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Game Corporations Rule, Independent Studios Drool

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the little-guy-can't-catch-a-break dept.

63

hapwned writes "In his third segment for The Escapist, Warren Spector reviews what the ambitious, creative, and talented (but poor) don't want to hear: 'Until and unless the business model changes, I see only one possible outcome: A business that's already heading in a rich-get-richer direction will see the trend accelerated and the situation exacerbated. Those who can afford to compete at the triple-A, movie-budget level will; those who can't will be driven out of business entirely or driven to different parts of the business - boutique online games, cell phone games, casual puzzle games...'"

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it's totally me. (1)

Gravis Zero (934156) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066065)

ambitious, creative, and talented (but poor)

hey that's me! well minus the first three things.

The new business model !!!!!11!1!11oneeleven (3, Funny)

El_Muerte_TDS (592157) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066092)

$2.50 for two horse wallpapers.

Re:The new business model !!!!!11!1!11oneeleven (1)

shoptroll (544006) | more than 8 years ago | (#15071706)

Everyone has been telling me to get Oblivion. When I heard about the freaking horses I am seriously reconsidering taking anyone's advice on this. This is precisely what I was afraid of when Allard made his big speech last year at GDC... how micropayments and pay-for content was going to be the next big thing.

I'm sorry, but when you charge $10 more for your games and charge for trivial extras I see no reason to fall into this scheme.

Re:The new business model !!!!!11!1!11oneeleven (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15095185)

Did you mean OMG PONIES!!! ?

well... (0)

Churla (936633) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066093)

There's a shocker!

Person predicts that the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

Can we get film at 11?

The biggest problem is that the public demands more from it's games now. It's not good enough to have a great game dynamic build and a fun game, it had better also have cutting edge graphics, professional voiceovers.. and maybe a pony.

Re:well... (1)

DesireCampbell (923687) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066124)

Yeah, but that pony's armor will cost you extra [slashdot.org] .

Does not apply to StarDock? (4, Interesting)

sporkmonger (922923) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066101)

That or else they're StarDock and everyone will buy their games anyway because they respect their customers and they know that gameplay is more important than graphics.

Re:Does not apply to StarDock? (3, Interesting)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066243)

I remember StarDock from the OS/2 days. They're not just a game development company though. I would guess that a good portion of their money comes from their ObjectDesktop and related products. So games probably won't make or break them. Also, they've avoided the very high cost associated with developing for console systems and stayed on the PC with some pretty decent strategy games. They've always been dinged in reviews for graphics, but I agree with you, that gameplay has been their primary focus from the very beginning.

Re:Does not apply to StarDock? (2, Interesting)

sporkmonger (922923) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066311)

I could be wrong, but I believe that their games are producing the lion's share of their revenues right now. ObjectDesktop and others are likely there for the cash flow to keep them alive in between games.

Exactly. Great games != massive companies. (4, Insightful)

WidescreenFreak (830043) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066326)

I was thinking that exact same thing myself. StarDock has been around for quite some time. They were just about the only company back in the OS/2 days that recognized that there was a market for OS/2 games, and the games that they made were *good*. The OS/2 community responded by helping to keep StarDock afloat through purchases of what was clearly niche software products.

Along the same lines, StarDock's attitude that they should be grateful to the customer and therefore continue to produce games and company policies that keep people coming back also help to keep them afloat. Hell, I plan on buying Galactic Civilizations II just because StarDock has refused to use on-disc copy protection, even though I don't really care for that particular genre!

This is in stark contrast to the mega-game conglomerates like EA and Ubi who treat the customer as though they are potential criminals (and therefore deserve invasive copy protection) who should be grateful that they are being given the privilege of purchasing the game (and therefore expect the customer to tolerate a bug-ridden version while the company works on patches). Bullshit!

Since when does any company need to compete against the big-boys or die? From what I understand, Darwinia is exceptionally popular and that company doesn't come close to EA or UbiSoft. What about Zuma and other popular games? I still think back to Apogee and Id, both of which were independents that profited through a successful shareware model.

The notion that you have to compete with the big boys and have big-budget games in order to survive is complete and utter bullshit. Find your niche, make great games, get great word-of-mouth, and treat your customers with respect. You'll make it in the gaming world. You might not be as big as EA or Ubi, but that's not necessarily a bad thing either.

Re:Exactly. Great games != massive companies. (1)

sporkmonger (922923) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066539)

I bought GalCivII for the exact same reason. It's a nice bonus that the game also happens to be awesome.

Re:Exactly. Great games != massive companies. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15066661)

Apogee and Id made the best games around in every sense when they "made it" doing shareware. Nowadays independents simply can't make the best ZOMG GRAPHICS games, or afford big name licences or movie-star voiceovers. It's a genuine handicap, although not as big as some people seem to think.
Plus, the freeware game and mod scenes have stuff just as good as (all but the very best of) the independants who want to make money... so why buy their games?

WHAT is with that kind of attitude? (3, Interesting)

WidescreenFreak (830043) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066957)

SO WHAT?! Since when did popular games require ZOMG GRAPHICS to be either good ro popular and why in hell do people like you continue to propagate that myth? Darwinia is by no means cutting edge graphics, neither are the thousands of title that companies like PopCap sell successfully. I've played and enjoyed Zuma, Bejewelled, and lots of other games of that nature. They are hardly games that anyone would consider to have cutting-edge graphics, but they're FUN and I enjoy playing them.

