Somebody is trying to make a really good documentary about indie games, and you should help him make it real. When I say "should" I don't mean it in a moral sense, I mean it in an imperative sense. Only one documentary has been made that even touches on indie games, Playing Columbine,, which was somewhat overshadowed by, you know, that massacre (referring to the Slamdance game festival). If you found that last sentence/plug-fest indulgent, you know why we need a pure indie game documentary.
Submitted by the99th on Tue, 03/23/2010 - 16:03.
Submitted by the99th on Mon, 03/22/2010 - 17:59.
For the battle is within our hearts, and we are losing.
The consensus from GDC is that the Death Star is looming and the rebel alliance can't seem to muster much more than God of War sequels and quirky stuff the likes of which are featured on this blog. Here are some links:
Submitted by TheDustin on Mon, 03/15/2010 - 07:57.
If you're like me you most likely have fond memories of the games of yore, and also haven't played all of the classic games you should have. Enter Hardcore Gaming 101. I just recently stumbled upon the site and am impressed by both it's breadth and depth of coverage; it approaches series and individual games from an historical viewpoint while also discussing gameplay mechanics. It isn't as thorough or in-depth as Dessgeega's dissertations, but still is an excellent primer for any games you might have missed over the years.
Submitted by the99th on Sat, 03/13/2010 - 21:11.
Jesse Schell has gotten a lot of attention lately for his snake-handling about extrinsic rewards devouring the surface of planet earth like so many nanomachines. However he took the opportunity at GDC, like so many controversial DICE speakers, to clear things up. He painted a very nice categorization of game designers, and being a game designer, I like to play with categorization schemes. According to Schell designers fall into 4 groups of intent:
Submitted by the99th on Fri, 03/12/2010 - 20:22.
I've ranted on about the dark-side of platforms, and elsewhere I may have ranted about the Federal Reserve, but you've got to admit that draconic control of the currency is better than feudalism and that even egregious or inconsistent policy on a mostly open platform is better than the retail game biz. Maybe things are getting better, win-win-win (not to be confused with its non-buzz-worthy little brother: win-win). Take for example platform competition in social games, where hi5 is trying to frame itself as the friendlier, less capital-intensive girlfriend developers have been looking for. You just have to win their approval first.
Submitted by costik on Fri, 03/12/2010 - 10:43.
I am weary. I am tired of being me. I am tired of being the angry middle-aged man of the game industry. I would like to hang it up, like an old coat, and shut it in the closet. But I guess I can't put it aside.
I attended the IGF Awards this evening. In general, I love the IGF. Not unreservedly, of course; it is not without flaw. But it is, by and large, a Good and Fine Thing, and has been instrumental in creating and sustaining independent games as a movement. I was quite looking forward to it.
You can find a video of the ceremony here.
And award winners here, since I'm not actually going to talk about that
My first intellectual discontinuity came when I approached the awards venue and discovered Steve Petersen, one of the designers of the Champions RPG, working to ensure that only VIPs got into the VIP line; apparently my speaker badge authorized me to sit in the VIP area. I elected to sit instead with the plebes.
I was basically okay through most of the proceeds, snarking to myself a bit at the lame scripted "jokes" of the presenters and the intellectual discontinuity created by their adoption of tuxedo and gown. A tux does not say "indie" to me. But I understand that to the average American it says "class," and perhaps this is understandable as some sort of external index of respect.
Cactus, by the way, was perfect.
When the presenters were swept off the stage to make room for some chickie from IGN (that lickspittle shih-tzu of the major publishers that sustains its existence by posting reworded press releases and raving about big-budget releases while providing only occasional and condescending coverage of indie games) I sighed deeply, but reminded myself that the IGF depends on corporate sponsorships, and no doubt had received a nice piece of change from this corporate entity in return for their right to grant, and brand, the IGF's most important award.
After some forgettable blather, we were then subjected to a video, presumably prepared by the sublime idiots at IGN, about what they claimed were the "top five indie games not in the top five indie games." This consisted of short gameplay videos from five imaginary games. These imaginary games were supposedly humorous, but consisted of a) really stupid game ideas, b) implemented in a really stupid way, with c) really stupid graphics. Haha. Indie games are stupid. (At 38:40 in the video linked above.)
Did ANYONE at IGN consider that they were basically totally dissing the games their spokesperson was just about to issue an award to?
