Ruminations on Game Development – The Silver Age
I’ve recently began trying to codify my thoughts on classic and modern game development, and why I am so excited about the rise of crowd funding, open development, and crowd sourcing. Since this just by idea of how things work, I decided to call it my Ruminations.
Silver Age of Game Development
First, the way I define games may be insightful. Games, to me, are shared dreams.
In the classic days of game development, starting in the 80s, all games were developed by a closed team of developers (often, at the beginning, only a single designer/programmer). This means that the creator is showing you his dream, building just for themselves and hoping that others appreciate their vision. This created a golden age of computer gaming, because the creators were very tight with their vision, and were not often forced to sway from that due to pressures like budget constraints and publishing dates. This age dissolved in the late 80s and early 90s, when huge publishers took over the game business, and those visionaries were under the pressure to release by Thanksgiving for the Christmas season rush, and cut manpower but increase the scope of the game. In order to maximize revenue, those who created the original games were often forced out, as the publishers began homogenizing games. Innovation and originality were risky.
Now, we have seen a rise of the self publisher. Using crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, those with the vision can reach out to those who would purchase their games and ask for money up front, allowing them to create their game without a large publisher to pressure them into sacrificing their creativity for the bottom line. The risks of game development are still present, but these are largely tempered by the simultaneous rise of game engine platforms, such as the Unreal Engine and Unity, which remove the need to create a game from the ground up before you can begin telling your story. However the dynamic has changed; developing in the open can also lead to communal development, exchanging ideas and desires for your game with those that are already investing in it. This cannot help but shape the outcome, for either good or ill, depending on how much the creator allows. However, with the limitations that have plagued creation for two decades no longer an insurmountable barrier, I see this as a new age of game development.
Welcome to the Silver Age.
Today, I wouldn’t be afraid to go on Twitter and say to Richard Garriott, “Hey, you created Ultima IV, which still outshines the genre in creating a hero who overcomes themselves instead of some nebulous evil. I have a similar concept, where the hero goes through all the expected roles and, by fulfilling everyone’s quests they make the population lazy and subservient. Instead, you have to balance between taking on the greater dangers and proving yourself a hero, and inspiring the NPCs to handle those things they should be able to do themselves. I’d love to talk to you about it!” (Although, somewhat less verbose due to Twitter character limits!) And, while I know Mr. Garriott is very busy with his current project (qv. Shroud of the Avatar, which is itself crowdfunded, undergoing open development, and includes crowd sourced elements), I wouldn’t be surprised to get an answer!
Will this age last more than a single decade, or will commercialism once again rear its head to bring low the independent game dev? Only time will tell, but already we can see some changes on the horizon. Crowdfunded video games have fewer backers than they did in prior years, and draw smaller amounts of capital. More projects are unable to be completed, or only deliver a subset of the features they promised during their funding period. These are absolutely not insurmountable problems; they require developers to plan, market, and anticipate, before they ever begin their funding campaign, be agile during open development so those watching can see changes happening, and communicate with your customers often.