Burning Down the House

Alice -- apparently the world's fastest typist -- has posted an amazing account of GDC's "Game Developers Rant." It is quite a read and includes some great comments on "piracy," including Greg Costikyan's sarcastic "[t]he world is not designed in such a way that money inherently funnels its way into your wallet!?"

However, it isn't anything that hasn't been said before: publishers are risk averse, games are getting more expensive, we're all going to be outsourced to Bangalore, nobody cares, and there is a need for alternative distribution channels.

In 2000 I left THQ to go work on Second Life at Linden Lab. While we have since started to learn that collaborative digital worlds have the potential for helping those with disabilities, driving innovation, and building phenomenal communities, none of those reasons had anything to do with me leaving THQ. I left because I wanted to create technology that would let everyone make games. SL isn't there yet, but events like the Tringo deal remind me that we are the way.

However, I think that the history of SL/Linden Lab acts as another response to the rant session. If you don't like publishers or Wal-Mart, then don't use them. While the cost of AAA titles has skyrocketed -- Greg's estimate of $20M is now on the low end -- the options for making and distributing games have never been better.

Read on for six ways to make games without EA.

First, you have the personal computer. Everyone has one, they are all connected to the internet, and anyone can get tools to develop on them for free. You don't want to deal with Sony's and have a burning desire to build a game? Just go do it! There are even great, cheap engines available for you to play with.

Second, you have the mod community. Don't want to do the grunt work? Do a mod or total conversion of a Quake, Doom, Half-Life, Unreal, or any of the other great mod-friendly games out there. Again, no approval process needed, free development tools, an installed base, and even communities to help connect your mod to players.

Third, you have web games. Yes, Flash costs a little bit of money, but it's only a few hundred dollars. Once again, you have all the advantages of the web and nobody telling you what to make.

Fourth, there are the many mobile options, from Palm to phones. Sure, dealing with the dozens (hundreds?) of SKUs is a pain, but it you have a zillions phones out there and plenty of web sites looking for games.

Fifth, use the web to create something new. I bet that if the web had existed a few years earlier, Richard Garfield might have built something very different. Board games are experiencing something of a renaissance because buyers and sellers have so many new ways to come together. Go out and challenge Cheap Ass Games with downloadable, tradable PDF-based games!

Finally, you have Second Life. Tringo crossed over to the real world and it certainly isn't the only fun game within SL. Plus, you have a community of artists and programmers, places to advertise for help, and plenty of resources to help you. Plus, easy distribution and billing.

So, much like what we talk about at the Austin Game Initiative's "Breaking In" conferences, if you want to make games, MAKE GAMES! There has never been an easier time to make games. The answer is not to bitch about EA not wanting to hand you millions of dollars -- to repeat Greg's quote: "[t]he world is not designed in such a way that money inherently funnels its way into your wallet!?"

It isn't going to be easy. It isn't guaranteed to make you a millionaire -- or even a thousandaire -- but you can blaze your own trail in this industry.

[EDIT: Added the next line after posting]

In my opinion, there has never been a better time to make games.


Comments on Burning Down the House:

Jamie Fristrom says:

But their point that there's nothing between the $100000 garage game and the $10M available-at-retail game still holds. Greg's not saying that we can't go out and make innovative games - he's saying that another *The Sims* or *GTA3*, a game from left field that sets the world on fire, isn't in the cards. (Of course, to that you could say, "Counterstrike", or "Magic: The Gathering."
Still, his point that it won't be coming from a big publisher (unless Will Wright makes it) holds.)

Posted Mar 12, 2005 8:36:26 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

How does a $200K game differ from a $20M game? Of course, a $200K game doesn't have all the eye candy or the scope. What else?

To use an analogy: How does a $10M movie different from a $100M movie? $100M movies tend to have big-name actors, great special effects, and are about explosions and spectacle. $10M movies have more obscure (and often better) actors, no special effects, and seem to deal with personal relationships or social commentary.

Or: How does a $100K novel differ from a $10M or $100M movie? Besides the eye candy (video and sound), of course.

Posted Mar 12, 2005 9:29:33 PM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Jamie> Of course, to that you could say, "Counterstrike", or "Magic: The Gathering."

Yup. Great examples that games can be made despite publishers, increasing development costs, or any of other rant targets. Warren claiming that no alternate distribution system exists is also bunk -- at some point the dust will settle on the various lawsuits and we'll find out how many copies of HL2 shipped via Steam versus retail.

Jamie> Greg's not saying that we can't go out and make innovative games

Greg said "The story of the past few decades is not about graphics and processing power, but startling innovation and industry. That’s why we love games. BUT IT’S OVER NOW!"

Hmm, looks like that's what he said to me. Of course, Greg was exaggerating a bit, but my point was that it's a mistake to go about claiming that this isn't a wonderful time to be making games.

More simply, if you want to make games, don't whine about how hard it is. Instead, go out and make them!

Posted Mar 12, 2005 10:33:02 PM | link

Factory says:

I thought Gregs point was:
- retail publishers are a crappy way of making 'good' games
- not to believe that the only way of making games is to go via a retail publisher

His audience seems to be ppl working for retail publishers, not those that do not make games.

Posted Mar 12, 2005 10:56:50 PM | link

greglas says:

Based on Alice's fast typing, I don't think Greg was being pessimistic -- he was just observing a fact -- Hollywood-type entertainment dynamics are eating up the history of garage innovation in the games industry. I'm a believer in that.

