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Death to the Games Industry 615

Greg Costikyan has an article up on The Escapist railing against the current state of the industry. Bigger budgets, obese publishers, and creatively dead franchises that continue to see publishing are snuffing out the opportunity for innovation in an increasingly mainstream market. From the article: "For the sake of the industry, for the sake of gamers who want to experience something new and cool, for the sake of developers who want to do more than the same-old same-old, for the sake of our souls, we have to get out of this trap. If we don't, as developers, all we will be doing for the rest of eternity is making nicer road textures and better-lit car models for games with the same basic gameplay as Pole Position. Spector is right. We must blow up this business model, or we are all doomed. What do we want? What would be ideal? A market that serves creative vision instead of suppressing it. An audience that prizes gameplay over glitz. A business that allows niche product to be commercially successful - not necessarily or even ideally on the same scale as the conventional market, but on a much more modest one: profitability with sales of a few tens of thousands of units, not millions. And, of course - creator control of intellectual property, because creators deserve to own their own work."
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Death to the Games Industry

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  • Steam. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:28PM (#13455906)
    I got a chance to read this a couple days ago. I can't really argue with anything there. However, it doesn't really address whether or not the situation will be helped by popularizing alternative distribution methods like Steam. One would hope that this would be enough of a wake-up call for Valve to stop sitting on their thumbs about getting more content sent over their service.
  • Meta (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:29PM (#13455915) Homepage Journal
    When I was working on the PLATO system doing some of the first networked games [] something that seemed to get people's attention was the idea of a per-contact-hour royalty. We worked this idea to our advantage in a meta-game called "Meta" which let you accumulate Metas -- a unit of currency -- which you could take between games. The player would accumulate Metas when the author of the game accumulates pennies (basically a gain of 100 to 1) -- however the player can also accumulate (or lose) Metas during play and can take Metas so accumulated to other games. Now the rules of each game are different, of course, but the idea of getting people to pay by the contact-hour with Meta is that you can get a group of game authors setting up an ecosystem of sorts, with the goal of making the whole ecosystem more valuable per contact-hour.

    Ultimately, there has to be a tax imposed by the Meta system to remove Metas from circulation just as governments control demand for fiat currency by demanding said fiat currency for legal tender (primarily tax payment) -- but the principle should work to let small game authors get a presence and make money if the rules of their game are more appealing to the players than other games.

  • by pete6677 ( 681676 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:31PM (#13455935)
    In many ways, the gaming industry has become a victim of their own success. When a certain business model brings in lots of cash, it's very tough to give up that model, even if it obviously won't work forever. Successful companies become very fat and happy and will resist change as much as possible. Smaller game makers can eat EA's lunch, since they will be able to effectively innovate as opposed to just tweaking last year's release a little bit. When another company offers gamers something that EA doesn't, the switch will take place. Like in any other industry, the giants will have to reinvent themselves or die off. It's just a matter of how long it takes them to see the changing marketplace.
  • by pwnage ( 856708 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:32PM (#13455948)
    I recently began playing (and, in some cases, re-playing) many of the old text-only games from Infocom. I'm reminded of what a rich gaming experience many of these companies were able to provide in such limited computing environments. Quite honestly, some of today's major "blockbusters" can't hold a candle to some of computing's earliest computer games (you could probably say the same about Atari & Intellivision vs. certain PlayStation and Xbox games).

    Seriously...I remember the thrill of buying a 16K RAM card so I could play the original Castle Wolfenstien on my Apple ][+.

    Halt! Shizen! That game was awesome!

  • Wow, (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) < minus poet> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:32PM (#13455957) Homepage
    I've been saying this for years now.

    "what" new textures?"

    And now someone else repeats it and it's brilliant insightful news...

    The problem is this isn't a game specific problem. Most of industry is based around re-hashing last weeks ideas. And last weeks ideas are re-hashes of two week ago ideas, ... etc

    Look at TV? When reality TV shows really blew up we saw quite a few genres [love or hate em] like fear factor, those dating ones, etc.

