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Wideload's Seropian Talks Indie Game Freedom 34

simoniker writes "Wideload's Alex Seropian, who must recently finished wacky Xbox title Stubbs The Zombie, but also co-founded Bungie, has been chatting about how big-budget games are made, and noting: "I had a great experience at Microsoft. But being on the other side of the fence, there were a lot of developers that were making games for the Xbox for launch time, and a lot of them were struggling for one reason or another... a lot of them were struggling with trying to manage their finances, that cashflow, because they were living under the milestone payment system. And a lot of them were going out of business. And I thought, 'Gee, if I weren't doing this for a living, I'd think this is totally a loser business to be in.'" Seropian now suggests using a small internal group to make games and staffing up with independent contractors when each project starts. Why aren't all games done like this?"
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Wideload's Seropian Talks Indie Game Freedom

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  • Busy World (Score:3, Funny)

    by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Monday June 26, 2006 @04:46PM (#15608405)
    "The other thing I've been convinced of for a while, is that games are too long and that they cost too much. It's so hard for me to play a twenty hour game, because I've got kids. But, kids go to bed, I go downstairs for an hour, I play a game, no sweat."

    I have the same problem ... I love the twenty hour games ... but there is absolutely no time in the day to play them.
    • Re:Busy World (Score:4, Interesting)

      by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Monday June 26, 2006 @05:35PM (#15608843)
      The games I play these days are the ones that allow me to play in 15 minutes bursts. Games that require 30 to 45 minutes of gameplay before reaching a save points are the ones that I have to schedule into my calendar.
      • I'm like that now, too, and I'm only nineteen -- no wife or kids yet.

        I love games that allow me to save at any point in time; without that, I wouldn't have the time for most games.

        The Nintendo DS's sleep feature is nice, because if I need to pause because I haven't saved, I can at least close the thing and save a lot of battery life.

        Where'd the good ol' days go, where I could just sit on my ass for six straight hours and play something? *Sigh*

        • Where'd the good ol' days go, where I could just sit on my ass for six straight hours and play something? *Sigh*

          Just wait for college! You can trade each point of GPA for three hours of gaming time each week. The scale is exponential! To go from 4.0 to 3.0 grants college student 3 hours. But from 3.0 to 2.0 grants the student the same 3 hours, but also an additional 27 hours. And from 2.0 to 1.0 and below is about 81 hours. Basically because all week you're skipping every class just to play WoW and C

          • Re:Busy World (Score:3, Interesting)

            Been there, done that. In my case, it was Magic: The Gathering card game. For my roommate, it was playing Metroid when it came out for the SNES. He finished the game in 48 hours, slept for 72 hours after that, and missed quite a few exams in between. Ah, yes, the days of irresponsible youth.
          • Haha...man, I'm a junior in college!! Unfortunately, I just can't give up my 3.91 for games. I know, it's pathetic, right?
      • The games I play these days are the ones that allow me to play in 15 minutes bursts.
        Many 20+ hour games can be played in 15 minute bursts. On of the important factors to me is how quickly a game starts. Many take ages, with tons of splash and load screens, before you can finally start, and those don't get played nearly as much as even really big games that start up quickly.
    • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2006 @12:39PM (#15613463) Journal
      You know, noone forces you or him to play a 20 hour game in a 20 hour burst. If he only gets an hour a day to play, then a 20 hour game will keep him entertained for 3 weeks. I fail to see why that's a bad thing. He's proposing, what? That if he only has 1 hour a day, games should be 1 hour long? He wants to have to buy a new game each day, or what?

      Plus, in my book it's not the vendor that should tell everyone what the consumer really wants. Ask a consumer, if you want to know what the consumer wants.

      It's getting on my nerves already, the way the games industry seems to think that just repeating some bullshit often enough will eventually make it true. And not just about the game length, but I'm already digressing.

      Do gamers want shorter games? Since when? The usual complaint I hear from actual gamers is that some gamer was too short, not that it was too long. Buying, say, an RPG used to keep you entertained for something like 70 hours. (And I'm not even getting into the _good_ replayable ones like Fallout 2 or Arena or Daggerfall, which I've sunk _hundreds_ of hours into.) Now we're down to games which one can finish in one sunday afternoon. It's already getting 1/8 as much bang per buck. Is any actual gamer actually demanding that they become even shorter? Did anyone finish, say, Fable and go, "man, I so wish it had only half as much content"? Or did anyone who's played a Gran Turismo game find themselves thinking "man, I so wish this had only 2 cars and 3 races, so it doesn't need more than a couple of hours to see everything"?