He was calling for revolution -- and pointing out that games aren't widgets, so there's a real threat to innovation here. By speaking truth to EA, he's trying to separate the game makers who see games as an art form from those who have the misfortune of working for investors who see games as a licensing opportunity to create a profit stream.

Good for Greg for pointing out that games as art and games as business are divergent paths. The same split has happened before in other media. Viva la revolucion. ;-)

Posted Mar 12, 2005 11:12:22 PM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Oooh, can we hijack this into a games as art versus games as business discussion? :-)

And, yes, viva la revolucion! The point of the post was to remind people that hope is not lost and that opportunities abound. Whether or not we make games because we have to (as Brian Green often puts it) it isn't only artistic ventures that can flourish outside of the publisher system. Presuming that "publisher == business" and "everything else == art" is a mistake that helps the publishers keep their lock.

We are in a business of creating interactive experiences via bits. Like music, it is certain that publishers and distributors -- built to provide economies of scale when producing, transporting, and selling atoms -- will be displaced/coopted by disruptive online and wireless approaches.

And, given an equal ability to reach customers -- which I agree isn't available today but will certainly be there soon -- who wouldn't bet on the likes of Greg and Eric?

Posted Mar 13, 2005 2:10:52 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Jamie Fristrom wrote:

But their point that there's nothing between the $100000 garage game and the $10M available-at-retail game still holds.

Nonsense. Puzzle Pirates and Runescape both come to mind without even any thinking about it.

--matt

Posted Mar 13, 2005 2:54:35 AM | link

magicback says:

I want to mention that while the hollywood/publisher model is dominating the game production process in the US, other models are prevalent overseas. We'll likely get the next left-field hit from the likes of Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Asia.

And Japan continues to innovate outside of the hollywood model. I see the most innovative games from this country and I know this POV is biased by what I know is out there. I am sure there are more innovation out there. For example, I recall an Eastern European outfit that is developing a pirate MMO with some great eye candy.

Posted Mar 13, 2005 3:34:32 AM | link

greglas says:

Cory> Presuming that "publisher == business" and "everything else == art" is a mistake that helps the publishers keep their lock.

I think licenses like Tolkein, 50 Cent, Tom Clancy, etc., are what gives publishers their lock.

But to the extent you're saying that the Hollywood model is in decline as a paradigm and the small scale, folk-productive model is on the rise, I think we're in full agreement -- that's actually an idea that Dan and I have tried to push. :-)

So yeah, I'm with you, but since we're both on the same side of the fence, let me just point out the other side of the fence. (And I think I'm having deja vu -- didn't we do this at GTxA a while back?) The pushback I get when I push cheap production with p2p distribution, social software, etc., is this: you're not going to kill the demand for Hollywood. Big films with high production values, nationwide advertising, and nationwide distribution chains in theaters are just too expensive to let something like Tarnation be a real threat. The same would apply to EA games -- if you want high-end eye candy tied into major movies and celebrities, and pushed out through ad campaigns and retail stores, you're in Greg's modern dystopia.

Like you, I'm optimistic about how cultural production will be transformed -- but many people don't find this as obvious as we do.

Posted Mar 13, 2005 7:14:47 AM | link

Jim Purbrick says:

If you want to make games, MAKE GAMES! There has never been an easier time to make games. The answer is not to bitch about EA not wanting to hand you millions of dollars...

Hear hear!

I gave a presentation along very similar lines at the the recent Screenplay 2005 festival (which I plan to write up as soon as my shiny new SL blog arrives).

Screenplay is a wonderful festival which explores lots of bizarre nooks and crannies (Street Fighter cross stitch!?). It attracts a great collection of people who are full of ideas and enthusiasm, but are also prone to similar bouts of whinging about the state of game development.

So, this year I told them all to get an SL account and get on with it. The presentation went down well and I've been doing tactical SL/Screenplay matchmaking ever since. Hopefully at Screenplay 2006 we'll have some triumphs to report...

Posted Mar 13, 2005 9:43:25 AM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Greg> I think licenses like Tolkein, 50 Cent, Tom Clancy, etc., are what gives publishers their lock.

Half-Life, Quake, Doom, GTA3, Halo, EverQuest, Ultima, Final Fantasy, Gran Turismo, Warcraft . . . these are some of the most valuable franchises in the game world and none of them came out of external licenses. All of them were, at one time, strange new games that peoploe weren't sure would be successful, generally created by small studios.

But, of course, we're more or less in agreement. Most of these studios now work with publishers (or have been purchased by them). It's just important not to propagate common misconceptions and "external license == commercially successful game" is one them.

Posted Mar 13, 2005 11:29:09 AM | link

greglas says:

I agree that we're more or less in agreement, but I think Greg's point was that Ultima and Doom (and add on the Sims) made their mark in a different time period. Richard Garriott's first Ultima was written in his bedroom on an Apple II. The stories of most of these games (incl. Everquest) was, as you said, not about enthusiasm from publishers -- it was quite the opposite. But since the industry was young, you could have something like id creating a mainstream phenomenon with a great idea. Arguably, what killed the golden age of Atari was Warner.

And re licenses, I think the point is that most licensed products are pretty awful, but they tend to be commercially successful and this is *despite* the game play.

Anyway... all in all, I'd prefer to be glass half full too.

Posted Mar 13, 2005 3:09:51 PM | link

Elle Pollack says:

Fourth, there are the many mobile options, from Palm to phones. Sure, dealing with the dozens (hundreds?) of SKUs is a pain, but it you have a zillions phones out there and plenty of web sites looking for games.

As a point of interest, Greg currently makes cell phone games for Nokia.