    Now it's all the same BS. We're in the 12th season of survivor $PLACE and the great race is getting set on sound stage C.

    Why do people watch this crap? Because it's what's on TV. People would rather watch crap then nothing! [News at 11!!!].

    Imagine this, why do people buy Intel machines? Because it's all that's out there [e.g. Dell, Gateway and HP].

    Totally amazing that the EXACT SAME problems occur in computing and TV, two totally unrelated fields... And now people are realizing it's happening in software and games too.


  • by interiot ( 50685 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:33PM (#13455963) Homepage
    There's an inherent tension between financing art and producing art for its own sake that has existed for a long time, and is overall a good thing (otherwise no art projects could reach beyond a small group's income).

    But other creative fields are facing a greater crisis now than they have before (most notably the movie industry []). I don't know if it's due to the internet resulting in broader exposure of people to more creative works, leading to disillusionment at the similarity between works, or what, but even if it's a problem that exists across all fields, it still may need to be grappled with now.

  • by marcybots ( 473417 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:36PM (#13455996)
    As long as you have to get shelf space at a game store, stores will go with what has worked in the past and products from major companies. When we see game consoles with built in Rigths management that can download games from online then indie games will boom.
          Lets face it, the most imaginitve games come from nintendo, one of the 500 pound gorilla of the industry, who can afford to be creative. Small developerds can only get shelf space making copies of grand theft auto.
  • by Andrew Cady ( 115471 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:43PM (#13456070)
    I took another look at Day of the Tentacle recently, via the free software ScummVM. The game feels like it was made by an animator with aspirations of film-making -- with a programmer offering only a little assistance. Entertaining writing, consistent and attractive visual style (far better than anything created through a 3D graphics card), childish game-play... but it was a kid's game.

    Games are made poorly probably because they're made by the wrong people, viz.: programmers. Game production should perhaps be something like movie production -- the programmers should correspond to the set designers, not the director or writer.

  • by Rahga ( 13479 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @01:50PM (#13456158) Journal
    Looks like the author, Greg Costikyan [], is operator of a cell phone games company [] that made a movie license game called Mean Girls: Wannabe []
  • by sterno ( 16320 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:07PM (#13456322) Homepage
    I keep seeing this complaint about games. That we're evolving the technology, but the overall creativity of games is diminishing. So I ask, what exactly are people expecting, creatively that they are not getting now?

    I've personally been playing the same game for two years now with little change. I've not picked up Half Life 2 or Battlefield 2 because, frankly, there's nothing that new. I've been playing PlanetSide, and what it lacks in an uber cool graphics engine, it makes up for in large battle tactics that do not happen in any other game.

    So that's what I want to see, more games that blend strategy and first person combat in large persistent environments. What do you want to see?
  • by Rycross ( 836649 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:07PM (#13456323)
    While I do agree with you that we need more people working to make better games, the actual execution of that ideal is a lot harder than it seems.

    A lot of people have visions of learning how to program, then designing and programming that AAA title that tears up the charts. The only problem is that most modern games take a large budget. There's exceptions but this is the general case.

    That, in most cases, forces you to work for a game company that could care less about your vision for the perfect game. You're a programmer so you're going to be working 60-80 hour weeks writing code that other people are telling you to write, and not interesting code either.

    If you're lucky then maybe you can work your way up to a game designer where you get to have your ideas shot down by management who don't want to take a risk, and would rather just pump out some clone using code you wrote for another game.

    What's needed is not creative talent going into the current game industry, but more people taking risks and being entrepeneurs. We need more indy game developement. We need to focus on the areas where low budget games can compete and work up.

    While in college I wanted to be a game developer very badly. My senior year it sort-of lost its luster. After graduating some friends and I tried to start our own game company, but as we did research on our prospects, the others lost hope and dropped out. Plus with developer hours getting longer and longer, and games getting less innovative, the draw to find work at an existing company was practically nonexistant.

    Now, I'm rather disillusioned with the whole industry, without having even worked in it. I'd rather work my 40-60 hour job, and work on games as a hobby (and thus get to make the kind of games I want to), than work 60-80 hours a week on Madden 2006.

