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5:52 PM on 03.28.2013

Game Development Needs Underpants Gnomes!

Over the last decade we’ve been lucky enough to see the game industry change from a focused and “bro-centric” market to a much broader market that encompasses children and retired grandmothers. During this change some developers seem to have lost sight of what their real goal should be; to make great games. These days game developers wear the hats of not only designers and programmers, but of marketing and PR as well. Publishers and investors urge developers to make a game that is highly profitable rather than simply fun to play. They require micro-transactions and a slow methodical pacing to keep players steadily addicted rather than just having fun. This method is fundamentally flawed as it forces design conventions that might not be the best course of action.

World's Best Game Devs

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with the Underpants Gnomes?” Some would call it erroneous but honestly the Gnomes’ approach to making money is brilliant in its simplicity. For those unfamiliar, their process is;

1. Steal Underpants
2. ???????
3. Profit

This doesn't mean developers should be clamoring to sneak into bedrooms and pilfer through people’s unmentionables, but it does bring an interesting philosophy to the table. Your first step should be to accomplish your real goal. If a developer is too fixated on steps 2 and 3, then they end up making a “product” rather than a “game”. Their focus should be to make a great experience and figure out how to make it profitable afterword. The methodology of game development really needs to be;

1. Develop a great game
2. ??????
3. Profit

The Perfect Plan

Publishers and Marketing departments have the job of step #2. If Step #1 is executed well by the developers, the game should succeed. This is assuming the Publisher and Marketing department do their job. A developers’ frustration is understandable when a game is a critical success, but marketed poorly. This frustration can lead to developers wanting to take this process into their own hands, but that is a very dangerous path. Game developers are artists and need to be allowed to create their games without fear or concern of another department dropping the ball. Their one and only focus should be on the game, it’s someone else’s responsibility to figure out how make money from it.

Beyond Good & Evil was a great game for its time...but it sold like a hat full of butt-holes

There is a caveat to this philosophy though, and it’s not one that sits well with developers. When a game fails commercially, who do you suppose is the first group to get hit with lay-offs? We’ve seen this happen with companies like THQ, EA, Activision and countless others. The developers often, unjustly, suffer the brunt of an unsuccessful game while publisher CEOs continue to collect multi-million dollar bonuses. So while a developer’s main focus should be on the game, their frustration is understandable when their (critically successful) game fails.

Seems simple enough, yet some people still can't grasp it

It hurts to put your heart and soul into a game, to spend countless hours away from your family, only to have that labor of love thrown under the bus because another disembodied department failed at their job. That being said, it’s of the utmost importance that developers keep the Underpants Gnomes in mind when creating their game. This goes for developers of all sizes. From the 400 person strong teams working on this holiday season’s triple A titles to the small indie teams with just a few (or sometimes one) members. Don't hold back for DLC, don't lock content away purchases. Make the best game you can, and the money will come.   read

11:49 PM on 03.21.2013

Hidden Game Gems: Episode 1

The Xbox 360, Wii and PS3 generation has produced some great games, but not all of them got the attention they deserve. Hidden Gems is a (hopefully) multi-episode series dedicated to highlighting some of the lesser known quality games of this generation. Please enjoy.   read

5:13 PM on 03.18.2013

Video Review: Don't Starve (Beta)

It's important to note that the game is still under development and likely has a number of improvements in store for future updates. That being said, please enjoy our early beta review of Don't Starve. A game where starvation, ironically, is the least likely thing to kill you.   read

10:54 AM on 03.15.2013

Simcity Fiasco Video Response [Opinion]

EA's handling of Simcity has been one of the biggest cluster-poops in recent memory. It's one thing to have a problem, fess up to it and try to fix it...but it's an entirely different thing to act like there's no problem at all and come up with excuses. This is just a quick video discussing the ramifications of the botched launch.

PS: Shot with my super crappy MacBook Pro iSight camera.


6:55 PM on 03.11.2013

Harnessing the “Indie Spirit” for Big Budget Game Development

There’s been a lot of talk in the industry lately about the “indie spirit”.

Indie Spirit is loosely defined as a style of game development which tends to be more free flowing and artistic than traditional triple A game development. This fosters unique ideas that seem to only manifest from small teams working out of garages and basements. Great games like Anti-chamber, Proteus and Fez are just a few examples of this radically different style of game making. Large game publishers usually lack this edgy development philosophy and there are a few reasons. Let’s take a closer look at how publishers could, won’t and can’t shift to this more radical and the innovative form of game design we refer to as “indie”.