I know of Greg mostly through his work in pencil and paper games, notably "PARANOIA". Last year, "PARANOIA" was brought back to life in a new edition after ten years out of print. Along with Allen Varney (who perhaps not-so-coincidentaly co-write a PARANOIA module with Warren Spector back in the 80s), large parts of the new edition's material was produced by willing fans through the developer's blog, a fan website (of which I'm a member) and a play-by-wiki game run by Allen. (Some of the best were later recruited officaly to write new material for the series).

I'd venture to guess that he knows a bit about alternate production and distrobution methoods too. :) (He may or may not know about Second Life, btw...I came to SL from someone's post on said fan website, and he does at least sometimes keep up with the forum posts :).

On the other hand, consoles are a big market. I don't know what went down with Nintendo but Microsoft's plan to standardize game interfaces on the next-gen X-Box sounds like the begining of the opposite of a good idea.

Posted Mar 14, 2005 12:49:17 AM | link

Brian 'Psychochild' Green says:

In my opinion, there has never been a better time to make games.

...says the man working for a VC-funded company. ;)

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad SL is doing well and is in a solid position. But, the reality for those of us living on the other end of the spectrum, running development companies making games that are too risky for venture capital to even look at, things aren't so rosy.

It's a gross generalization, but there's basically three steps to game development: idea, implementation, then sales. Most people never get past the idea phase. A few get to implementation, but then sales of the game hinder them. With your examples you stop at the implementation phase and think that's the answer, but it's not; lots of games have been made, but then largely ignored by the market. I operate one of them. :) You seem to take a "build it and they will come" attitude, Cory, and you know as well as I do it doesn't work that way. It takes at least a bit of marketing genius and a whole lot of luck to get even the best game to sell well.

I've had an interesting dialog with Greg Costikyan between our blogs, and I provided a trackback above to my current entry. In my opinion, it comes down to marketing, something that game developers are notoriously bad at. (More information at my blog.) Even if we built the most mind-blowing fun and original game in the world, it means nothing if no one knows about it. And, we have to educate the market about alternatives to large publishers if we the independents will gain any ground.

My thoughts,

Posted Mar 14, 2005 4:07:08 AM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Brian,
SL went a long way before it received major funding and it very well might not have. However, we were able to try because of the low barriers to entry and online distribution options that currently exist in the PC market. If this had been 1992, getting SL going would have been much harder.

My attitude isn't "build it and they will come" but instead, "if you want to make games, do it!" Nowhere in my discussion was an assurance that you would make zillions of $ :-)!

In writing the comments, Meridian 59 was one of the games that I thought of. You have a really fun game, a loyal group of players and a great deal of control over your destiny. Ditto Teppy and ATiTD, Daniel and Puzzle Pirates, and many of the participants in the IGF at GDC. City of Heroes and Cryptic is another example. Yes, they are now published by NCSoft, but they spent several years of development time with very limited funding while they built the game.

Posted Mar 14, 2005 7:22:50 AM | link

Brian 'Psychochild' Green says:

SL went a long way before it received major funding and it very well might not have.

Sure. My point was that you are in a unique position; VCs won't touch regular game developer business with a 50 foot pole. I will never, ever be able to get VC funding for an online RPG project because they are too risky. I'm just saying that the weather down here is a bit different than what you may be seeing from your vantage point.

The issue isn't just making a game, though, it's about making a living. Yes, M59 isn't at the mercy of a publisher's whims, but it's done me no favors for my personal finances. I'm in considerable credit card debt and I make about as much money currently from the game as my father made as an assembly line worker in the Midwest during the late 70's. I don't expect to make zillions of dollars, but being able to make a fun game and then actually be able to eat and pay the rent on time would be a nice start.

Further, making a competitive game is still a challenge. Sure, I can make a dozen knockoffs of popular games in a weekend using Flash or what not. But, creating an innovative game that can compete with the "big boys" is still a VERY challenging task, made even more challenging by the actions of the large publishers.

In the end, indie game developers have three options: One is to continue to starve, the second is to "sell out" to a large company putting out derivative work, and the last is to leave the industry altogether. I'd love for there to be an additional option to do the indie thing and make a reasonable living from it, but sitting around and wishing for it does nothing for me. Some days, for me, the third option looks the most appealing even if in my heart I'll always be a game developer.

My thoughts,

Posted Mar 14, 2005 10:28:26 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Cory wrote:

My attitude isn't "build it and they will come" but instead, "if you want to make games, do it!" Nowhere in my discussion was an assurance that you would make zillions of $ :-)!

Quite right. Warren and Greg in particular came across to me, with all due respect to their past accomplishments as whiners in that forum. Don't sit there and imply that you're not in it for money and then turn around and act as if the only games worth making are games that require bucketloads of money to make. Don't sit there and pretend like what you really care about is innovation, when in some genres at least (virtual worlds particularly) the most innovative games are CLEARLY the smaller ones without publisher backing....you know, the ones they apparently choose to pretend don't exist.

--matt

Posted Mar 14, 2005 10:32:50 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Brian wrote:

VCs won't touch regular game developer business with a 50 foot pole.

Mythic managed to land quite a lot of VC money. How? They built up their business first and then went after the VCs. Nobody said it was going to be easy.


In the end, indie game developers have three options: One is to continue to starve, the second is to "sell out" to a large company putting out derivative work, and the last is to leave the industry altogether.

Listen, I'm sorry you're struggling with Meridian 59, but to take your example and universalize it is not valid. My company (Iron Realms) is a counter example. We do very well, are beholden to nobody but our players and ourselves, and do things in virtual worlds that the big boys have only dreamed about being able to do. We just hired our 10th full-time developer and our profit margins are healthy.