Did ANYONE at CMP consider that they had, in exchange for a corporate sponsorship, just set up a situation that totally undermined the gravitas of the event as a whole?
Did ANY of the idiot audience members who tittered at this inane video realize that, in context, it was essentially insulting the whole enterprise of indie gaming?
I stalked from the room in fury.
I was the only person to do so.
I don't like living in my skin sometimes. Apparently, I was the only person in that room filled with thousands who was revolted and offended to the core. I am a fool.
I was about to write: We deserve better. But of course, I created no game last year that I could have submitted to the IGF, so it would be inappropriate for me to take on the mantle of "indie game creator" or to have the temerity to speak for those who are. But I can say they deserve better; they deserve to be treated with a degree of respect, and indeed, the whole structure of the IGF ceremonies, and the prominence it receives within the GDC awards as a whole, and even the noxious tuxedo-and-gown garb of its presenters, is calculated with the idea of promoting a degree of respect.
Why then should CMP, and for that matter IGN, however gormless they may be, think it remotely acceptable to undermine that respect with this jejune, unfunny, disrespectful, noxious, subversive, lame, and repulsive piece of juvenile "humor"?
And so to bed.
Submitted by the99th on Wed, 03/10/2010 - 15:34.
The terms of Apple's developer agreement were leaked in a manner which I'm sure resulted in at least one assasination and the smuggling of at least, by conservative estimates, several dozen Ukranian and Palestinian child slaves - such is the price of evoking the Freedom of Information Act.
Submitted by costik on Mon, 03/08/2010 - 02:01.
I'm leaving for GDC Monday evening. I'll probably be blogging from there, and I have some games in the hopper to post, but it's possible we won't get to our five for the week, for which I trust you'll forgive me.
I'll be speaking Tuesday afternoon, on a panel on pre-production at the Serious Games Summit, with Lynn Sullivan, Rebecca Stoeckle, and Sonny Kirkley. Just a short presentation from me, the title of which is "Prototype More, Suck Less," which I'll post here after I get back.
Submitted by the99th on Wed, 03/03/2010 - 22:52.
In a nomenclature reminiscent of George Costanza´s fake charity, "The Human Fund (Money For People)", comes something genuinely good and authentic, the Indie Fund. The creators of some of the most commercially successful, independent games to rake in six-digit unit sales and six-to-seven-digit revenues on console-downloadable platforms (with PC sales often making up a large minority) have banded together and pooled funding in an ostensibly for-profit venture capital fund for independent games. Like a traditional publisher, they will give people cash to spend while developing games, and will benefit from a share of the net revenues on said games, but unlike a publisher they´ll refrain from owning the resulting intellectual property and from holding veto power over creative decisions.
Submitted by costik on Mon, 03/01/2010 - 17:54.
Will social games go the same way as the casual downloadable market?
Some of the characteristics of the social game market are very similar to those of casual games. There is little marketing and promotion in either market, because social games rely on the viral nature of social networks to spread the word; cloning is already a problem. The audience demographics are similar. Both are typically played in short sessions.
The major difference (so far?) is that there's no equivalent of the portal in the value chain. Social game operators retain a full 100% of the revenues they generate (less a few percentage points for using Paypal or a credit card gateway) -- by contrast to the mere 20% that casual downloadable game companies get from the portals. Coupled with minimal marketing costs, this is a sweet, sweet deal, and it's no surprise the market has engendered such enthusiasm.
FaceBook Needs Revenue
The 100 pound gorilla in the room that no one talks about, however, is whether (or more likely, when and how) the social networks themselves will demand a piece of the action. Mostly, Facebook, MySpace and the others appear to be happy, so far, to have third parties provide services to their users that increase the value of the service to those users -- social games attract and retain users for the network as a whole.
Yet all of the mass-audience social networks have huge valuations that their current level of revenues do not remotely justify. For example, the valuation of FaceBook is currently just under $10 billion. If you accept a p/e (price/earnings) ratio of 20 as typical for a company in the long turn, this implies that FaceBook is expected eventually to earn annualized profits of around $500m. Last year, FaceBook had total revenues of about $400m, of which $150m was from a probably unrepeatable ad deal with Microsoft. FaceBook claims to have reached profitability in 2009, but presumably just barely -- in other words, profits were unquestionably a small fraction of that $400m.
Meanwhile, the major social game providers are all profitable, apparently at a high level, and themselves supporting valuations in the hundreds of millions.