    But if you ever try a start-up, look me up. I'd definately be willing to try.
  • by Jhan ( 542783 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:10PM (#13456345) Homepage
    pretty graphics good gameplay small budget ..pick two...

    <plug>And if the two you selected were budget and gameplay, choose Jeff Minter []

    Minters games, even since the VIC20 days have

    1. Looked horrible
    2. Played awesomely

    I mean for Gods sake (and these are just some of the best):

    • Grid runner for VIC20
    • Revenge of the Mutant Camels (C=64, but Amiga version kicked rump)
    • Llamatron for Amiga with dual joystick control...
    • Tempest 2000 for Atari Jaguar. Could be the best game ever made.
    • Hover Bovver in all it's incarnations is always fun

    Games that are simutaneously incredibly hard and incredibly controllable and playable. The limit is not this piece of plastic in your hand, it's your own brain, directly connected to the game.

    Do yourself a favour and download the demo of Gridrunner++. Play it ten times. Don't stop because it looks like shite, don't stop because it's hard. You should now be a freshly converted Minter fan.

    And the man is a out-of-the-closet beastialist! What's not to love about that!

  • Uh, yes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thangodin ( 177516 ) <> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:10PM (#13456354) Homepage
    Paying for it is one thing, but what many distributers do is nickel and dime the original game development company to death...literally. The guys who came up with the game get to finish the game...maybe. That's about it. The lawyers swoop in and pick the corpse clean, dismantle the team, take all the tools and intellectual property they can find. The distributer then bangs out a couple of expansions and rides the franchise into the ground. You'll never see another great game from that team because the team no longer exists.

    The risk is borne entirely by the original developers, who often have a near finished product developed with their own time and money when they sign the deal. Then the distributer begins to load on extra conditions and unnecessary delays, and does some creative accounting when the game ships to make certain the people who did the work get the least money. The company that developed the game goes down in flames under the weight of the development debt, and the distributor walks away with all the money.

    So, no, the creators do not get paid. In fact, they were the ones who paid for the damn thing in the first place!

    What I've just described is EA's business model. The amount of anti-competitive maneuvering in the game industry is incredible. EA just bought Renderware and are now killing it, in an attempt to break Rockstar games. Why compete with better and more interesting games when you can just kill them off, by yanking their tools out from under them?

    What the industry needs is a free and open source suite of tools and engine components that nobody can buy, but that anyone can use. If the little companies want to win, that's where they should start, by pooling their resources, because anything that is commercially owned can be bought by your biggest competition, and building your own engine and tools from scratch is just too damned expensive.
  • Re:3D was Downfall? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dhaos ( 697924 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:13PM (#13456388)
    I'm gonna have to disagree with you.

    There are many things you can do in 3D that you simply cant do in 2D.

    For example, look at the Metal Gear series. In 2D, Metal Gear was a mind-numbingly difficult, if unique, experience.

    In 3D, Metal Gear Solid created a really compelling gameplay experience, and was immensly creative. Being behind, below, or on top of objects made a huge difference in sneaking tactics. And, whether or not its your cup of tea, the game also had a very cinematic feel to it.

    Going back to your argument as to the merits and ease of 2D gameplay- you just revealed the limitations of 2D gameplay. There are only so many ways that an enemy can attack you in 2 dimensions. This effectively -limits- gameplay and -limits- creativity. It also breaks the metaphor for games trying to provide an immersive experience- why the hell didnt Shinobi, being the elite ninja that he is, ever take two steps to his left and avoid dying?

    Finally, it is not like every game released in 2D was unique. Quite the contrary. How many Street Fighter clones were there? How many side-scrollers? How many platformers? How many turn-based RPGs? Clones have always existed, this having more to do with the 'bandwagon' effect that exists in all mass media- be it music (quick! rap-metal!), movies (X-Men breeds Spiderman breeds Fantastic 4), or television (5 concurrent CSI spinoffs!?!).

