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Game Corporations Rule, Independent Studios Drool 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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Game Corporations Rule, Independent Studios Drool

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  • by El_Muerte_TDS ( 592157 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:13AM (#15066092) Homepage
    $2.50 for two horse wallpapers.
    • 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.
  • by sporkmonger ( 922923 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:14AM (#15066101) Homepage
    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.
    • by blueZhift ( 652272 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:28AM (#15066243) Homepage Journal
      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.
      • 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.
    • by WidescreenFreak ( 830043 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:36AM (#15066326) Homepage Journal
      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.
      • I bought GalCivII for the exact same reason. It's a nice bonus that the game also happens to be awesome.
      • I'd love to see Darwinia for PS2...
      • 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*).
    • What's the name of the company making dukenukem called again ?

      (No really I can't remember).
      • 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 [].

        Pot, meet kettle. Kettle, pot. You two get along now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:23AM (#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].
    • 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 chea
  • The Long Tail? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by thebosz ( 748870 )
    Is this not a good example of the Long Tale []? 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? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Daggon ( 948225 )
      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\metr
      • 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 fo
  • Nintendo (Score:3, Interesting)

    by n3tcat ( 664243 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:29AM (#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.
    • 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 (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Headcase88 ( 828620 )
        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 [] for the virtual console (does this mean they're going to sell NES/SNES/N64 dev-kits? I don't know).
        • Re:Nintendo (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Daggon ( 948225 )
          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.

          • 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? [] It's been in the top ten sales chart for almost a year now.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2006 @10:29AM (#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. [] 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.
    • 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
      • 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.
    • 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 [] was originally started as mod to Half-Life. Also, Valve Software was a startup.

  • 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 a
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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
    • 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,
      • 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

  • 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.
  • 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 proj
  • 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 a
    • Narnia

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

      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 independen

    • "...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 loo

  • 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:
  • Look no further than [] 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!
  • 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 t
  • 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 blockbu
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990