There are also plenty of talented voice actors out there who would give their vocal talents just for the fun of doing it. I think that most gamers really don't give a rat's rear end about who does voice acting as long as it's done WELL. Hell, I can do lots of accurate, European accents and have been told by many people that I should get into voice acting. I'd gladly lend my voice to a local independent gaming company (if there was one near me) just to say that I did it! Half-Life 2 was no better because it used the voice talents of people like Robet Guillaume (sp?) and Louis Gosset, Jr. It would not have been any worse if unknown but talented voice actors were used instead.

The attitude that successfull games require ZOMG GRAPHICS and well-known voice talent and that having neither is detrimental is the real "handicap" that independent game companies have to overcome. What's disgusting about it is that the real "handicap" is not the company's action but the ignorant perception of those who externally place those "handicaps" on the gaming companies.

Re:WHAT is with that kind of attitude? (1)

Rimbo (139781) | more than 8 years ago | (#15070841)

That's the hilarious thing about Warren Spector's comments:

There is an upside in all this. Games will look better than they ever have. And there's at least the possibility (remote, I fear) that someone will harness the power of the Xbox 360, PS3 and Revolution (and whatever comes after them) for something other than putting prettier pictures on the screen - non-combat AI, characters you care about, problems that can be solved without resorting to guns, knives and baseball bats, anyone?


Since when have we needed power to have non-combat AI, characters you care about, problems that can be solved without resorting to guns, knives and baseball bats? "Starflight" had all of the above, and that was a game designed to run on 8088 IBM PC's with CGA graphics. (They later released an update to support EGA.)

Warren Spector has the facts in his head but just hasn't recognized the connection: All of this "power" in the new consoles does exactly Jack Shit for anything other than appearances. That is the bottom line.

Re:WHAT is with that kind of attitude? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15073538)

I don't think you quite understood me.

I said that an independent cannot make a graphics heavy game. This is a genre of game. Therefore they are locked out of that genre.

An independent cannot make a movie-licence game. Therefore they are locked out of that sector of the market.

They are not required to make graphics heavy games to compete in gaming, but not being able to prevents them competing in that genre, losing them potential market share. If 20% of game sales go to people who only want games that are ZOMG GRAPHICS, then the independents lose 20% of the market, which is a handicap. They're competing for a smaller slice of the pie.
Perhaps its sad that this is the case, but it's how the world works.

It's not a "myth" that games with fancy graphics sell well. Check out the sales charts for yourself. They dominate it.
It's also not the case that ZOMG GRAPHICS are required, I never said so - e.g. sports manager games that are practically text-only also usually do pretty well.

If independents were not handicapped (by people's preferences, if you want to look at it that way) then why don't they rule the market like they used to?

p.s. I personally am quite happy playing my 4X games from 1995, which barely have bitmaps to their names. You seem to think I'm a polygon-whore, but in fact my main games machine for the past few months is a 600 Mhz PC with no 3D. It plays Star Control 2 very nicely. I'm just stating facts, not my preferences.

Darwinia PS2 (1)

metamatic (202216) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067156)

I'd love to see Darwinia for PS2...

Re:Exactly. Great games != massive companies. (1)

cliffski (65094) | more than 8 years ago | (#15068497)

Couldnt agree more, although I read that darwinia was not a big commercial success. A better example might be rollercoaster tycoon. that franchise was started by one guy on his own doing all the coding. it made millions.
And it can still happen today. Uplink did very well as I recall, and I'm making a living doing small budget indie games (so far at least *crosses fingers*).

Re:Exactly. Great games != massive companies. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15069245)

You're already doing well! Congrats on Democracy.

Re:Does not apply to StarDock? (1)

The_Mr_Flibble (738358) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066395)

What's the name of the company making dukenukem called again ?

(No really I can't remember).

Re:Does not apply to StarDock? (1)

SyncNine (532248) | more than 8 years ago | (#15068036)

3d Realms. Used to be Apogee.

Off-topic funny side-note: The CEO of 3d Realms (while being entirely out of touch with the market after 37,413 years of NOT releasing Duke Nukem Forever) determined that he was in touch enough with the market to predict that Nintendo was going to lose the console war with the Revolution and that it may be the last console Nintendo makes. Full (albeit tiny) story here [ign.com] .

Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, pot. You two get along now.

New Buisness Models (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15066196)

There are new (and emerging) buisness models that are just being brought to the mass market level. With Garage Games' Torque engines you can develop a pretty decent independent game and can market it through XBox live; Nintendo has implied (although I'm not sure it has been announced) that the virtual consoles (like the NES, SNES and N64) will be open to new development and a person could make a really amazing 2D game on the N64 for not too much money.

On a side note, I'm really interested in seeing what Nintendo does; of all of the largest game publishers Nintendo seems to be the only one that is willing to openly say that development cost are getting out of control; and they want people to be able to develop for the Revolution without concern for budget. I'm really curious to see if they can make it possible for a team of 4-8 people (who are working for 6-12 months on a game) to produce and release a game [essentially the team size and time frame of most SNES games].