    I will grant you your final point though- 3D games -can- be expensive to produce. But I really think that there's a point where graphics are "good enough", and I think we may have surpassed it. Perhaps if there were very intelligent automated tools that could cut down on production time...

    As a final disclaimer, I'll say this: I love 2D games. I've been praying for the day that they realease another Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. But I really think its unfair to say that 3D as a medium stifles creativity, because the good games that have come out in the 3D generation really prove otherwise.

    Can't 2D and 3D cooexist peacefully??
  • by EEBaum ( 520514 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:21PM (#13456509) Homepage
    Lately it feels like game developers/publishers want to be movie directors. Perhaps if we'd get rid of cutscenes (bless the developers that let you skip them) and put that budget toward the elusive "fun," it'd be a big step in the right direction.

    Most games with cinematics that I play end up feeling like I'm running around fulfilling someone's to-do list. I end up saying "Forget that. YOU take the magic gem to the wizard!" and dropping the game. I think that removing the "well, you NEED to do that in order to see something pretty, and we need you to see something pretty in order to justify having made the cutscene" factor, games could start to return to being fun.
  • by serutan ( 259622 ) <snoopdoug AT geekazon DOT com> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:47PM (#13456811) Homepage
    Buried in all the ranting are some practical ideas:

    If you develop games the right way, the fearless way, the independent way, your costs are drastically smaller. A few thousand unit sales will pay the bills.

    develop for open platforms, not proprietary consoles.

    work in small, committed teams

    find our market ...through the excellence of our own product, through guerilla marketing and rabble-rousing manifestoes.

    Sounds good, but people are already doing these things. The problem seems to be that gamers still buy most of their games from big distributors. In other words, mass marketing Works, just like in any other industry. So I think a realistic attitude would be to accept this as a fact of life, write better quality games for the discerning few who will buy them, get used to making less money and having more freedom, and quit whining about what the majority does.
  • by Nikker ( 749551 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @02:52PM (#13456858)
    I agree

    I beleive this is turning a new era or a changing of the guards. We are now dealing with politics and mind sets of share holders, owners P's and VP's of people that when they started this technology thing really had no idea what it was about, they put it in a box and people bought it so thats how it went. Only now they realize how much a part of society it is going to be and now we see patent rushes and dirty practices in the hopes they can stay alive long enough to say they figured it out.

    I personally don't think its going to work that way. There is such a gap in education, mind set, outlook and talent between the kids comming out of college right now to the CEO's of today that they just can't work. These companies to take these new avenues would have to loose money and market share which would kill the stock value of their company which would make it extemely timid to make the changes necessary and fail a couple of times.

    If you look at it like this, in the early 80's most people 50%+ only knew of computers by minimal association such as movies and some exposure in the work place. 10%- actually knew how to use one competently. 5%- knew the internals in terms of programming and advanced knowledge. This is the era that the CEO's and VP's of today came into the picture. Most of them fall in to the 50% category maybe now have be come more enthuisast and started to play on GUI's of the 90's but still are nowhere near 5 and 10% of their class in the 80's.

    Now you have the kids who were born in the 80's now completing college / university where all of them have at least 10x as much experience as the 50%ers in the 80's, most if not all have used a computer before in one respect or another and are adequately aware to run various apps and produce something from their experience, know what to do if it 'crashes' etc etc. Lastly the people of today who know and are comfortable editing internal settings, scripting and even developing are creeping into the caliber who also runs major departments. Do you know many VP's who can code? If so would you expect that trend in many of today's companies?

    As a result the new generation is going to eclipse the existing where they will not be able to compete. Existing companies have left so little room that those who will take part will be willing to eat bread and jam to survive and to keep costs down. I think it will be like a DDOS type of occurance where local software shops will come about in evrey town. They will administer local servers for gaming, fix your BSOD and probably suggest things like linux or come up with their own distros.

    Not many will actually produce full out software that evreyone will want but in an area of about 1000 people as an example good money can be made for 5 or so for maintence, upgrades and troubleshooting at a reasonable rate.

