flipCode - Tech File - Phil Carlisle [an error occurred while processing this directive]
Phil Carlisle
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E-Mail: phil.carlisle@team17.com

   07/03/2000, Tech File Update

This time I might actually not make it a rant.. Well, mainly.

Ive realised some important points recently, and whilst not exactly revolutionary, I'd like to share them here, in case anyone identifies with em..

I was sifting through some papers on typical "engine" type info, shadow maps, stenc buffer shadows etc, and I realised something quite profound (to me at least), in that for all we in the west seem to place our technology emphasis on "engine" i.e. rendering our world, the japanese seem to place the emphasis on CHARACTER, you know, creating a nice looking character.

Wether its Mario, Sonic or Round blob guys (jeesus my memory is wasted, but he's the character that sucks in things and blows out others and in essence a blob with arms), my point being, why do we concentrate so much on things like lightmapping etc, when clearly the biggest games in the world (i.e. japanese games) concentrate on creating likable or intriguing characters?

I was very sad to hear about Looking Glass, for me, they had one of the most innovative games (in Thief), and had a nice healthy mix of technology and straight out gaming (i.e. they didnt seem to care that the thief engine wasnt seen as "leading edge"). It really got me thinking about the games industry as a whole, and its current direction (or perhaps lack of it).

From my point of view, Ive seen the industry go from a back bedroom development style, into a multi-billion pound business, sad to say that most of the early pioneers moved on when they got stung on one project or another, either that, or they made enough money to found companies of thier own (and went on to form some of the larger companies).

Its from this perspective that I find it pretty sad for the industry as it is going today, quite a few years ago I used to make the comparison between the games industry and the music industry. Both of these industries were started on the raw talent of a few people who really "wanted" to work at thier chosen profession, most of them had no expectations, they just wanted to live thier fantasy and "do" the work. Time went by, and the accountants, businessmen and conmen moved in, smelling a fast profit and a lot of naive people, they milked the industry for whatever they could, forming bigger and bigger "franchises", but having a fatal impact on orignality and stifling new and creative talent before it gets a chance.

Basically, I see the music and games industries as very much the same thing, however the games industry is lagging behind the music industry in terms of cynical marketing and accountant led product, but only be a slight amount. The sad fact is, that most startup games companies havent got a chance of making it. With the sheer cost of producing a title, getting it on the shelves, and actually selling enough to make a profit (enough for a next project) its almost impossible. So thier best bet is to get signed on to produce product for one of the "big" players, but again, the risk of failure is high, the "big" publishers tend to drop products on a whim (especially if they have to stay in favour with shareholders), they frequently change enough of a project so that it becomes almost unprofitable for the smaller companies.

So what can small development companies do?

Well, I was in a lecture at the European WGDC last week, with the head of development of Rebellion (Alien Vs Predator), and he mentioned that there wouldnt really be any need for Publishers and distributors once people start buying games on the internet. He had a good point, but I think I'd look further than just trying to sell product entirely on the internet, I think the smaller games developer needs to actually think of a NEW market, a new form of delivering thier content, one such Idea that I strongly advocate is the idea of a subscription sale. Basically the development of a game would be an episodic affair, where the customer gets the first "episode" for free, but pays a yearly subscription for quarterly (or so) updates. Subscriptions are great for smaller companies, because they deliver payments over time, but also, because they generally have a longer lifetime than shelf based products. If you look at the likes of Everquest, you KNOW that people are willing to pay subscription fee's for games, this is just an extension of that principle, but worked into a smaller product.

One drawback of this idea is the amount of content creation, but with the proper workflow (which is another subject entirely that needs addressing), its only a matter of updating once every 2-4 months, with new levels, new characters etc.

I seriously think that small developers CAN make a go of things, but they have to be prepared to step out of the normal "lets produce a game, get a publisher and make huge amounts of money" route, and into a more community oriented, direct to customer development route.

Anyway, thats enough for now, if anyone has any comments on this, I'd love to hear from them, especially anyone who actually HAS sold product directly in a successful way.


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  • 01/27/2000 - Just An Update For The Tech Files
  • 12/23/1999 - New Years Tech File Update
  • 12/08/1999 - Update To Techfile
  • 11/30/1999 - Introduction

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