Re:New Buisness Models (1)

datawhore (161997) | more than 8 years ago | (#15071675)

From what I know of Torque, it isn't a very well documented codebase and therefore is very difficult to work with. I'm not sure how much this has changed or how well maintained it is nowadays (given it's genesis as the Tribes 2 engine way back when), though I commend Garage Games for putting in effort. A while back a friend and I evaluated a bunch of cheap engines and the cleanest one out there to use was OGRE, though it had no games-specific libraries and was only a rendering engine. I'm not sure what cheap engines are available for the 360 - I do know that Epic licenses the Unreal engine differently based on copies sold, and if they price it right, that could allow independent developers to use a pretty good engine (again though, I've heard stuff about the difficulty writing for it due to documentation and unclean code).

I agree though that Xbox Live is the delivery mechanism - it's opened a whole new market for independent games distribution, which otherwise suffered from hassles associated with installation, awareness, etc. The market size is much bigger.

It's about time Nintendo decided to embrace developers again. Sony's done a good job of alienating them recently with the PS3, and at some point something's gotta give. It might be this generation.

The Long Tail? (2, Interesting)

thebosz (748870) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066206)

Is this not a good example of the Long Tale [wikipedia.org] ? Sure, the big studios get the big chunk, but hasn't things like PopCap, and Puzzle Pirates shown that small companies can be successful?

Isn't that part of the reason Nintendo is going after the casual gamer crowd with the Revolution?

Re:The Long Tail? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15066352)

That's exactly what Specter is saying though- indie studios will only make puzzle games and little cell phone games. I don't see how that's any different from now though.

Re:The Long Tail? (2, Insightful)

Daggon (948225) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066431)

Right but thats what he's saying. PopCap and Puzzle Pirates are those "puzzle and boutique" games he's talking about. Niche market games like that will still have a place, but their never going to challenge the audience or overall porfitability of big producer backed games.

As far as the Revolution goes, I severly doubt Nintendo is going to limit their market in any way. While they may be looking at bringing more "casual" games in, their focus is still going to be big budget titles (think zelda\mario\metroid), otherwise Mircosoft and Sony will grind them into the dirt.

Re:The Long Tail? (1)

FirienFirien (857374) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067811)

Hmm? Yahoo games has hundreds of thousands of people online at once, presumably popcap does too though it doesn't seem to list figures. I'm sure there's other ones out there that are similar. Puzzle pirates has a thousand online per server or so, with a userbase in the hundreds of thousands. Yahoo games doesn't require a subscriptions, neither does popcap; puzzle pirates allows some free play but the number of subscribers plus the amount of cash that's gone into their pay-per-play servers is damn telling for the size of company.

While the graphics push away a chunk of the powerplay gamers that are hooked on top-of-the-line 3D graphics and gameplay (resource hogging, ie the stuff that needs a movie budget to produce, read 'quantity'), the simplicity and addictiveness of popcap/y!games/puzzle pirates and similar, which have simple graphics and low resource cost (I think PP is somewhere in the 1XX MBs now, as opposed to the 4? 5? gigs or so I needed for WoW before I stopped playing a year ago) - these are the games that focus on quality of play.

I realise that Blizzard and the ilk have quality of play too - I played WoW for a long time before I shrugged off the constant peer pressure and gave all my unbound ingame stuff to my guild and left. But so long as each product on the market can provide something different from the expensive high-powered fashionable games; at a lower price they'll have a section of the market.

I played WoW, and it was fun item hunting and playing in groups, but I reverted to d2x after I quit because the item hunting was similar and it costs me nothing; I can play with friends and that's what makes me enjoy it, even though it's now more a retro game. I also play PP, in which the time you spend in game is vaguely irrelevant; the way they run the stat system means it's based on your skill rather than your playtime. Yes, that loses the players who want the time spent playing to be a factor - but that is only one portion of the market, albeit a large one. They also jump ship when the next new shiny thing comes along - the earlier the better so they get an early lead.The market that ISN'T - those who are driven out by always being second to those who spend vast amounts of time in game - will also move away, this time from disaffectation. The games that offer a playstyle or level of addiction that will keep someone hooked, without disaffectation at being left behind, without the $$$/month that spurs that disaffectation, that injects new content often enough to keep interest bubbling - just like PP is now - will build and build their userbase.

Even though I've completed every aspect of PP, it's still a great game to me. Even though I've completed d2 and d2x multiple times, with no goals remaining, it's still a game I can pick up and play at any time. WoW? I don't quite understand why, but I'm completely disillusioned. There's pressure to grind, and it completely lost its fun. I got re-enthused a little when some irc buddies were talking over some new aspect from a patch, but a single simple comment when I thought I might reactivate my subscription - "Are you sure?" - made me think over and know it'd be back to the grind again.

I went on a bit, but in summary my post can be vaguely analogied to: big games are like big budget movies. Everyone sees them once, and then it's on to the next ones. The good games - whether big or small - are like classic movies; the ones people will be entertained with over and over again.