    I think it will be a big change in the industry and as always the ideas of today will become the objectives of tomorrow.
  • by Moofie ( 22272 ) <lee@ringofsatur n . c om> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @03:15PM (#13457111) Homepage
    " I was disappointed with that one."

    Magnify your opinion by the 30 people who volunteered to stay late to test it for Origin, each of whom was incredibly passionate about trying to make the game worthy of the original, only to be thwarted by EA management and ignored by the game's creator.

    "Disappointed" doesn't cover it. "Relentlessly bitter" gets close. "Destroyed my commitment to being part of the video game industry" is also a fair statement.
  • Same old same old (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jparker ( 105202 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @03:16PM (#13457117) Homepage
    I've been working in the game industry for 5+ years. My current title is Lead
    Programmer/Designer. I've put out 6 titles, all mass-market crap. I know what
    I'm talking about, and I know what Greg's talking about. And frankly, I'm tired
    of hearing it. Don't misunderstand me: he is right about the absolutely sorry
    state of the industry, but wrong about its *relatively* sorry state.

    Consider the movie industry: I'm sure that most people reading this didn't go
    see War of the Worlds because Tom Cruise is, like, ya know, so cool and all,
    but there's millions of people who did. Most of the problems Greg's pointing
    out aren't truly problems with the industry, but problems with mainstream
    consumers. Yes, all of us in game development would *love* a return to the days
    when only the hardcore bought our titles, and we were communicating directly
    with a horde of fans who grokked what we were doing. But now things have gone
    big budget, and you can't make a game with a few guys, a vision, and a garage.
    You can't count on your players grokking your vision anymore. You can't even
    count on them knowing what grok means.

    Video games have surged in popularity like no other medium. It took centuries
    for the novel to achieve its current form, and decades even for relative
    newcomers like film and comics. Games, as a medium, aren't ready for the
    mainstream. In these other media, the early creators had a long time to develop
    and tune techniques of expression free from the constraints of profitability.
    (Of course, most of them were also quite poor; more on this later.) Video games
    haven't had this time. The entire medium is just barely alpha-quality, and yet
    the money drove it mainstream. And, like any other medium, the majority of
    casually-interested consumers don't prize the same things that hardcore fans
    do. That majority has the money. They don't care about gameplay any more than
    they care about a good script, but they love pretty graphics the same way they
    love Tom Cruise.

    This leaves developers with a choice. (Yes, Virginia, we do have a choice.) In
    fact, there are 3 choices:
    1) Side with the mainstream and the money. This is what almost everyone is
    doing, and what Greg is railing against.
    2) Fuck the mainstream. Make good games. "But what will we eat? How will we
    pay rent?" Yeah, those are problems. Deal with it. No one is going to make
    realizing your personal vision easy for you. You're going to have to go out on
    a limb to do it. Is it uncomfortable? Yes, horribly, but it's utterly
    ridiculous for someone to claim that the industry is unfair because you have to
    sell 100,000 titles to be profitable and there are only 10,000 people who want
    to play the game you're making. That leads us to option number 3.
    3) Get better. The best creators, in any medium, appeal to both the mainstream
    and the hardcore. Shakespeare was popular in his day, across many strata of
    sophistication. So is Katamari Damacy. So is Animal Crossing. Find a way to hit
    both crowds. Is it easy? Hell no; it's next to impossible. But it's what you
    have to do to be great.

    Now, I'm being a bit hard on Greg. Some of this is made harder by the way
    publishers (and retailers, etc.) treat creativity. (i.e. they hate and fear
    it.) They've fed people pabulum until the masses believe it's ambrosia, and
    that's a crime against a medium I love with all my heart, and I will never
    forgive them for it. But it's *our* responsibility as creators to show the
    masses there's a better way. Is it easy? No. Is it profitable? Not likely. Is
    there an alternative? No.