In other words, if FaceBook is to be sustainable at anything like its current valuation, it needs to ramp up revenues quickly -- and the obvious source to tap is all that game revenue.
Enter "Pay with FaceBook"
As it happens, FaceBook has been clear about where it expects its next big addition to revenues to come from; it's from Pay with FaceBook. Pay with FaceBook is a payments system, whereby users buy FaceBook Credits and can then spend them on any service on FaceBook that integrates with the system. Interestingly, there seems to be some confusion, among analysts at least, as to whether this is expected to ultimately be a PayPal killer, or merely a FaceBook-specific virtual currency -- and in truth, the system could go either way. But it's notable that one of the options for purchasing FaceBook Credits is -- tada, PayPal. If FaceBook were planning on competing head-to-head with PayPal, they presumably wouldn't be doing this.
FaceBook executives have gone so far as to say that they expect Pay with FaceBook to double the company's revenues over the course of the coming year, and this is not, in fact, impossible.
But what does it mean for social game providers? Well, of course it means that they can now offer another payments system to their customers, one that a high proportion of their customers, being FaceBook users by nature, are likely to adopt. And another payments system, especially a widespread and easy to use one, will by nature increase revenues.
BUT: Pay with FaceBook charges 30% of revenues to sellers of virtual goods -- and virtual goods are what social games sell.
Payments System or Retailer's Cut?
Now, you can view this in either of two ways: If you view Pay with FaceBook as a payments system, this is extortionate. PayPal and every credit card gateway charges a single-digit percentage for handling transactions, almost always under 5%, typically with an additional per-transaction charge of 25 cents or less. In other words, viewed as a payments sytem, Pay with FaceBook is the single most expensive system available anywhere on the planet (with the sole exception of mobile payments, which are even more onerous, and which is why mobile payments have not taken off).
Viewed as a cost for accessing a distribution channel, however, 30% is pretty reasonable. It's what XBLA, WiiWare, and the iPhone app store take. It's a far better deal than the casual downloadable market offers, where portals and intermediaries like Oberon/i-Play want 80% of the consumer dollar -- and a far, far better deal than developers get in the conventional digital game market, where they typically receive a skinflint 15% of wholesale revenues, entirely recoupable against development advances.
And it is, at the moment, only one, optional, additional payments system; social games can still take credit cards and use PayPal and so on, and aren't even required to integrate with Pay with FaceBook.
And how long will that last?
The Network Owns You
Social network games live and die by the social network. The virality of those networks, the ability to grow big audiences quickly, is the single vital reason social network games are successful -- it's surely not the excellence and intensity of their gameplay. If you are a social network game provider, of course you will integrate with FaceBook credits; the last thing you want to do is piss off FaceBook. If they want you to adopt Pay with FaceBook, of course you do so. Because game developers are not fools, and they know that if FaceBook wants to, it can utterly cripple them. FaceBook is under no obligation to allow third parties access to their network.
In other words, social network games are ultimately in precisely the same position, vis-a-vis the social networks, as casual downloadables are relative to the portals. The social networks are in the whip hand. They are the main providers of value. The social network game providers are like intestinal bacteria; they may help their host, but their survival is entirely at the host's whim.
An important precedent is being set here. FaceBook is dialing itself in for a piece of the social gaming pie. It's a small piece, at present. As social network game revenues continue to soar -- and, as usual, the analysts are predicting beellions and beellions of dollars any day now -- why should FaceBook (and the others) not take a bigger chunk. Why shouldn't the "Pay with FaceBook" option become mandatory? Why shouldn't that 30% become 40%? 50%? Even 80%?
We've seen this before, in the casual downloadable market; initially, the portals took a mere 50% of the consumer dollar. But they realized who was in the driver's seat, and that 50% grew and grew, and the result is the steaming pile of poo that is the casual downloadable market today.
Now, possibly FaceBook and the others will look at the lessons of the casual downloadable market, and realize that to sustain social games they need to sustain a viable business ecosystem, in which developers can continue to profit and in which incentives for innovation are maintained. Possibly, they will say, "Yes, we could grab 80% of all that tasty revenue, but it's a bad move, long term." Possibly, the social networks are corporately wise, morally upright, good and kind. Possibly they'll say "never mind the valuation we need to support, we must do The Right Thing."
Also possibly, pigs will fly.
Genetic engineers are working on the problem today. Honest.