Nintendo (3, Interesting)

n3tcat (664243) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066250)

Ya know, we were all confused about Nintendo's direction for a while, but I think it's becoming more clear that they are realizing the growing trends in gaming, and are trying their best to curb this crap, and focus on fun games again. Hopefully they will create a haven for these floundering baby game companies who have nowhere else to show off their cool new thing, and give them enough of a chance to show off what they can accomplish in a game, and hopefully get their shoe in the door for the bigger and better.

It's just going to be like the movie industry, where Nintendo will host the Sundance game festival.

Re:Nintendo (1)

Daggon (948225) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066488)

I don't know about you but the Nintendo I remeber is built on its primary franchise games like zelda and mario, which are each high production cost games. So I'm not sure what you're talking about.

Re:Nintendo (2, Interesting)

Headcase88 (828620) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066685)

Yeah, but they also make WarioWare and Brain Age.

And they've said a million times they're going to fund indie studios to make games for the Revo. Couple that with cheaper dev kits, no HD BS to worry about, and apparantly they're saying companies can make new games [joystiq.com] for the virtual console (does this mean they're going to sell NES/SNES/N64 dev-kits? I don't know).

Re:Nintendo (2, Insightful)

Daggon (948225) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066843)

True enough. But look at the amount of money they make off of things like WarioWare and Brain Age and compare it to the big budget franchises. It just validates what Spector is talking about, Nintendo needs those big buget franchises to keep themselves in the market.

So what I'm trying to get at here is that Nintendo is no so much like Sundance. I think it's be more accurate to compare them to Spielberg, he makes War of the Worlds to crank out the money for the studio so he can make Berlin afterward.

Indie games may be part of the Revo, but they're not going to be the main attraction.

Re:Nintendo (1)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067377)

But look at the amount of money they make off of things like WarioWare and Brain Age and compare it to the big budget franchises. It just validates what Spector is talking about, Nintendo needs those big buget franchises to keep themselves in the market.

Uh, _very_ bad example. Have you seen the sales for Brain Training For Adults in Japan? [gamesarefun.com] It's been in the top ten sales chart for almost a year now.

Re:Nintendo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15067938)

Brain Age is the best example of how an indie developer could make a massive impact on the gaming market. Brain Age was made by a Professor in Japan in association with Nintendo, the game had (at most) 9 developers working on it (many working part time) and was completed in 3 months for a total cost of (quick estimate by me) $200,000; the game has sold over 2 Million copies in Japan for an estimated revinue of 20,000,000 leaving Nintendo with a profit of 19,800,000 or $990 for every $1 invested.

What people forget is that Games like Wario-Ware, Nintendogs, Electroplanktin, Animal Crossing, Brain Age, and the Mario Party/Mario Sports games are where Nintendo makes their profit because they have low development costs (usually $1 Million to $2 Million), have world wide apeal and sell reasonably well (usually get between 500,000 and 2 Million units sold world wide) and don't require massive marketing campaigns; games like Zelda, Metroid and Mario-Bros. are games that Nintendo uses to build credability among gamers and tend to cost more to develop ($4 Million to $10 Million) still sell reasonably well (2 Million to 6 Million untis world wide) but require massive marketing campaigns (potentially $10 million to $20 million spent on marketing). When you do the math you will find that the Margins on their smaller games are much better for the company.

Just something to remember a $1 Million game needs ~ 100,000 Sales to break even (less for a first party developer because they gain the publishing and licencing revinues); a $20 Million game (as many 'Next Gen' games are becoming) requires 2 Million sales to break even (once again less for first party games). When 10 small games bomb and 1 small game does well the games that bomb almost break even with the game that does well povides a nice profit for the company; when one large game bombs and another large game does well the game that bombs carries a massive 'deficit' while the game that does well breaks even with a small profit, the company can still be in financial difficulty with a game that sold 3 Million copies.

Re:Nintendo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15066835)

What he's talking about is Nintendo's recent trend of favoring and sponsoring small game teams, making the Revolution devkit accessible to individual developers (or so they say) and keeping game content requirements reasonably low (no HD). It's unclear whether these things will make it easier for smaller companies to break into the global market, but I'm thinking that they will.

I agree that it's weird to look to a multinational company as hope for the indie scene, but their current plan seems to be heading in that direction.

Independent niche products (2, Insightful)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066251)

Face it. If you're not a HUGE corp with a lot of manpower to put behind your project, you won't write the next big thing in shooters. There are manyears in the 2 to 3 digit range behind those games. Nothing you can crank out with "hobbyist" levels. Forget writing anything in shooters or RPGs if you're not Blizzard, EA or at a similar level. You won't even be noticed.

But there are game genres that don't get overcrowded. http://www.galciv2.com/ [galciv2.com] is a great example of a great game that doesn't require a lot of explosions and pretty graphics (even though they're not bad either, by far not!). But the game itself is great! Lots of choices, lots of knobs and tweaks to fiddle with, lots of freedom for the player to create, play and plan. Lots of different strategies that can all lead to success.

That's where "smaller" companies have a chance. Not trying to compete with the big studios, but trying something new and improved. We won't see any invention or development from EA anytime soon. There's a reason why they print the year on some of their products, so you can at least see that there IS a difference in the different versions of the game.

