22 April, 2006
Raph posted on his blog about the next next gen. The summary: indie developers are the mammals running between the traditional industry’s soon-to-be-extinct dinosaur legs. Welcome to the other side, Raph. ;)
Of course, most of this is what I’ve been saying for a while now. Scott Jennings points out that Raph’s “future” is actually now. We’re starting to see the very beginnings of all this happening.
Now, for the bad news: there will likely be a few snags along the way to gaming Nirvana, as Raph describes it. What are they?
Well, here’s a list of reasons why Raph’s predictions might not come true. I’m not trying to naysay Raph, in fact I mostly hope his predictions come true. Rather, I think it’s important to keep a realistic view on things.
- It’s actually not guaranteed that all the old publishers will die. Nintendo is talking about some really interesting things with the Revolution and their “blue ocean” strategy. Given what they have done with the Nintendo DS, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Sure, they’re talking about embracing the smaller developers, but Nintendo isn’t known for being the most touchy-feely of the big developers. Maybe things won’t remain the same, but there’s nothing to say that everything has to change like Raph has (and I have) predicted.
- The talent pool could decrease, contrary to what Raph says. Most of us developers are capable of working in other creative media. I know I’ve been tempted more than once to say “fuck it all” and start writing fiction for a living. There’s a lot of other types of jobs for people that really know what they’re doing in games. Now, some will be attracted to games because that’s the medium they know best and love, but I think that we could lose a lot of high profile developers when the revolution comes. Even if it does not decrease, you have increased problems of a potentially oversaturated market from the development end.
- Developing games is still hard, even at the “downloadable game” level. The days of a single person banging out a whole game in a few days is still dead. Now, it is easier to find two or three people with a decent level of synergy in order to make a game, but it’s not exactly like falling off a log yet. Indie developers fail all the time, and it’s not just because they didn’t make a great game. Sometimes fighting from the inside can kill the company worse than a flop of a game can.
- We still have to grow the market. This means that we’ll need to continue seeing exceptional growth in the “downloadable” games space in order to see Raph’s prediction about a portal being larger than any traditional game company. If the traditional companies shrink but the downloadable market doesn’t grow, we’re going to be in a heap of trouble. It’s still going to be a challenge to convince grandma that it’s worth $20 to download the latest indie masterpiece.
- There’s a huge vested interest in keeping the old system alive on multiple fronts. It’s not just the publishers, but all the other industries as well. Guide book publishers (although most of them have been dying off), game publication writers (aka “journalists” *snicker*), game rental places. etc. There’s a lot of people interested in maintaining the status quo, and they probably will not go gentle into that good night.
- The new boss? Same as the old boss. After you get done developing a new game, you go to a portal to post it up and get the sales rolling in! One problem: the portals are pretty much offering the same deals publishers used to offer from what I’ve heard, and it’ll likely only get worse. Only this time you don’t get expensive or useful things like market research, experienced advice, physical distribution, marketing, etc. No, you just get your title up on an overcrowded webpage and hope you get noticed quick. If not, your game will languish in obscurity on that site. I like to reference an article by Brian Hook discussing the problems his company had a few years ago. Imagine how much harder it’s going to be when all the game developers out of work start developing indie games and the people making truly small-scale games now start competing in the same market as well.
- Developer egos still exist. Look, I’ve run a profitable business for 4 years now. I’ve pretty much did the impossible: launched a commercial graphical online game with a team of only 3-4 people. I’m under contract to co-write and co-edit a book on business and legal issues in running a game business. Suffice to say: I know a thing or two about surviving on the indie side of things. Yet, I get very little respect because I languish in relative obscurity. Even with developers “going indie”, I have heard from very few people interested in talking to me. I suspect this is mostly an issue of ego: obviously that developer isn’t going to fall into the same mistakes that others have! Same thing MMO developers have had to listen to for many, many years. Sure, some will probably make it, but isn’t it better to talk to someone with experience to avoid the pitfalls?
- History could just repeat itself again and again. How long until a team of three developers decides that a team of 10 developers could create an even more appealing game to stand out from the crowd of indie titles? How long before another group decides 20 people will create more content and provide better tech? Then 30, 50, 80, 100 developers? How long until we face the same problems we’re facing now at an accelerated rate? How long until the next group of people hope that indies will “save” the stagnant industry by doing something different than the publishers with their outdated digital distribution primarily through a handful of portals?
Again, I hope Raph is right because he’s saying largely the same thing I’ve been saying for the past few years. But, there is still a long, hard road ahead of us to get from here to there. No time to get too smug and assume the future will happen automatically.