--matt

Posted Mar 14, 2005 10:45:24 AM | link

Brian 'Psychochild' Green says:

Mythic managed to land quite a lot of VC money. How?

Mythic started business about a decade ago, and got their first round of investment in 2000. Most of the founders of Mythic were in the industry for quite a while before founding mythic. Back in 2000, the internet bubble was only just starting to deflate and this was before 9/11. The economy has changed considerably since Mythic began and got investment. You can't hold them up as an example of how easy it is to get money given what has happened over the past few years.

How's investment on the Feist project going? I'm surprised you still think that getting investment money is easy after your personal experiences.

Listen, I'm sorry you're struggling with Meridian 59, but to take your example and universalize it is not valid.

M59 was profitable after just a year and is still profitable three years after launch. A lot of people, including Cory here, hold M59 up as a success story of how an indie can succeed; however, I've had to make sacrifices (and have to continue making them) in order to do so. Expecting everyone to go through what I've gone through just to see their games made is not the answer. Most people will probably give up long before I did and we'll miss a lot of potentially innovative games.

Yet, you can't do the thing you just accused me of doing, Matt; you can't take your own experiences and universalize them. I suspect that I have talked to a lot more indie developers, seeing as how I go to the GDC and all. My story is actually one of the more cheerful stories, because my game is still running. There are plenty of interesting games that make it to the implementation phase and then fall because of the sales phase. It's hard to get attention without some ace up your sleeve. And, I suspect that if you're really honest with yourself, Matt, you'll recognize that you are where you are at today with no small thanks to a disproportionate amount of luck on your part.

None of this changes the fact that it is hard to survive in the games industry and that many of our sharpest minds are probably better off outside the industry. The publishers have done nothing to make the life of an indie easier, although I'm sure you'll argue that it's not their job. Those of us that actually have the creative need to make games would like to see things improve. If you'll read Greg Costikyan's latest blog entry (where you can see him quoting me calling him on just pointless ranting), you'll see that he's gone beyond ranting and actually wants to do something about it.

My thoughts,

Posted Mar 14, 2005 7:55:44 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Brian Green wrote:

How's investment on the Feist project going? I'm surprised you still think that getting investment money is easy after your personal experiences.

Oh, we gave up on the graphical project awhile ago. I certainly wouldn't claim that raising $10 million for a company our size is easy. Nor should it be. In retrospect, we haven't proven ourselves worthy of being given $10 million. What is so hard about admitting that maybe publishers have good reasons for not funding most developers? Those reasons may not serve ends that you or I value, but again, that's the board we're playing on.

And heck, $10 million isn't even a truly competitive budget these days. But then, $10 million isn't required to make interesting games. We were shooting for larger profits. Flat-out. The trade-off for us was making less interesting games but getting potentially far more money. And that's what we went for. We failed! We'll fail again at other things in the future. Big deal. You win some, you lose some. If you give up after your first loss, you're a loser. Do you think Iron Realms is the only company I've tried to start?

But here's the thing about the Midkemia game: If we choose to do it as a text game, we already have more than enough investment lined up....because we don't need very much. From a pure design perspective, what we could do in a text game dwarfs what we could do in a graphical game.


Yet, you can't do the thing you just accused me of doing, Matt; you can't take your own experiences and universalize them.

Oh, I'm not universalizing my experience. Most people will fail. That's just life. The point is that it's possible, and my company is far from the only example. It's easy to make excuses as to why it's not possible. Yes, it's hard. So what? How many great games have gotten made that were easy to make, regardless of whether the game cost $100k or $25 million? God, I just hate all the fucking whining I hear from the games industry. It's a non-stop barrage of self-defeating attitudes. Let's celebrate what is possible rather than bitch and moan about what may not be possible.


And, I suspect that if you're really honest with yourself, Matt, you'll recognize that you are where you are at today with no small thanks to a disproportionate amount of luck on your part.

That's a bit insulting, but if believing that makes you feel better, go ahead.


None of this changes the fact that it is hard to survive in the games industry and that many of our sharpest minds are probably better off outside the industry.

There's such an incredible disconnect here between claims that it's not about the money and implications that it's about the craft, and things like what you wrote above. Why are these sharpest minds better off outside the industry? I hope it's not because they'd make more money.


The publishers have done nothing to make the life of an indie easier, although I'm sure you'll argue that it's not their job.

It's not explicitly their job, no, though I believe a very compelling argument can be made that they would be much better served in the long run by fostering indies instead of smothering them or swallowing them up. I sincerely doubt that's going to change anytime soon, but hey, that's the terrain.


Those of us that actually have the creative need to make games would like to see things improve.

Enough with the slights. You bought a game someone else designed. Don't talk to me about creative need.

There are few things outside of the political arena I am more interested in seeing happen than ensuring that good games can continue to be made. I just happen to believe good games ARE being made, and I don't give a crap whether they're web games, free text MUDs or Halo 7. I actually think that's what's driving this disagreement. I agree with Cory, and really feel that this is a great time to be a game developer, IF you're willing to abandon the mainstream and try to carve your own path. Despite my dig at you earlier about buying Meridian 59, I think what you do with it is great. Like you say, you're still definitely among the lucky, in that you're able to continue to operate.


If you'll read Greg Costikyan's latest blog entry (where you can see him quoting me calling him on just pointless ranting), you'll see that he's gone beyond ranting and actually wants to do something about it.

I haven't read it, but that's good to hear. I hope he's sincere and not just looking for ways to make games that compete with the largest budgets out there. Greg is a great designer and I have no doubt he has many great games in him.

