Is the game industry about to change radically? There are a lot of pundits that seem to think it is. I spent a long time making mainstream games on consoles, and the only people making any real money were the publishers, the company owners, and sometimes the IP owners. That is, if the game made money, of course. I don’t really know that many people who got rich from making mainstream games. A few here and there, and they were all owners of companies or the IP owners.
Now, most AAA titles and mainstream games have to be a sure bet, and rely on proven franchises, or designer celebrity. Publishers are careful with their money, they’re nervous, and will avoid any risk. Meanwhile, development costs spiral upwards, as teams get bigger and the next iteration of “Franchise X”, has to do more and more to keep distracted players engaged. As things get leaner, Publishers squeeze developers, cutting margins, cutting costs, and simply treating dev studios as a throwaway resource.
Developers, often frustrated by creative and financial limitations placed on them by publishers, are turning to alternate funding models for projects. We see Kickstarter, crowdfunding 100s of games and development projects. To date, Kickstarter has funded over $100M in game projects. That is an astounding figure, especially when you consider, that most of that money came from players. Those sorts of figures represent serious money, and huge potential. Publisher should be paying close attention, for sure. Kickstarter is proving that it’s possible to fund and create games that people want to play. Perversely, of course, that could also end up stifling creativity.
It’s never been easier for people to make games. Cheap tools, technologies, and knowledge, are so readily available now, that developers are able to concentrate on the idea and the game, rather than the tools and tech needed to build it. Anyone who is motivated, can get some friends together and make a game. The independent, back-bedroom dev team has always existed, but there seems to be a resurgence or renaissance happening right now. So many people I know and respect, are walking away from mainstream game development, and pitching their hats into the Indie Games ring. And they always give me the same basic reasons for doing it, they are tired with the grind , inflexibility and lack of creativity and control they have in their day jobs.
So, we’re back to where we began. It’s a long cycle that I’ve seen before. We have AAA and big box games becoming harder and harder to make profitable. Publishers are cutting costs, and limiting their investment to “sure things”. They are squeezing development companies or internal studios to meet profitability targets, and they are nothing more than line items on a P&L sheet. All this madness fuels a deep dissatisfaction among developers, developers who are creative and passionate about what they’re making. It gives incentive to this new generation of unhappy, disenfranchised developers, to go do their own thing, and change the World!