That’s the short title. It fits in a headline. The actual title of this article is “Things that I Saw This Week that Demonstrated What is Wrong With the AAA Game Development Model and Why It Is Unsustainable.” Another real title might be “What I Think About Double Fine’s Million-Dollar Kickstarter and Its Larger Meaning By Way of a Terrible Reality Show.” This is also a blanket warning that I will now proceed to type bad words and link to videos that include bad words.
Two days ago, xtal reported on the Double Fine Kickstarter. It has now generated somewhere north of 1.5 million dollars, over a million dollars more than the original funding goal for the game. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about the impact of the Double Fine Kickstarter on our current game development system. Like Steerpike, I absolutely believe it could work for established developers with a proven track record of delivering games people want to play. But crowdsourcing is not an ATM for unknowns who are working on their first game.
Instead of trying to make predictions, I want to contemplate why the hell this was even necessary in the first place. Double Fine wanted to make this genre of game, but couldn’t get a publisher to back it, because publishers felt it would not be a big seller. Game publishers are very risk-averse. One-off games that don’t fit an established mold or ride the reputation of an established franchise aren’t impossible to find in the console sphere, but are relatively rare.
David Jaffe said this week that publishers are easy to trick. If you’d like to get a game made, maybe you could crowdsource. Or maybe you could find a sucker, and talk a lot of bullshit. Remember All Points Bulletin? “Let’s combine World of Warcraft with Grand Theft Auto” smelled like money so much to its investors that no one stopped to consider whether or not that could actually work until it was out there: and wasn’t doing so well commercially. The common wisdom is that an “idea for a game” is absolutely worthless, and that is true. But if you’ve got the right pitchman, a slick demo, a rich sucker, and a very risk-averse sounding idea for a game, that might be worth quite a bit to you indeed.
Speaking of Jaffe – what’s he up to these days? I think I saw him in a video recently…
I’m sorry. That was The Tester, the Playstation-sponsored reality show where gamers compete for “the ultimate prize.” Double Fine is going to let us in on the process of game design and development with their crowd-sourced documentary. But the joke is on them: Sony totally beat them to it! If you don’t want to sit through all that footage to learn these inside secrets, I don’t blame you. Game development, as it turns out, involves having Madagascar hissing cockroaches dropped on your head while you get tag-team interviewed about Trophies and farts.
The aforementioned ultimate prize for the gamer who survives this series of indignities is to have an assistant production job – not a QA job, anymore. Now it’s just called “The Tester” – on a new Santa Monica Studios title. That’s a pretty good prize, to be honest, a good foot in the door for any person who should happen to display the knowledge and aptitude. That person will also win a car, so, good deal all around.
I watched this video because of Mumbles, so it’s her fault I’m spreading it around. Like her, I want to draw your attention to one of the contestants on the show: egoraptor, who was voted on as the “fan favorite” by the internet. Here is a thing egoraptor made. Maybe you have heard of him already, and, thus, seen it and several other popular things.
That’s a long one, but you can always find more at his YouTube channel. What this video tells us about egoraptor is: he’s a talented animator, he has a sense of humor (if maybe a little heavy on the punching-girls jokes), and he knows a lot about the principles of game design, enough to talk about them intelligently.
I know it’s just television, but none of these things seem to impress the people of The Tester. What they’d really like to know is: how many Trophies does he have?
This is really just scratching the surface of all the things that are wrong with The Tester video, and, I could really go on all day about it and how it’s pretty embarrassing. So instead of talking about what’s wrong with The Tester, I’d like to ask again: what’s wrong with game development? I don’t want to sound fannish, or anything, but, specifically: what the hell is wrong with game development where a talented animator like that who wants a game job would have to go on The Fucking Tester?
It’s equally mind-boggling that no one would “take a risk” on Double Fine making an adventure game. I don’t have sales figures, but their new small-game studio model appears to be kicking all kinds of ass in terms of quality product and good publicity. Kickstarter was the right move for them this time, not just for financial reasons but because it’s generated a ton of buzz for the new title. But what the hell is wrong with game development that no publisher would toss some investment at this pedigree?
And these are two rhetorical questions: bam, bam, that hit me one right after another. I don’t have the answers or even complete enough information to make a guess. Maybe egoraptor is just doing it “for the lulz.” Maybe Double Fine just really saw this as an opportunity they wanted to try with their current studio model.
But here’s how I feel. The AAA space is mishandled on some fundamental level. It doesn’t reach the audiences it could reach. It doesn’t open itself up very frequently to alternative audiences and new development voices. It’s too hit-driven and too risk-averse and too expensive and too bloated. But the “indie” model is now equally hit-driven and bundle-driven and it too isn’t the only answer. There’s punk and jam; there’s Flash and Facebook; there are more games now than ever and more games than anyone could possibly play. And even though I said I wouldn’t predict, if something does change in game development it’s going to be… gradual. Maybe there will be one day, long from now, when gaming is recognized as a thing everyone does. There will still be the enthusiasts, but the title “gamer” could mean as much as “TV watcher” or “movie goer” instead of being some mutant class of person. We could just like what we like, and find people who make more of that thing for us, no matter what size or shape it turns out to be.
In the mean time: if you do happen to be a person who wants to make games, and has a big following on the internet… I hear good things about Kickstarter…
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