Look, here's my thing. I respect these guys a lot. They're great game developers. But I think they've been taken off-guard by changing realities and they're reacting defensively rather than evolving. OK, so what if it's not feasible for indies to make games that can compete with the $25 million games? Why does it matter if you can compete on the top tier unless it's about money or fame? It's not like there are any $25 million games that aren't made by Will Wright that approach the out-of-the-box thinking in something like A Tale in the Desert.

I look at what a lot of people are complaining about, and it just comes across as some weird competitive desire to make games that cross some ever-increasing bar, rather than just make games that are can support themselves and are interesting. If they're really not that interested in fame or money, there are SO many opportunities out there waiting to be taken advantage of. Will most people who try succeed? Of course not. Doing your own thing (entrepreneurship) is inherently risky. I, at least, have no gripe with that. There's a limited market for games, and competition is fierce. There are no solutions to that, because it's not a problem to begin with. Of course, that doesn't mean I have some romanticized view of the games industry. A lot of developers have valid complaints. Similarly, a lot of developers seem to want the world to adapt to them rather than vice-versa.

Anyway, I think some optimism is in order. All the pessimism I hear from certain people in the games industry is part of the problem at worst and just depressing at best.

--matt

Posted Mar 15, 2005 1:54:35 AM | link

Brian 'Psychochild' Green says:

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention. Or so they say.

There's real issues in the games industry that makes it suck. The most obvious example has been the issues surrounding EA the past year. We have an industry that continues to brag about drawing more income than movie box office receipts (hair splitting left up to the reader), but can't manage to reasonably compensate the people directly responsible for those earnings when they work 60+ hour weeks. We have people with 20+ years of experience that are less well known that someone that started lip-syncing a few years ago. The history of our industry is rapidly becoming inaccessible to people that weren't alive during the times the older games were made due to issues like technological obsolescence. No amount of Pollyanna "Quit complaining! Turn that frown upside down!" optimism is going to change this. Of course, no amount of pointless ranting is going to change this either, but it does help to educate people that these issues exist. Given some of the reactions here, it seems we still need some education.

No, it's not all about the money. But, some of us would like to have a reasonable standard of living. And some people in the industry most obviously aren't getting their fair share of the take, in the case of the overworked EA employees.

That's a bit insulting[....]

Why? I admit that I'm where I am mostly through luck. It was luck that the recruiter I was working with happened to pass my resume to 3DO for a completely unrelated project when they were looking to hire someone for M59. It was luck that I got to work on M59 for so long given the willful disinterest in the game by 3DO. It was luck that Trip decided to sell the game before 3DO went bankrupt. It was luck that we got a sweet deal on hosting costs from a former M59 player. I've had a string of luck and I realize it, even if I am not the most rich and/or powerful person in the games industry.

You can believe your story is all due to your brilliance and superiority if you want, though.

Enough with the slights.

Someone's touchy. That wasn't even aimed at you, it was a reference to Cory's reference to me saying I do games because "I have to". I was thinking more of the publishers as the ones that don't feel the need to make anything other than a profit, usually at the expense of the industry as a whole.

You bought a game someone else designed. Don't talk to me about creative need.

Yes, but over the years I've worked on the game I've left my mark. Many people who have played the game say that the changes I helped make have made the game better. I'm a bit surprised that you won't admit that games change over the years as people developed on them. Anyway, I bought the game because I felt that the game should be preserved and be "that game we haven't bothered to play" instead of "that game that I barely remember existed". Plus, it was my way of short-circuiting the bullshit of the industry in order to actually make a game for as little expense as possible.

Anyway, let me leave you with this idea: consider Peter Jackson. What did he do before LotR? Heavenly Creature? The Frighteners? Neither of these movies were really all that well-known. Now he comes along and wants to do what most people consider "the impossible", he wants to make a movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. Yet, he manages to find funding, do the film, invent new technology for use in the film industry, and create what are some of the best movies of all times. Now, consider this: what would happen to Peter Jackson in the games industry. He'd be ignored at best, ridiculed at worst. Many people have said we have yet to have our "breakthrough" game to bring games into their own as a serious artistic medium. But, how can we have that when we ignore the real issues?

Have fun,

Posted Mar 15, 2005 3:48:24 AM | link

Samantha LeCraft says:

Yeah, and becoming an Olympic Gold Medallist is hard, too.

No one said it was going to be easy. Being in the game industry requires a lot of sacrifices, and even more if you don't want to work for "The Man" and do independent development instead. But do the teenaged girls striving for an Olympic Gold in gymnastics whine that they have to train night and day, that they can't go to school with regular kids their own age, or that they have to stick to a strict diet? No one said that going after their dream would be easy, but if they expect to get to the Olympics, they make the necessary sacrifices. Sure, we might miss out on some world-class gymnasts because getting to the Olympics requires so much devotion. But then again, maybe part of being "world class" is being willing to sacrifice everything else for the dream?

I feel like a lot of people in the game industry aren't willing to make the necessary sacrifices. It's all about trade offs. You can make the games you want to make -or- you can have the security of a job with a big publisher. You can make an innovative game -or- you can make a lot of money. You can have a "reasonable standard of living" -or- you can make games for a living. Some people have the talent to make it big while still making the games they want to make, but not everyone can be Will Wright.

Since when is getting paid to make a game that people actually play not good enough? If you think you aren't living a dream every day of your life, go take a look at the IGDA's "Breaking Into the Industry" forum sometime. There's a world of difference between "making games because you can't stand not to" and being paid to make games.