      I mean, seriously, wtf? Since when and where did consumers start demanding less for their money?

      So I'll tell you what it is: bullshit PR. The vendor wishes they could sell you half as much stuff for the same money, or at least not much less money. So they proceed to tell you again and again that you really want less stuff. No, seriously, you do. Trust us. Would we lie to you? Again?

      And since the same bullshit fallacies pop up again and again, let's dismantle them once and for all:

      1. "But I don't have 20 hours in a day!!!" Well, guess what? That's what save and restore are for. Unless he has a bad case of Alzheimer's (so tomorrow he won't remember what he's been doing or why), he just doesn't have to finish a game in one day.

      2. "But I'm no longer a teen who has all the time in the world!! Only those can put 20 hours into a game!!!" Well, that's bullshit. I've seen casual gamers sink more than 20 hours in a game. E.g., mom isn't gaming 16 hours a day either, yet that didn't prevent her from putting a lot of total time into playing Mercury or Lumines. She just did it in smaller bursts, spread over almost a year. E.g., there are a lot of casual playing moms and pops in MMOs, who did manage to put in as much as 200 or 300 hours into maxxing their character's level. It just was spread over several months, in some cases even over a year. So excuse me if I don't see 20 hours as some unreasonable total time for a game. You _can_ do that even without being 15 years old.

      3. "But look how many games you've never finished!!! It just shows that games are too long!!!" Well, bullshit again. If a game reaches the point where it becomes too boring to continue, then that's the real problem, not the length: it's just a boring game. Yes, having too little content dilluted to fill some hideous number of hours is one way to make a boring game, but sometimes it's not even that, it's just badly designed. But even when that's the case, the real problem isn't the length, it's the lack of interesting content to fill that length.
  • I saw on G4 once(AKA the dork channel) this thing on the God of War team, and I kept thinking, "wow, that team seems so small to me!"

    Changed the way I look at "big-game" dev.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'd have to question how viable the idea of hiring contractors to flesh out a project would be. Games continually grow in complexity, and those people who have the talent to create high level art and code and have a familiarity with game design would likely have been hired full-time elsewhere, leaving the second-raters as your talent pool for contractors.
    • I suppose it depends on what you have them do. Maybe a competent but un-amazing modeler shouldn't be doing the always-onscreen main character by himself, but surely he could rough out content for his skilled boss to put the finishing touches on. In many cases, the best people might be more effective as editors.
  • by cliffski ( 65094 ) on Monday June 26, 2006 @05:07PM (#15608597) Homepage
    The whole model of hiring remote contractors to do content work is already live and well in indie gaming. Im paying an artist and a writer for my next game -> http://www.kudosgame.com/ [kudosgame.com] and I'll be paying an external PR guy and buying in stock sounds for it too. I've worked for companies that employ sound people and animators full time, which is lunacy. What the hell do these people (not to mention the QA dept) do in the first 6 months of a project?
    The movie industry learned years ago that this fixed-staff system was nonsense and moved to a contractor system. Big games need to do the same. Us little guys already have.
    • So how long until contracting Indie (independent) game dev studios become outsourced Indi (India) game dev studios?

    • As long as the game design is done, then there's a pretty clear idea what sound effects are needed for things. Animations needed are also usually planned in advance and skeletons can be created quickly from the concept art. The model can be added later so that the animators can work throughout the dev process. Also, a lot of the bigger companies work on multiple projects at a time. While the modelers are doing work for one game, the animators are working on another.
      • in well organised companies maybe. But what if the new game design doesnt require the same number of animators and artists as the last game? suddenly its sim city instead of the Sims, and animations required are minimal?
        either you pay animators to do not very much for 3 years (bad)
        or you shoehorn some excuse for animation into the game (bad)
    • here here -

      For the first release of TinyWarz [tinywarz.com] all the art was contracted for. While it took a long time sorting through resumes and candidates, the end result was some top-notch art and great working-relationships with the artists.

      Several were called back to work on the next release (now in-progress).