The pet example in this context is usually Tetris, a game that even for its time had mediocre if not laughable graphics, and STILL it's one of the most successful game ideas ever. Tetris didn't get popular because of flashy graphics or cool effects. It was, is and will be a timeless classic for a gameplay that allows the player a lot of freedom and challenges him not only with his ability to react but also with his ability to understand different patterns and plan ahead.

This is where our chance is. Not in the vain attempt to create the better CounterStrike.

Re:Independent niche products (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15066435)

"We won't see any invention or development from EA anytime soon."

Except for, you know, http://www.spore.com/ [spore.com] .

friendly gamers needed! (1)

hanako (935790) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066667)

There will always be room for the indie niche.

Of course, that indie niche does better if you remember not to mock them for their lack of enormous budgets, and encourage your friends to do the same... :)

It's very tiring to see people spend all the money they had to finance their dream game and then have that product mocked everywhere because their budget was a few thousand rather than a few million. (Note - I don't mean me. I have *NOT* yet spent a few thousand on graphics!)

I'm not talking about indie games with actual BAD graphics. I'm just talking about those who bitch "Oh god, that looks SO five years ago. I would never pay for that." at games whose graphics are attractive and useful but not hugely flashy. If you've ever said this, you are part of the problem. :)

Screw Graphics (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067756)

Eye candy only works for about a week. After that, the "new game smell" is off and all that's left is gameplay. If that's zero, the game hits the shelf and will NEVER be taken off again. Why? Because after 5 years, it's "SO five years ago", the graphics suck and if it has no other redeeming feature, the game sucks.

If you'd excuse me now, I'm off to play a few hours of Startopia.

Re:Independent niche products (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15066749)

"Not in the vain attempt to create the better CounterStrike."

ummm...Didn't Counter Strike start off as an Independent niche product?

Re:Independent niche products (1)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 8 years ago | (#15068023)

Face it. If you're not a HUGE corp with a lot of manpower to put behind your project, you won't write the next big thing in shooters.

[Our chance is] not in the vain attempt to create the better CounterStrike.

Um, sorry, but you're full of crap. Counter-Strike [wikipedia.org] was originally started as mod to Half-Life. Also, Valve Software was a startup.

Re:Independent niche products (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15073579)

Also, Valve Software was a startup.

Started by two guys from Microsoft with 3-digit employee numbers and 7-digit option portfolios.

A Huge Budget is a blessing... (1)

i_am_the_r00t (762212) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066314)

and a Curse!

Big (Game/Movie) studios do not take chances. they use repeatable, established formulas to crank out tired and slighlty flashier product year after year. Innovation comes from below. Indie teams will be able to compete as they gain access to time-saving technologies. Most slashdotters are sitting behind a PC that could render Toy Story in a few hours. Innovative Open Source/low cost design products like Torque Game Engine, OGRE, BlitzMax make conceptualization easier. Languages like Python and Lua are already being used in AAA titles. ODE (Fizics engine) is FOSS and makes many in-game crates bounce realistically. The list goes on.

I think there will be a backlash. It happens a few years after every new batch of consoles come out. We are on the verge of a gaming honeymoon with the 360, PS3 and Revolution. This will last for 1-2 years. During that time we will hear

"Is PC gaming dead?"
"PC game sales down, again"

and so on. This will shake up the industry and bankrupt many AAA producers. Once the honeymoon is over PC games will again Dominate for 2-3 years.

This cycle has been going on for many moons.

The result is that while there WILL be boutique studios, small, low budget teams, they will have the AAA talent thet EA can no longer afford.

  Game designers/programmers gotta eat!

A Huge amount of Technofaith is a blessing... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15067994)

"Most slashdotters are sitting behind a PC that could render Toy Story in a few hours."

BHAHA! Keep up the technofaith. HEHE! You people are a riot.

That's hardly new (1)

Programmer_In_Traini (566499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066358)

That's hardly new (or game-related in itself). Maybe people expected it would be otherwise for the game industry but that's really how it is for every industry in living in a capitalist model like ours.

movies, food, textiles, alcohol, books.... you name 'em.

The capitalist model encourages that: the richer you get, the easier it is to take advantage over your weaker opponents because you can gradually make better deals, lower prices. With a good plan, you end up spending less and earning more.

Gaming is just an industry like any other and independent studios will most of timee produce genuinely original products because in the end, that's their only way to make a profit (or be bought for lots of $$$). Big studios, will concentrate more on tried & true tactics. If they find that a particular game has potential, they try to buy the independent studio then make a franchise with the game or they create a spinoff title to compete with the independent studio but they rarely create original products out of thin air. Our favorite blockhead, microsoft, being the best example of "try to buy" then "make spinoff" if they can't buy.

blah blah blah (1)

Intangion (816356) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066461)

ive been hearing this same tune for what? 5 years at least.. and i still dont believe it, there will always be room for independant and/or creative developers. The are still independant and small budget films, and infact that industry is going in the opposite direction because people are tired of (high budget) unoriginal, uncreative movies.