Yes, there are problems in the game industry, no one is denying that. I'm an EA spouse (though not the EA_Spouse, I was working on a demo when that blog came out, lol), so I know all about who is and is not getting rich off the creativity of EA employees, and the hours employees have to work. There still aren't enough women in development, and despite the strides we've made, the industry can still be a very scary place for a woman. We don't have a good pipeline for training new designers and getting them into the industry. The list is endless. But that's why the IGDA has Special Interest Groups. If you want to change something, get involved and start changing it. But for god's sake, stop whining that making it in the game industry is hard. If Olympic athletes whined this much, the Olympics would be a lot less fun to watch.

And as far as Peter Jackson goes, I fully believe he would have done the exact same thing if he'd been in the game industry rather than movies. Lets not forget that all the big studios turned him down. Lets not forget that he had to pitch the trilogy as two movies first, and only ended up making them as three movies because an exec at New Line suggested it himself. Lets not forget that he made the movies in someplace a lot cheaper than LA, and lets not forget that he made his own tools when none existed. He had a vision and a leadership skill that drew people to him, that made big name actors do things like carry lighting equipment, and that made an entire city in New Zealand adopt the movies as their own. He never settled for "good enough", but he knew when to make sacrifices, too (Tom Bombadil, anyone?). The movies didn't get made because the movie industry is any easier than the game industry. The movies got made because of Peter Jackson's sheer force of will, and because he had luck on his side. Maybe if we all spent more time making games, and less time whining and talking till we're blue in the face, we could make something as amazing as Peter Jackson someday, too.

Posted Mar 15, 2005 4:52:19 PM | link

CD says:

Brian Green>>The history of our industry is rapidly becoming inaccessible to people that weren't alive during the times the older games were made due to issues like technological obsolescence.

That's not a technological problem. Any game from any system is playable right now on your home PC through emulation. If the history of our hobby is inaccessible to the masses, it's because the owners of the IP in question wish to make it inaccessible, and because we have legislation which values this wish higher than the public interest in free access to cultural artifacts.

Posted Mar 16, 2005 3:36:02 AM | link

oRGy says:

I'm slightly dubious when I see some of the arguments here - tends to be a somewhat individualistic discourse going on, that all we need is for "some great artist" to be "unfettered", and that the only thing which matters in the world is that "great games" continues to be made!

Two issues:

The moral one and the practical one, as with so much else in our society.

Morally, the extant (capitalist) game industry is exploitative. Pretty obvious, and the exploitation has increased in recent years in tandem with globalisation. By exploitative I mean that it exploits the needs of consumers on the one hand the labour of its workers on the other, so as to fulfil its legal mandate of making more and more profit.

Practically, these means that cultural workers find it impossible to work collectively and creatively in industry as their work is subordinated to the profit motive.

My advice: connect the dots and forget about the usual arguments! The time will soon come when a democratic counter-power to the hegemony of late capitalism (or Empire, whatever floats your boat) will have to come into being, economically, socially and culturally.

Do what you can to go towards this aim. There are many embryonic examples of this, such as Wikipedia or Linux in the software world, the Social Forum movement in the political world, and the Fair-Trade mark in the economic one.

Marginalise the current world system, or the world system will marginalise you!

Ciao.

Posted Mar 16, 2005 9:32:47 AM | link

oRGy says:

I'm slightly dubious when I see some of the arguments here - tends to be a somewhat individualistic discourse going on, that all we need is for "some great artist" to be "unfettered", and that the only thing which matters in the world is that "great games" continues to be made!

Two issues:

The moral one and the practical one, as with so much else in our society.

Morally, the extant (capitalist) game industry is exploitative. Pretty obvious, and the exploitation has increased in recent years in tandem with globalisation. By exploitative I mean that it exploits the needs of consumers on the one hand the labour of its workers on the other, so as to fulfil its legal mandate of making more and more profit.

Practically, these means that cultural workers find it impossible to work collectively and creatively in industry as their work is subordinated to the profit motive.

My advice: connect the dots and forget about the usual arguments! The time will soon come when a democratic counter-power to the hegemony of late capitalism (or Empire, whatever floats your boat) will have to come into being, economically, socially and culturally.

Do what you can to go towards this aim. There are many embryonic examples of this, such as Wikipedia or Linux in the software world, the Social Forum movement in the political world, and the Fair-Trade mark in the economic one.

Marginalise the current world system, or the world system will marginalise you.

Ciao.

Posted Mar 16, 2005 9:33:08 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Matt,
would you be able to run Achaea without the free text MUDs as a recruitment platform and advertising spaces like MUD Connector? There are niches, but it seems like each "indie" niche provides rather different business/marketing opportunities. Thus generalizations are much more difficult than for mainstream games.

Posted Mar 16, 2005 10:40:06 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Samantha LeCraft wrote:

And as far as Peter Jackson goes, I fully believe he would have done the exact same thing if he'd been in the game industry rather than movies.

Exactly. Success isn't about luck. Success is the junction of will, ability, preparation and circumstance. Only one of those four factors is unable to be influenced by you. The first three are all about you.


would you be able to run Achaea without the free text MUDs as a recruitment platform and advertising spaces like MUD Connector? There are niches, but it seems like each "indie" niche provides rather different business/marketing opportunities. Thus generalizations are much more difficult than for mainstream games.

