. Xbox Live Arcade games typically sell for $5-15 and produce some original new titles that are a breath of fresh air. Mediums like these are starting to be a great breeding ground for independent studios to get out material that would normally never have a chance to see the light of day.

Nintendo is also doing the industry some good with its casual game market. The Wii and DS led system sales in 2007 and much of that had to do with the type of software Nintendo was putting out. Many of the games were new, inventive, accessible to non-gamers, and plain fun to play. Last year marked the legitimate solidification of the casual games market and I am finding myself investing more and more time into these pick-up and play games. It’s just good to know you can jump in and have some fun without needing to invest multiple hours into an epic title.

While the most high profile games will continue to one-up each other in production values and flare, there is a limit to how many games of one type people can play before becoming bored out of their mind. Thankfully there is still hope for new innovations and the ability to get that into the hands of open-minded gamers. 2008 and beyond is going to be a real eye-opener on the split between causal games and the hardcore games. While the monotonous pitfall is ever present, digital distribution allows for fed-up indie developers to churn out normally inaccessible hits for everyone to get their hands on.