    I'll fall back on a favorite quote: "Neither individuals nor corporations have
    any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or
    turned back, for their private benefit." - Robert A. Heinlein, "Life-Line"
    That holds the same for the legal courts and the court of public opinion. It
    holds even if the clock of history is moving in in the
  • by Jim Haskell ( 162156 ) on Thursday September 01, 2005 @03:40PM (#13457333)
    I'm making my living in the games industry. []

    We picked the bottom two. :)
  • by Rimbo ( 139781 ) <rimbosity&sbcglobal,net> on Thursday September 01, 2005 @05:11PM (#13458415) Homepage Journal
    What makes a game fun is the pattern it forms in your mind as you do things and get rewards for them.

    Building a business around these patterns is tricky, because the only certain way to do this reliably (without, say, getting a PhD in psychology) is to repeat what's been fun before. At first you have a successful game, then you have copycats, then you have a genre.

    The problem is that the patterns formed in the mind eventually become desensitized to the same stimulus over and over again. The genre must continually evolve or die.

    It gets more and more difficult to find new ways to trigger that positive response while still remaining within the confines of a known successful genre.

    The reason genres (such as FPS or RTS) developed in the first place was because the difference between each technological graphical breakthrough was significant to the player.

    What's happening now is that the graphical breakthroughs are no longer adequate. The calls for "creative" games, for genre-busters (e.g. Katamari Damacy) that are coming about more and more, are based on the fact that we, as game consumers, are starting to get bored.

    But until game designers find a formula to make a game fun that transcends genre -- meaning that it doesn't just copycat an earlier fun game -- this pattern will repeat.

    I am no psychologist, but I have an idea of what these principles would look like:

    1. Provide positive response for the basic activity of the game. Pac-Man slows to eat each dot, and you see and hear happy feedback with each successful dot eaten. Items in Katamari Damacy are plentiful and make happy sounds (and controller vibrations) as each gets sucked up. With an FPS, there is the flame and the sound of each blast you fire. Warcraft units click, light up and give you one of a number of obedient greetings as you select them.

    2. Scale reward with effort. You can finish each screen without eating a single ghost, but if you really want the big points, you gotta try and eat all four! It's one thing to have a big enough Katamari, but let's try and really blow the king away with a BIG one... and how do you get that cat over there? It's fun to play Counterstrike and Warcraft, but it's more fun to win.

    The player must be allowed to do what he is trying to do. In other words, controls must be responsive, but Pac-Man (for example) takes this even further, to where you can turn into a tunnel even if you've gone a few pixels past it, without having to turn the other way. If there's a split-second delay between clicking the mouse and knowing that your weapon's going to fire (there may be a delay in firing it a la BFG, but you hear and see feedback as soon as you say to do it), you're going to get frustrated.

    Know what games follow these principles better than any others? Slot machines. Because they have to.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 01, 2005 @05:35PM (#13458658)
    After seeing "Fight Club" and "50 Cent: Bulletproof" mentioned I felt compelled to reply. I am a former member of the game industry and happened to work on "Fight Club". I wasn't happy with the direction the game went and the final product is laughable. In fact after working on said game I became so dismayed at the state of the industry that I decided to leave.

    And "50 Cent: Bulletproof" would be the game I'd be working on now had I not left. I can hardly think of a game idea I'd want to work on less.

    I couldn't agree more with the comments of Greg Costikyan, at least as far as what is stated in the post. I have yet to RTFA, but I will.

    ICO is my favorite game ever. And Rez is also high on my list. It seems that the niche games appeal to me the most because this is the area where a game can become something more than 'just a game'. The bounderies are pushed as to what a game is and this is where it can truely become an art form.

    But just as some of the best independent films do poorly in terms of sales at the box office, it seems the same is true for games. There are too few independent voices in the industry and I suspect this is mostly due to the fact that there are far fewer willing to invest money to develop such games. My hope is that at some point development for consoles will be more open, allowing for completely new ideas to come to light. I think this is the next major step in getting the industry out of it's current rut. There will always be Big-Budget titles that spend all there money on content and little time on gameplay or new ideas, but hopefully there will come a time when 'John Q. Programmer' sitting at home with a vision and some skill will have access to the same hardware that 'Mega Game Studio' does. And no the PC doesn't count.

Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. - Paul Tillich, German theologian and historian