No, we wouldn't be able to. Without those venues, I'd never have done this though. The point isn't about a specific path. Every company has factors specific to its niche and its individual circumstance. The point is that opportunity is out there. You just need to adapt to it rather than expecting it to adapt to you. If you say, "I insist that I will only do a game with an 8 figure budget with cutting edge graphics" then yeah, you're going to have a hard time. A Peter Jackson may still pull that off. The rest of us mere mortals may be better off focusing our efforts on molding our desires to the realities of the landscape we're working in rather than expecting the landscape to change to accomodate us.

--matt

Posted Mar 17, 2005 2:55:35 AM | link

Gavan Woolery says:

To Matt and Brian...
I think that you both respect each other as professionals, you just misinterpretted each other's threads. From the initial posts, I do not think either of you were really trying to attack eachothers views (although I'm sure they differ considerably, both views have some truth to them in my opinion). I think you have both made a contribution to pushing the industry forward, and that is what is most important.

Now, if you want my two cents...

Before I go on to the main topic, allow me to present a necessary tangent...

I think that there is ONLY ONE important aspect to a game (however, it is very important to note that there are TWO important aspects to a commercially successful game...this I will discuss near the end of my rant). Let us neglect technicalities like bugs and crappy user interfaces for the sake of discussion here, and focus solely on game design and theory. The key quality to a good game is what we call "gameplay" or "fun factor" or whichever nomenclature you wish to address it by. It is the essential factor. If a game is not fun to play, engrossing, hard to put down, etc. -- it isn't SHIT. Can a game have no gameplay and still be engrossing? Yes. A second factor to consider is the storyline...sometimes people will play a game that is not really that fun all the way through just because the storyline has them hooked. In this second case, however, the medium in not being used to its full advantage. A game with no gameplay and a great storyline might as well be a book or a movie. On the other hand, a game can have a crappy storyline and still be FUN. Note that one can consider a storyline to be many things...it can be something prescripted or a dynamic ongoing story (as told, perhaps, in a MMORPG). To clear any potential confusion (and perhaps allow you to pick up a pattern), let me give some examples, noting the various factors of some games. If I say the graphics or sound were good, take into account the time the game was made (although, amazingly, many of these games have withstood the test of time). The following games are based on my opinion, you may not have liked them...I apologize in advance for the long list of reviews, I just really want to make a point -- read which parts you wish among them.

Star Control II
Great storyline, great gameplay. Great graphics. And lets not forget one of the best techno soundtracks ever ;). Most people would agree. Overall rating: excellent.

Ultima XII
Some people consider the storyline to be good...I thought it was decent. The game was incredibly fun to play though, even if you were just doing your own thing (like robbing the Brittanian Mint), and not really following the story. Overall rating: excellent (despite the technical difficulites of creating a working bootdisk ;) ).

Half-Life
Now this one presents an interesting anomaly. Most people say the storyline was awesome, but they are confusing it with the beauty of the way the storyline was delivered -- seamlessly within the game engine. Try isolating the storyline: A government lab somewhere in the southwest opens up a portal to an alien world. Wow -- where have I heard that gem of a storyline before? Gameplay was great, needless to say. As were the graphics and sound. The music was decent, did a good job of setting the mood. Overall rating, excellent.

Fantasy General
Crappy graphics, little or no sound and music. Not a very interesting storyline. Oddly addictive. Overall rating: definitely worth playing, especially if you like strategy.

Exile II: Crystal Souls
Horrid graphics, crappy sound, no music. Immersive world, very fun gameplay. Overall rating: excellent.

Fallout I and II:
A lot of work went into the graphics...yet they were kind of repulsive and dull because of the 256 color palette. Mediocre music. Great storylines, awesome gameplay. Overall rating: excellent.

ADOM:
ASCII graphics. Internal Speaker sound. More addictive than crack. Overall rating: excellent.

Doom 3
Amazing graphics and sound, really sets the mood. Unfortunately, not much more to offer than that. Didn't I play this same game ten years ago? Oh yeah, they just changed the graphics engine. Overall rating: Take a quick gander at the graphics, then uninstall it.

I could go on about bad games, but if you haven't concluded it yourself already, there is only one thing that makes a good game good: It is fun to play. I am stating the obvious, every developer with half a brain knows this. So what the hell am I trying to get at? Read on...

Let's break down what it costs to create a game that will compete with the big guns, based on various segments of development [note these are generalizations]:

Graphics:
It will cost you several million to make a game graphically comparable to, say, any of the recent Final Fantasy games.

Sound, Music:
It will cost you several thousand minimum to buy music for your game, and the same for sound. To get studio quality music and sound, you could be paying in the hundred thousands (millions even if a reputable composer is hired and a live orchestra).

Storywriters, level designers, etc:
Could cost virtually nothing, could cost a lot; depends on the project.

Gameplay:
Assuming you know how to program and are capable of free will, coming up with an orginal game and implementing the concept in code could cost you no more than some time in this aspect.

Wait folks, something is wrong. Millions are being poored in to sound and graphical development, yet game design sees no such budget. Again, I state the obvious. We are all aware of this problem. So what am I getting at?

A person can make a fun game with little or no money.

Obviously.

If fun is all that matters, why does the corporate industry have such a huge advantage over independent developers? I mean, come on, the consumer isn't stupid...only so many people will buy a game that is not fun before the mainstream catches on.
The industry does make fun games.
They aren't creative, they take few risks, they are all pretty much like eachother, but they are fun enough for the average consumer. Not all of them are fun (in fact, most of them aren't -- and this is why many fail). Like Raph Koster said at GDC, when gamers pick up the pattern behind a game, they get bored with it. This goes for clones too...if a gamer has played Warcraft, they will be bored of any RTS clone before they pick it up -- they already know how the game is going to play out. The average consumer is willing to settle with whatever they find on the shelf at Walmart, sometimes even if they know its not going to be that great. Ever entered a video game store and couldnt leave until you bought a new game to play? I know I have. Ok, so the corporate industry makes decently fun (rarely some genuinely fun) titles and they have the definte distribution advantage with their games. They advertise with shelf space if nothing else. How does one compete with this?