Just like movies (1)

edremy (36408) | more than 8 years ago | (#15066728)

I have to admit I'm not really worried about this. We're going to end up with a situation exactly the same as with movies: there are a few, large studios that can pony up the tens of millions it takes to make a big-budget, special effects laden extravaganza. Often these are great- look at the upcoming Snakes on a Plane, possibly the greatest film of the decade. Yet there are dozens of indy filmakers out there working on shoestring budgets, often turning out great stuff for peanuts. There are multiple film festivals worldwide to showcase these films to good sized audiences. Are you going to make $100mil in the opening weekend? No, but you don't need to. Technology is a great leveler here- the entire rig to shoot, edit and create a movie length DVD is down to $20k or so.

We're seeing the exact same thing in games. There's no way a single hacker or even a small group can write WoW/Oblivion/Doom3- you need tens of millions, years of effort and a hundred people minimum. But again technology is a great leveler- we have dirt cheap computers and development kits that allow even minimal programmers to assemble good looking stuff that's fun to play. You can't do WoW, but you can exploit MM niches that nobody big would dare try such as Puzzle Pirates or A Tale in the Desert. You can't do Civ4, but you can do Oasis. XBoxLive is being supported in large part by Geometry Wars.

I think we'll end up with a fairly healthy ecosystem when we're done- you'll get your blockbusters and many might even be good, but there will always be a horde of smaller folks turning out cheap/niche stuff that doesn't need to sell a million copies. (Or indeed, any at all)

Re:Just like movies (1)

cliffski (65094) | more than 8 years ago | (#15068467)

Its true you cant do civ4, as it currentl looks, but to what extent do we care about looks in games like that anyway? How much of the Civ4 budget is FMV? how much is it voice 'talent'. How much was wasted on that embarrasing 'virtual sid meier' bullshit that pollutes the tutorial?
The one thing that hasn't advanced in as many leaps and bounds is pure gameplay code. The amount of actual gameplay code in big games these days isnt much greater than it was 5 years ago. The extra cost goes into graphics, sounds, hype and unneccesary content.
If gamer werent so easily wowed by screenshots, they would find a lot of smaller games to be just as rich in gameplay. Democracy (www.democracygame.com) doesn't look as nice as Civ4, by a long way, but I'd wager if people could get past that and give the game a try, they'd realise that a game that small can be no slouch in the gameplay dept. (disclaimer -> i made it)
The 2 best games I've played in the last 5 years have been BF2 and GalCiv2. One probably cost ten times what the other did, but I certainly dont notice a difference in quality. To be honest, I'd be just as happy if Galcivs budget was halved, I dont need any of the FMV or the 3D space battles for the game to be fun.
There have been doom-mongering stories about indie gaming dying out for years. it never happens, and it never will.

Re:Just like movies (1)

dslbrian (318993) | more than 8 years ago | (#15071884)

I would go farther than that, it seems that many companies go so far off in the "better graphics" direction that they completely lose the fun aspect of the game entirely. I recall playing Master of Orion 2 on quite a number of very long nights, and it was excellent. The graphics were 2D and sprites, with some still renders I think. Nothing stellar, but the gameplay was great.

Then when MOO3 came out I rushed to buy it - surely it was improved yes? In fact the gameplay was so horrible I had to question if the developers had even played MOO2 before (I mean come on - the freaking build queue was only 3 slots deep). It was such a bad sequel it was literally an insult to its predecessor.

Same thing happened with Deus Ex - I got a copy of the original when I bought a graphics card. Had never heard of it before, but after playing it I was hooked. It wasn't the graphics (although it was 3D), and it wasn't really the gameplay itself (AI was a little poor, and the augmentation system depleted itself of power way too fast) - it was the storyline that got me. I thought the storyline was awesome. It was long and intriguing, I thought they could have cut a movie or a miniseries directly from it.

And when the sequel came out it was better right? No, they released the console-adapted Deus Ex :Invisible War, which was a dumbed down disaster that could be finished in 10 hours. Honestly I never understood why companies bother spending years of R&D on a game, and then give it only 10 hours of play time. IMO, cut the graphics in half and double up on the storyline/plot/levels and it would be a much better experience.

On the flip side there are games like Descent, basic graphics and good action with a very thin story (although I always wished they would give it a better storyline). What the heck ever happened to the Descent series?!? Someone bring it back, I'll buy it!

What about those text adventure games? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15067020)

I grew up playing genres like Space Quest, Hero's Quest, any Quest(TM) from Sierra, its kinda sad to see that the gaming industry moved away from some of these genres. It was always fun typing to get something done. Shit I can honestly say, my spelling and english comprehention improved from typing so much when I was playing those things as a kid.

Market needs to move away from focusing on 'first person shoot'em ups' and forge new genres or revisit old ones.. aka the graphical text action type.. which I thought kicked ass! Typing out what your character needed to do was part of the fun and frustration.

Re:What about those text adventure games? (1)

roystgnr (4015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15068127)

Market needs to move away from focusing on 'first person shoot'em ups' and forge new genres or revisit old ones.. aka the graphical text action type.. which I thought kicked ass! Typing out what your character needed to do was part of the fun and frustration.

Text adventure games are still around, they're just hiding under a more pretentious name now, interactive fiction [ifarchive.org] . The languages and interpreters are much better today than they used to be; unfortunately most of the games written today are one-author affairs, so no graphics. I don't find that to be much of a problem (didn't the pre-VGA Sierra graphics suck anyway?), but tastes differ.

