Extra Credits: Innovation

This week, we discuss the Indie and AAA branches of the game industry, and how joining forces might help them to drive innovation.

Recent Comments:

  • I'd like to see the link to Portnow's plan that was mentioned in the episode. I'm sure there's more to it than just what was mentioned in the episode.

    However, based on what was mentioned in the episode, it seems that the most advantageous thing for an indie dev to do in such a system would be "just enough to pass muster", and that would be a measure to ensure that they're not giving away anything too good. The problem I can see - at least on a superficial level - is that in order to avoid getting screwed, the indies in such a deal would have "vaults".

    I mean, that's what I'd do in such a situation. I love the medium, but I don't love it enough to get screwed/exploited for it. And, if I were kept "lean and hungry" I'd only do what I was paid for and nothing more. Judging by the episode's description of the plan, the indie guys in the equation would get boned. I may not be understanding this correctly, but it seems like the only reward they get is to be able to do the work. It's like saying, "Congrats! You get to shave years off your life and wreck your family for peanuts! And us, well, we get your IP which we'll probably run into the ground if this initial offering does well. After the project is over, we'll promptly fire you and get some guy to work on what you've started. But, hey, at least you got to do the work, right? That'll look good on a resume."

    I found this episode quite interesting because I'm thinking of starting a project myself, and I'm wondering whether I should shoot for an end goal of Triple-A or just try to make the best of an indie project. My major concern with attempting AAA is that I'd invariably lose rights to the IP. Is it wrong to want to profit off of one's hard work? The major concern with trying to make the best of an indie project is that - naturally - it won't be as polished.

  • I know this is a relatively old topic (really old), but the subject is still a matter of actuality.

    There is a way to not only self-fund a project, but also keeping its IPs and it got nothing to do with a social based system like Kickstarter. I won't hide it. I'm personally involved in the build-up of this way for the last year so I might be a bit biased.

    The only issue of that self-funding method is that there is a filter similar to how AAA companies actually filter whenever or not they are accepting to fund a project. The good thing is that this filter is purely made to fortify the self-funding method and not to take anything from the indie team.

    The reason why AAA companies can't fund all the project is simply that they don't have the money to do so. The millions they are making out of those high profits titles is mostly used in making the next title, enriching the companies owners (well, they did invest the initial funds that started it all) and ensuring that they don't goes into the red if their next 50 million cost project ends up as a flop or a legal issue.

    So if the AAA companies doesn't have enough money to fund an indie project, who does? The players? Sure, but they might not wish to risk it (as why less than 1/10 of the Kickstarter games projects actually reach their goal). There is one more possibility : the unrelated companies.

    As you know, even if the economy is dropping or rising, there are always companies that still makes as much (if not more) dough. Those companies have literally "budget to be wasted" which they throw out on the first project someone brought them that looks promising even if there are no guaranties. Yeah, you can already think about some names right now. Most drink or Gum or whatever product companies that appear on the Super Bowl or which seems to change their publicity every 2 weeks or months comes into this category.

    Now, the majority of the people (players) will think that, instead of selling an IP, this is like selling its game soul, but that's because this thought is mostly too black & white. There is an acceptable gray area in this which is called "Passive Embedded Marketing" and have been part of the video game and TV/movies field for years. (Think about those sports games with all those brands in the background or directly on the props the players uses in-game. Cellphones, clothes, building's signs, drinks laying around, etc. Remember the Subways in Infamous 2? Or the cellphone and many other products in Metal Gear Solid 4?)

    The idea is not to put the whole brand on a game, but to include multiple tiny parts of a brand or product into the wide picture for a price. Did you know that, inside a 300K citizen town, it cost around 750$ (250$ for the printing + 500$ for the advertisement fee) per month to put a publicity on ONE single road billboard and you don't even choose WHICH billboard in the 400 around the town that will have the publicity (otherwise, you pay even more).