THE THESIS: THE KEY TO COMMERCIAL SUCCESS

Be original.

If your game is fun, and it is original (i.e. not just a clone of another fun game), it will succeed.

Why did Half Life 2 and Halo 2 succeed where DOOM 3 failed? They made ORIGINAL improvements to their gameplay engines. Doom 3 had a new graphics engine. Originality generates buzz...Half Life 2's gravity gun created a ton of buzz. I don't think I ever heard anything about Doom 3's weapons...Buzz, word of mouth, whatever you want to call it. Time has shown this to be the most effective form of advertisement. I remember a GDC speaker talking of this...He said, "remember the old days, when you could rely on word of mouth? God, that was awesome."...or something to that effect. I do not know how he could neglect the internet. The internet is word of mouth on steroids...no forrest, no sea, no country line can stop word of mouth from spreading across the internet. When something is truly groundbreaking, PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT IT. My rant is getting rather long and I am getting tired, so Im going to try to cut this as short as I can. I will give you some main points (bulleted, for your reading pleasure).

-If a game isn't fun, people won't like it.
-It doesnt really cost anything to make a fun game.
-If a game isn't original, people won't talk about it.
-If a game is fun and original, people will like it, they will talk about it, and it will be successful (even if only to a "cult" community). I dare you to prove me wrong here.
-The internet has billions of forms of free advertising. Blogs, newsites, game review sites, etc.
-On a personal note, given the above, I firmly believe:

IT IS POSSIBLE TO MAKE A FUN ORIGINAL GAME AT LITTLE OR NO COST THAT IS COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL.

No luck is required in the process, unless your game isn't original, or dramatically original. Then you need luck for people to recognize your game.

One last important note on originality:
When I say "original", in terms of game development, I don't just mean adding a new plot to some familiar type of game play. I mean creating gameplay that is fundamentally different, or improving on some type of existing gameplay in a way that really makes your game DIFFERENT.

Learn to program. Learn how to draw. Learn how to edit audio and compose music. I have done all of these things, and am not gifted. Anybody can learn how to draw (most people like to convince themselves otherwise if they are born an artist). One can teach themselves all the necessary functions to create a game on their own.


If somebody else does not change this industry soon and prove me right, I will. No, I'm not all talk, I have been developing a game on my own for a long time now. I have something wicked brewing, and if I am able to complete my vision, with god as my witness, I will rip the commercial gaming industry a new asshole.

Posted Mar 20, 2005 5:56:10 AM | link

Michael Hartman says:

Brian, if you want to think you succeeded through luck, that's fine.

Telling someone else they owe a significant portion of their success to luck is EXTREMELY insulting, inappropriate, and on top of it all, probably false.

Believing that successful people succeed through luck is usually the attitude of losers who prefer that explanation to just admitting they are lazy, unmotivated, or unskilled. It shocks me that you'd stoop to such a statement.

Posted Mar 21, 2005 7:34:14 AM | link

Janos Honkonen says:

I might be jumping a bit late to the fray, but the rant and this reply has been the topic of some discussion in several circles.

I'm not a game designer, I'm a gamer and a computer journalist, so my view is more from the consumer side. I am also waiting enthusiastically for the indie-part of game developement to rise. Here I have to make a short clarification about how I see the indie-field in games, movies etc. is divided:

1) Niche and enthusiast indie. Non-mainstream stuff that has a narrow but devoted following. Commercial or non-commercial.

2) Mainstream indie. Made with the same production values as big studio stuff but without big studio money, thus being free of the restraints of having to please the traditional demographic. Made to create profit, but not insane amounts.

With movie analogies, type one indie is black and white polish art movies or, say, von Trier’s Dogma-stuff. Type two are the Donnie Darkoes, Being John Maloviches, Pi's and Cubes. In my view MUDs are in the type one indie. Don't get me wrong, I love for example text adventures, I have made a few as a kid and I have been eyeing TADS-toolkit for a couple of years now. But, in the end, the relevance of type one indie in the field is quite small, no matter how well done it is.

But where is the second type of indie in game industry?

What I'm aching to see is the ever-elusive innovation to manifest in game storylines and content. Or not even innovation, I just hope that the game storytelling will get out of its infancy. When I play most of the current games, I still get the feeling that I'm playing something that is aimed for the kids but suitable for adults. Where are games that approach , say, sex and violence in a non-silly, non over-the-top and realistic way? Where is the controversial material and non-teenager drama of games? Where are the thinking adults’ plotlines? I just can’t see this developing from big business side of the industry.

The only example I could perhaps classify as type two indie games are some adventure games, stuff like Moment of Silence and Still Life pop into my mind. They also had a certain “made for adults” –kind of vibe to me. The Adventure Company has been cranking out pretty good stuff lately. Weirdly enough, I got the same vibe from Half-Life 2 plot developement and characters. If kids think the storyline is confusing and boring, something is being done right.


Posted Mar 23, 2005 6:53:26 AM | link

Daniel McMillan says:

Cory "Permalink" Ondrejka wrote: "It isn't going to be easy. It isn't guaranteed to make you a millionaire -- or even a thousandaire -- but you can blaze your own trail in this industry."

Amen. :D

Posted Mar 23, 2005 2:07:55 PM | link