In the olden days you could pick up a tape cassette containing a Spectrum or Amstrad game for a few pounds (yes, I’m British). At this time, the gaming industry was in its infancy and the business side of the game was highly underdeveloped. Games were written by a single (or a very small group) in squalid conditions and these programmers were like rock stars, or mad scientists working alone in their lab (complete with the associated lightning and electrical apparatus). Some games turned out to be “smash hits” (Monty Mole, Manic Miner, Dynamite Dan to name a few), others were of very poor quality but hey, that’s the price you pay for experimenting. How things have changed!
More recently creativity in game design went through a really stagnant phase with developers churning out platform games and more recently first person shooters and over the shoulder shooters. The PC game Doom was an incredible step forward in gaming at the time, but it has spawned (through no fault of its own) a genre that now dominates the gaming industry. Graphics standards began to rise and this meant larger and larger teams, now approaching the team sizes required to make a movie (actually game making and movie making now have a huge amount in common, but that is the subject for another post). To fund these endeavors, huge companies such as EA, Ubisoft and Activision are active in video game marketing and promotion. Big gaming companies don’t like to take big risks with their money and prefer to spend it on formulae that are tried and tested, usually pumping out sequels and variants. This strategy has resulted in the growth of gaming franchises such as Modern Warfare and Call of Duty. New games are inevitably tied in with the franchaise so as to guarantee high sales volumes.
Indy gaming on the PC has somewhat of a renaissance in recent years. With the development of smart phones and tablet PCs where the average Joe has access to the development tools, we’ve seen an enormous growth in the independent gaming scene. Another avenue for independent game developers has been social media platforms such as Facebook which allow gaming to be integrated with the social experience. You don’t need hundreds of programmers to write your own games for these platforms and, I suspect, this has drawn many a disillusioned game programmer back out of the closet which they climbed into during the late nineties.
Mark from the Classic Game Room HD explains how Gamers can pick up affordable games for the iPod, which is how it used to be for the Atari 2600.
Zynga has turned, with its partnership with Facebook, into an extremely profitable company. It develops games for social media web sites and is just one of many growing companies developing for the casual gamer.
On-line distribution now means that the humble PC programmer can start a games company and begin doing what they love creating games. Steam, the on-line game distribution system, has also started selling independent games. They have a very large market share in the on-line game distribution market and their catalog of games includes a large and growing number of games from developers that we’re probably unheard of just a few years ago.
Smaller game companies such as Paradox Interactive also stand gain by the reduced distribution costs promised by platforms such as Steam. Companies such as these can focus their efforts on producing games for their market niche, keeping their fans very happy, and not have to spend millions on packaging and distribution.
With gamers becoming increasingly disenchanted with the large game publishers pushing draconian Digital Rights Management schemes down people throats, market conditions seem perfect for a renaissance of the independent gaming scene that has been ticking along very quietly in the background. If companies and individuals are able to produce high quality games for a reasonable price and still turn a good profit, this can only be good news for the industry and gamers alike.