Re:What about those text adventure games? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15074012)

If you want graphics, there are lots games being made with Adventure Game Studio http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/ [adventureg...udio.co.uk]

  Of course most aren't on the same level as commercial games, but there are some gems to be found.

Revolution? (1)

Rydia (556444) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067267)

I seem to recall Nintendo mentioning that indipendant and small developers could use the Revolution's Virtual Console to create low-budget games and still get the "console-style" exposure. May be marketing, but may be true. Then again, the number of small studios with skills, drive and imagination to make more than a novelty game is rather small, despite /.'s bizzare insistence that the way to market domination is to create a "homebrew" market.

cost mainly in art/animation (1)

angrymilkman (957626) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067420)

75% of the costs of a game are in the art and animation. Unless we are being able to create content cheap the costs for developing AAA titles will be high. Some attempts are made to be able to reuse content (see COLADA). If we compare to the movie industry, movie equipment (camera's/video editting software) has become a lot cheaper the last decade while development kits for consoles and advances in technology have only increased the costs for developing games. Yet still, an indie movie (the blairwitch project) made on a low budget is still able to rake in millions, but we still have to see the first indie game do that (I hope darwinia does, just to prove that its possible).

Oh yeah, just like the movie industry! (1)

AzraelKans (697974) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067513)

Independent films are going bye, bye anytime soon I mean is not like "brokeback mountain" and "crash" won an academy award a golden globe or something getting amazing earnings due to the low cost/income ratio while big budget noisy projects like "King Kong", "Narnia" and "War of the worlds" get the critical and audience boot and rotten tomatoes, not getting enough income to cover their own gigantic expenses, nope Not at all.

I mean is not like games such as "DEUS EX 2" by Warren Espector who got critically and fan BASHED (due to poor AI and uninteristing gameplay) or "Enter the matrix" the game that basically ruined Atari along with the "driv3r" series did a lot worse and had a lot less quality that small independent projects such as "katamari damacy", "luminees", "disgaea" etc OR that several huge franchises that exist today started as small independent projects, silly games nobody knows like "Pokemon", "Metroid", "Prince of persia", "Doom" and that silly little project that was originally a small mac game RTS what was its name?.. oh yeah "HALO" have you heard of that one? really unknown.

Yeah, Spector having a few Million bucks backing up is what guarantees a great game or movie, talent, resourcefulness or innovation have nothing to do with it.

Re:Oh yeah, just like the movie industry! (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 8 years ago | (#15071894)

Narnia

On a budget of $180 million USD "Narnia" has grossed $718 million USD worldwide. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe [imdb.com]

The DVD was released this week.

The Narnian Chronicles has the potential to become Disney's Harry Potter, a franchise that will be generating revenue for the studio for decades to come.

The books have never been out of print since their first publication in the 1950s.

Disney can absorb massive losses from films like "Atlantis" and "Treasure Planet" and still maintain its independence. It can afford to show years/decades of patience, to allow an unsuccessful theatrical release to find its true audience on home video. But a smaller studio can be broken by a short string of financial failures, none of which are remotely on the same scale.

It's the franchise, baby (1)

twoallbeefpatties (615632) | more than 8 years ago | (#15072568)

"...that several huge franchises that exist today started as small independent projects, silly games nobody knows like "Pokemon", "Metroid", "Prince of persia", "Doom" and that silly little project that was originally a small mac game RTS what was its name?."

This, IMHO, is where Nintendo has the edge on the competition. Let's play Count the Successful Nintendo Franchises, shall we? Pokemon, Zelda, Metroid, Mario, Mario Kart, Mario Party. Lesser franchises include Star Fox and Donkey Kong. When you look at that list, how many of those games require top-notch graphics and presentation? Metroid, maybe, but the others are games that consistently sell on their gameplay rather than their visuals. If Nintendo needs to print money, they announce a new Legend of Zelda game.

Once you have a brand name built up, you don't need to completely wow the consumer to sell it. Nintendo more than anyone has a library of possible titles that can be printed at low production costs while maintaining good gameplay. You could also say the same thing about Madden Football, or Dance Dance Revolution, each of which sells consistently whether or not the new versions are worth it. Anyone who thinks the little game isn't going to make it needs to tell it to Shiggy's bank account [bloomberg.com] .

Oh Boy! (1)

rAiNsT0rm (877553) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067864)

That means all videogames will have the depth and innovation of Hollywood movies and pop music!!! Yay for status quo and big corporations, they enrich our lives in so many ways.

I mean what have independent films, developers, and musicians ever given us that was worth a damn... oh wait... :Rolls Eyes:

Of course there are exceptions. (1)

Hellboy0101 (680494) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067881)

Look no further than projectoffset.com [projectoffset.com] for an example of an independent on the verge of a revolution. The game engine and initial artwork/models are all done by three guys in their apartment. Living proof that great gameplay (these are the same guys who worked on Savage) and great graohics can live side by side. Just the words Epic Fantasy First Person Shooter get my juices goin!