  • So what's new? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Monday June 26, 2006 @05:11PM (#15608638) Journal
    Thus, for his new company, Wideload, Seropian chose to use a small core group, one that would be employed the entire time. Once they design a game on paper, they'll prototype the game, and do pre-production work on it. Then, when they have the funding to put it into production, Wideload will staff up with independent contractors (some work on-site, but most remotely). For the last third of the project, the original core will do all the post-production where they play test and tune the game.
    So basically they outsource rather than employ developers. I can well imagine that when they have a few projects in the pipeline (which is what Seropian is after), they'll get together and say: "gee, we got so much going that we could hire two artists, a sound guy and 3 coders, and keep them busy full time. Be a hell of a lot cheaper...". A few years down the line, after having a few bad experiences with some offsite contractors, and being frustrated by increased and more difficult management effort, they'll probably run most of their stuff in house again.

    I've seen it happen a few times in business software shops, and I'm not sure why games would be any different.
    • Subcontractors (Score:4, Interesting)

      by iridium_ionizer ( 790600 ) * on Monday June 26, 2006 @06:41PM (#15609273)
      I work for a consulting company, and trust me that all subcontractors have some kind of multiplier for markup. The main company doesn't just pay for the workers time, they pay for overhead, benefits, insurance, AND profit. Yes the subcontractor's shareholders want a big piece of the pie.

      So yeah, if you don't need these production workers all the time, then subcontracting is cheaper. But if you use them all the time then it could be cheaper to just hire some more people and cut out the middleman. Of course sometimes the reason for subcontracting is to reduce liability. I wonder if Rockstar would have been as liable for Hot Coffee, if they subcontracted out the game.
  • by Darkforge ( 28199 ) on Monday June 26, 2006 @05:13PM (#15608657) Homepage
    As I've complained before, the problem here is that you can't develop any games for the major consoles unless you are an authorized developer [gamedev.net].
    Before you can develop games for consoles you need to apply to the particular console company to become an approved developer. The exact process varies but it generally means proving that you are an experienced game developer with a financially stable company. The console companies won't approve hobby/inexperienced teams to work on their consoles.
    Got a great idea for a video game? Well, too bad. You have to get approval first... and BTW, Nintendo doesn't like your idea.

    Sure, you can code up homebrew games, but doing so requires hacking your console (which is something most people don't know how to do, and in many cases requires expensive/pseudo-legal mod chips or other hardware).

    Next time you see an article about "indie developers", don't get them confused with the ordinary shareware/freebie game developers you see online. The consoles have no indie developers, and probably never will have indie developers. Nintendo, MS and Sony are all afraid that people will code up porn games (which they will) and will disable the console's anti-piracy features (which they will).
    • by Radius9 ( 588130 ) on Monday June 26, 2006 @05:42PM (#15608894)
      More importantly, they are afraid the market will be flooded with so many crap games that people will stop buying games all together because they can't get the signal through the noise. This is what happened with the Atari 2600. Its not that hard to do a game as an indie developer for consoles. It just takes more than what most people are willing to put in. If you can code up a decent game, with the hardware abstracted reasonably well, you are most of the way there. Pitch it to a publisher, it isn't that difficult to get a development kit, and if you coded it right, it shouldn't be too difficult to port. There's a reason those hurdles are in place though. People often forgot the flood of complete crap that killed the Atari 2600, and they give up on getting their title published before even trying.
      • I understand that this was the line of reasoning that Nintendo initially put out, but I mean come on there are a ton of crap games out there. It certainly isn't gameplay quality that they are using to judge whether a game get's their blessing.
        There were crap games by the bucket load for NES, crap games for Genesis and crap games for every other console.

    • The consoles have no indie developers, and probably never will have indie developers.

      I think a good number of indie console developers would be rather surprised to hear that. What with the low cost of Wii dev kits and Xbox Live Arcade, that's no longer true. Yes, you have to know what you're doing, and have some sort of business plan, but small teams making small games have a nice niche in the current generation.

  • by Ohreally_factor ( 593551 ) on Monday June 26, 2006 @07:30PM (#15609497) Journal
    I saw a doctor about my depression, and he said my Seropian levels were too low. He prescribed Prozac and now I'm not too depressed to play games!

  • Alex Seropian is greed incarnate. He'd sell his own grandmother into slavery if Bill Gates offered him enough solid-gold Ferraris.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson