A bit of preamble might be necessary before I begin this week’s installment. I’ve been applying for jobs recently and happened across some openings at GAME, the UK’s largest software retailer and comparable to the USA’s GameStop or Australia’s EB Games.
With a fairly decent set of exam results and some favourable references I handed in my application form, hopeful that I might get a chance to hand crap to screaming kids and clueless grandmothers. However, it seems that for fear of the mighty publishers taking away their precious cash bucket if they receive the slightest bit of criticism, employees at GAME cannot be involved with the gaming industry in any way.
Unfortunately, our puny blog seems to qualify under this bizarre rule, so it is with a heavy heart I feel I must announce my resignation from CubedGamers.
HAHAHA, JUST KIDDING. Here’s why indie games rock.
I’m going to make a bold statement – we’re approaching the end of the age of publishers. Save for the last bastion of EA, Activision, Ubisoft and a few more, the independent tide has finally reached the mainstream. In an era where technology advances almost daily, distribution and advertising no longer has to be handled by Bobby Kotick and his strategy of ‘exploiting’ franchises.
Take as an example Fruit Ninja. Developed by relatively unknown Australian team Halfbrick Studios (whose previous creations were a couple of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger games for Game Boy Advance), the game was distributed digitally through various online marketplaces in 2010, gathering 20 million downloads by March 2011. Just for a bit of perspective, Fruit Ninja has, in one year, exceeded the sales figures of Super Mario World.
This success exhibits just why large publishers are no longer relevant. A decade ago, the process for most people trying to make a game was finding a team, creating an alpha, then pathetically failing all your sales pitches until you ran out of money. Now, as Minecraft has shown us, any nerd with a keyboard and a good idea can make thousands overnight.
Console development is no longer the exclusive club it once was – with the rise of online marketplaces ensuring that distribution is instant, global and cheap, developers can now bypass the usual model of being tied into multi-game deals or having their franchises bought out right on the cusp of their breakout hit. The PC too now operates almost entirely digitally, weakening the publishers further.
Gaming is, in essence, a platform for the masses. The availability of free or cheap guides to coding as well as – to be truthful – the ease of internet piracy means it’s fantastically simple for fellow geeks to flex their creative muscles in a new and exciting way.
You see, a home-coded game made as a hobby or for an educational assignment can never make a loss as it is produced for almost nothing but blood, sweat and much frustrated swearing. It can be published without concern for profit or appeal to demographics and can therefore be about literally anything. So many new avenues of imagination are open to us and while we labour under the delusion that publishers are somehow necessary or relevant, we might let some wonderful opportunities pass us by.
However, this isn’t to say that publishers have no right to exist – it’s still the minority of gamers that operate exclusively online, so physical distribution and advertising such as TV slots will continue to exist. In any case, it’s nice to have something tangible clutched in your hands. What I do see happening is the continuation of this shift towards more open distribution and the end of game publishing as we know it.
Companies can no longer continue to take such a large slice of their developers’ money, or they risk running themselves into the ground. Since Steam, broadband and Peer-to-Peer sharing came along, designers are now free to say no to exploitative cuts, multi-game deals that screw them over and seeing a big shiny logo slapped on the box.
So can I sum up why the end of traditional publishing might be a good thing?
Lower prices, quicker distribution and more money for the people who take the time to make the games. Sounds like a good deal to me.