Newsflash! You’re All Screwed!

I did a print interview for PC Powerplay a few weeks back in which I touched on some of the current industry trends. By the way, despite a slight error in the article, some of my games are in fact up on Steam.

Anyway, working in the industry today is not what it was back in the day. Sure back in the day we still had to deal with the same old crap, but today we’ve got new levels of crap that we have to deal with. Despite all that, some of us still standing are making games. Unlike some of us though, most aren’t making the games they want to make because, well, if you have bills to pay you have no choice as to where your next paycheck is coming from. The notion is similar to the many stories you hear of waiters turned pro actors. Every profession has a stepping stone; heck we’ve had several actors – with absolutely no political experience – run for and enter public office. Go figure. So, game development is no different when you have advanced programmers with highly technical skills, doing tech support at some big name game developer or publisher just because they have no other opportunities.

I have been fortunate in that amidst quite a bit of ridicule (who wants to play a game that actually required someone to have a half a brain and *gasp* a manual?) back when I started out, I just stuck with making only games that I want to play. Along the way a bunch of like minded gamers hopped on; and the rest, as they say, is history.

Amidst all the turmoil, confusion and general hilarity, I have seen all arguments about govt. assistance, tax breaks, grants etc and none of them have remotely convinced me that gaming is going to benefit from any such initiatives. To be honest, tax breaks are probably the best option due to the fact that, well – believe it or not – there is less Red tape to deal with than other incentives. Even some States in the US have programs designed to help game development but the Red tape and bureaucratic bullshit makes it likely that only the most desperate will even attempt it. So that money just sits there as studios close up shop left and right.

While the big boys are crying foul and looking for handouts, the indie development movement is getting stronger and stronger. Across the board from iOS to the consoles, with a brief stop at the PC somewhere in there, indie devs are making a name and a living.

In my day, I have written several blogs about how the industry actually works, how people are actually making money etc but these days, the rules have changed so very much, though the players are pretty much the same. In fact, the last time I checked, third party deals at publishers had pretty much dried up and totally flatlined. In relation to that, many publishers and developers have folded, projects canceled etc. Yes, the consolidation continues and even the rich are no longer getting richer; instead, they’re hanging on for dear life while fighting for relevance. You know you’re screwed when your primary focus is on hoping you get back what you invested in a project. And it has been that way for years; though nobody is actually talking about it.

You have to ask yourself what is the point of blowing North of $20M on a project if you stand absolutely NO chance of making that money back? But most are still doing it. And it’s not like the projects actually cost that much to make. No, the issue is that some of these numbers are due to the large cost overheads and marketing of these projects. Give an experienced indie $10K to make an innovative dream game and he’ll knock your socks off. But why do that when you can just give 100+ people $20M and hope they actually come up with something? That’s the logic for you and the primary reason why today the indie movement is running circles around mainstream development. Most are the unsung heroes who don’t have two pennies to rub together, let alone have a marketing budget; but guess what? They’re making money and are having tons of fun doing it.

So, what have you done lately?

One thought on “Newsflash! You’re All Screwed!”

    Rick B.

    January 31, 2011

    Great commentary, Derek. While many find you a polarizing figure, I’m always impressed by your straight-up matter-of-factness in how things are in the gaming industry, and, most often, they are dead on.

    It will be interesting seeing how things look in 10 years. Will we still have EA, Activision, and Atari/Infogrames? Or will the indies be able to stay afloat in this new “AppWorld,” and knock them over like the dinosaurs.

    It’s amazing how long it took Steam to, well, make steam, and, conversely, how quickly the “AppStore” model has taken off. There are lots of venues and pathways between creators and customers now, and the greatest part? Not a lot of middlemen are in the fastest growing ones.

    R/Rick

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