Just a reminder... (1)

AzraelKans (697974) | more than 8 years ago | (#15067985)

A lot of people (like Warren Spector aparently) have the impression that "independent developers" is by definition a "small team doing a garage game on their own" This is not exactly correct, an "independent" group is NOT necesarily small, is just about any company or group (no matter the size) that works on their own budget with no obligations to a parent company, Using self publishing or a distributor to release their own products, "Blizzard" and "3dRealms" could be considered "independent" according to those terms.

Meanwhile there are really "small" groups doing casual games and extra work for cell phones, nintendo DS ,gameboy, etc. that are not "independent" (since they are attached to Nokia, Nintendo, Sony) but they may have a tiny staff of 5-10 people placed in a small office downtown. (maybe not a garage, but their companies certainly wont fill a city block like Blizzard).

Oh and btw, most ussually small yet succesful indie development teams, dont stay "independent" too long, eventually they get "hired" by larger companies. (like the CS team who know works at Valve, or the Naughty Dog, DOA or Strange Critters (Pokemon) teams, who now work for Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo respectively)

So exactly what is the point of this message? Small teams shouldn't pursue larger games? they cant, independent or not, they have to hire more people and get more budget for a larger game and therefore they wouldnt be small anymore, should Small budget casual games stop being produced? they are in a all time High Rank right now! (how many people have bought Geometry Wars and PopCap Games?) Should Blizzard stop publishing large "independent" games, er... let me talk with their bank account about it.

Disagree (1)

sinij (911942) | more than 8 years ago | (#15069117)

I disagree with original article. Lets look at movie industry - for average user it is dominated by large-budget blockbusters with occasional Indy or international movie hitting it 'big'. For movie connoisseur it is dominated by international and Indy movies with occasional blockbuster 'getting it right'. Both Indy and blockbusters can be profitable.

In the game market - consoles will tend to favor blockbuster titles and big budgets and PCs will dominated by specialized 'niche' games with occasional blockbusters ported from consoles. Both markets can fail to make money or be hugely profitable.

Hm (1)

MilenCent (219397) | more than 8 years ago | (#15069162)

What's strange about this is that, on the average, I'm a lot more interested in the IGF finalists than most things I see on store shelves these days.

Same tune, different singer. (1)

RoffleTheWaffle (916980) | more than 8 years ago | (#15071627)

Wasn't Jeff Vogel bitching about this like, last month?

We know, we know, little studios can't produce the same content as big studios - not usually, anyway - and are therefore doomed to never meet the status quo. We've been hearing this same tired old rhetoric year after year, and any idiot knows that it takes time, money, and manpower that most people just don't have in order to make a title with the same level of audio-visual quality as the titles released by the 500-pound gorillas of the gaming world.

Let's look at games differently, though. After ample exposure to the GCS community, I can safely say that there are indeed people out there who make games who aren't in it for money or exposure - and they're damn good at it. The article tells us that these 'little people' will be forced into niche markets and will never make it big. (A classic defeatist argument, of course. "Your enemy is great, and you are small! Surely you will be struck down!") I have to wonder if any of these people have ever considered that some people just... make games for fun. It's not a matter of paying my bills or whether or not I get to eat if I sit down with a copy of Megazeux and make retarded comedy titles. It also wasn't a big deal for a couple guys in the community who worked for a year straight on a game called 'Adlo', which contrary to popular to belief is not a Mario clone, but something much more impressive. (That's saying a lot, considering that it's still a silly platformer. I mean, holy shit, it took me a week to beat that game, and it was awesome.)

I don't know about the people that make little 'niche games' like Puzzle Pirates and all that jazz, but some people - very talented and creative people who turn out very high quality work in spite of their limitations - just aren't in it for the money. These are the folks I pay attention to, because they've come up with the strangest habit of turning out games that are actually fun, regardless of whether or not they're just tweaks on old ideas.

Will independent studios ever dominate the market? No, because in order for independent studios to dominate the market, either they have to become huge, or the big studios have to shrink, and neither of those things will happen. (Well, maybe one of them. The big studios seem to be crumpling under their own weight these days.) The point of being an independent developer isn't to make it big in the first place. The point of being independent is to do your own goddamn work without someone breathing down your neck. (A few guys living in an apartment can turn out a good game regardless and keep their day jobs to boot.) If you want to make a lot of money, either you snag some investors and start yourself a mid-sized studio to try to get your foot in the door, or you get a job with one of the big-and-few. Independence was never about being big, and that's what a lot of these cynics - and hopeless optimists - forget.

So let's not be stupid. Let's not assume that indies are going to take over the world, but let's also not assume that they'll ever vanish from the face of the earth. Both assumptions are pretty freakin' dumb. Let's also not forget that the market is changing, and if rumors about the Nintendo Revolution are true, and if GCS development continues to proceed as it has, making a good independent title might become a much more casual affair than it was before. So, gamers and game makers, keep doing what you love.

I get it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15089503)

What he is saying is that he's addicted to World of Warcraft, and won't buy any other games. Yes...the WoW effect. Not only will it ruin your relationship, but it'll ruin entire industries!

quite frankly.... (1)

Hydrophobia (954418) | more than 8 years ago | (#15098718)

I'm still playing Diablo 2 and its graphics were in fact never good.... In fact most of the games I play the graphics mean very little to me. I bought Oblivion, but let me tell you the graphics were the furthest thing from my mind when I did.
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