    Now, imagine that as a dev, in a game, you sell 100 billboard around your whole game project. With those billboards, you can guaranty an average of certain visibility that exceed the road billboard (which is estimated at 4.5 sec or less) with not as much distraction as in real life, for the life duration of the game which might appear to thousands of players around the world, with no regional laws regarding the sized/lights and all that for around 2000$ per billboard. Those billboards does actually nothing to the game itself and only act as freaking props!

    And yet, you can fund your project for around 200K$ with those props ALONE.

    The issue with that system is that the bridge between the marketing market and video game industry is still slim and under construction. The marketing field is not used to that new freedom (and its marketing target system) and, on the development side of the game, the devs really don't have enough time to fill this added work to their already-full-filled timeline.

    This is where I (and some other people around the world) have been working on for the past year. Some companies (mine included) are currently offering (while we are still building the system from scratch as it never existed before so nothing's perfect yet...) the service as marketing agencies to assist the devs team (indie or not) to reach a realistic budget with embedded marketing. To make sure the devs doesn't get more work, we are the ones who build the assets (3D models, textures, sounds, etc.), who request approval and give the final accepted content to the devs team so that they can put in the game.

    There is always a way to fund a project IF the project is realistic and well structured. For those project which seems fishy or are made full of empty promises with not backbone to back it up, we simply put them aside until they're getting stronger and actually show potential.

    For those projects which shows promises, but never reached their goal in Kickstarter and never got the attention of publishers, we help them for no direct fee, but take a cut out of the marketing price which have been sold.
    (In case of mine, we take 10% of the marketing price and, whenever it comes to it, we charge the advertising customer (not the devs team) for the time we put in building the assets.)

    From our current contacts and business discussions, we could easily fund from some dump change to close to 15 MILLIONS $ with this system IF the game trully require it and can reach a maximum of players. That's the kind of possibilities that are now opening slowly.

  • I suppose one should ask is 5 years later what are people's opinion about the ideas espoused through this video?


  • Now, imagine that as a dev, in a game, you sell 100 billboard around your whole game project. With those billboards, you can guaranty an average of certain visibility that exceed the road billboard (which is estimated at 4.5 sec or less) with not as much distraction as in real life, for the life duration of the game which might appear to thousands of players around the world, with no regional laws regarding the sized/lights and all that for around 2000$ per billboard. Those billboards does actually nothing to the game itself and only act as freaking props!

    And yet, you can fund your project for around 200K$ with those props ALONE.

    While I could well see this for some types of games where modern(ish) and sci-fi environments are the norm, I question how willing most businesses would be to have their advertising/product placement look the part for say a Fallout type post-apocalyptic setting, any fantasy setting, or a steampunk setting.

  • I suppose one should ask is 5 years later what are people's opinion about the ideas espoused through this video?

    Well, it's good enough that Activision is trying it out themselves by resurrecting the "Sierra" brand of old as an indie unit. You can see their website for a list of current projects.

    So far they've put out two games. Shiftlings, an interesting looking puzzle-platformer with a unique tethered character mechanic, and Geometry Wars 3, which is obviously less original but is polished and has been well received by fans of the series.

    Velocity looks really interesting and un, a game that clearly is meant to cater to the hardcore platforming speedrunning crowd, which has traditionally been underserved by the AAA devs.

    King's Quest will be a real test, because point and click is such a dead genre that it would take some serious innovation to make it relevant again.

    Sierra is really a big test for this sort of thing, not just to see how good the games are, but to see what the response of the market is. Geometry Wars 3 has done well, Shiftlings has some positive reviews but doesn't seem to have sold a lot, and the other two games are as-yet unreleased. Moreover, we don't know what the ROI of those projects are. As for gamer response, I noticed that many people on twitter were angry at Activision for stepping on the toes of indie devs and having the gaul to call any part of a multi-billion dollar behemoth "indie." Sierra, as a subsidiary, is by definition not independent, which upsets some people. But I don't think the idea that they are a nimble skunkworks is lost on anyone, it's just still in doubt if they can live up to the promises inherent in that model.

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