Love him or hate him, Blow has become something of a poster child of indie game development

How They Could

If publisher and developers really wanted to harness the creativity of the “indie spirit” they don’t need to look far and wide for quirky developers. They don’t need to purchase the titles for millions of dollars either. All they would have to do is take a look around them. The odds are high that the developer sitting in the office next to them has a fun pet project that they’d love to get developed. The game industry is packed with incredibly intelligent and creative people. It’s almost a shame that these brilliant and creative minds are busy creating someone else’s idea. The intelligent thing to do would be to harness this creativity and let them express their artistic side, but how does one do that exactly and still pay the bills?

Why They Can’t

Many large companies sit and wonder what the next big thing in their industry will be. Bill Gates has said that he doesn’t fear the multimillion dollar company that is churning away on their next great iteration of hardware or software, he’s more concerned about the one or two man team that is toiling away in their garage on something new and innovative. He’s absolutely right. So why not harness the creativity of your individual employees? Why not allow them to go off on their own and create their own works of art?

The biggest reason is because you’re not playing with your money, you’re playing with shareholder’s money. Most large investors are not interested in the game industry as a whole and trying to advance it as an artistic medium. When they look at the latest progress report of a game, they don’t see fun factor or artistic integrity. They know Call of Duty sold a bazillion copies last year and they want the game you’re building to do the same. They knew Call of Duty has dudes with guns and that’s what they want to see in your game. If you don’t want to play along, they may very well take their money and leave you high and dry. Once a developer is so large that they are forced to take money from a publisher/investor, they are giving up a large amount of their creative freedom.

Even Activision has investment interests to look out for.

Why They Won’t

When you start to grow as a company and add throngs of employees to your roster, you have to start making rules and roles. There are assigned tasks, responsibilities and duties that must be carried out and straying from those may be considered a form of insubordination. This is also when people will start turning off their creativity and lean away from new and innovative ideas. They work within the perimeters given to them and rarely color outside of those lines. That’s a big problem when trying to cultivate a creative workplace.

True innovation and creativity come from outliers. They come from people who haven’t been given boundaries to work within. So why not let everyone just do what they want? Because large organizations need structure to function efficiently. It’s hard to fire someone for not doing their job, if their job hasn’t been clearly defined. It’s difficult to know who to blame for a bad mechanic, when you don’t know who all worked on that section of the game. In the long run, it’s just easier for a company to have set rules and leave the creative thinking to a select few, regardless if they are qualified.

Once the team is big enough, people start appearing more like cogs than people.

Why There’s Hope

There are those who are taking steps to overcome these limitations and attempting to progress the medium as both a business and an art form. There are programs in the game industry being helmed by some of the best and brightest our medium has to offer. Double Fine has a program called “Amnesia Fortnight” where the studio takes two weeks to come up with unique ideas and create prototypes to pitch for full development. Volition, the creators of Saints Row, has a program called “awesome week” where the team spends a week creating and implementing new ideas for their current games. Valve is attempting to overcome role limitations by not giving people official titles or roles…it seems to be working out well for them so far. These are just a few of the programs that the industry is trying to implement to interpolate more creativity and innovation into their products.

Tim Schafer and Double Fine are helping lead the charge with game development innovation
There is no doubt games offer some of the richest experiences available in the electronic age.

With all sides being measured, it’s important to note there’s nothing wrong with big budget games. They may fail to innovate, but as long as they are still enjoyable that’s all that matters. Would it be ideal to have every game bring something new to the table? Absolutely. But until the industry evolves to that utopian paradise, we can always rely on the small indie developer to help remind us that game development can be considered an art form.   read

6:13 PM on 03.11.2013

Arcadecraft Video Review

Let's take a moment and pretend that it's the 1980's and arcades aren't just a relic of a lost generation. Now, imagine you're in charge of one such arcade. Sound like fun? You'll just have to watch the video review and find out if the XBLIG title "Arcadecraft" is a thriller, or just a broken heart of glass.


10:25 AM on 02.25.2013

Miami Hotline Video Review

Hotline Miami has received a lot of attention lately for being somewhat of an indie darling on the PC and with the game gearing up for a PSN release, we figured now is a good time for the AO crew to dig into the game and give you our two cents on the bloody romp through 1980′s Miami. Please enjoy.

PS: Eff the dogs


8:42 PM on 01.29.2013

The Real Texas Video Review

Does the Real Texas keep it real and deliver a compelling gameplay experience...guess you'll just have to watch and find out.

Please excuse my voice sounding slightly off. I've been rather ill lately.


12:57 PM on 01.25.2013

10,000,000 Video Review

There have been an influx of indie titles being released for the PC market in recent years and with all of those releases, it's sometimes hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Does 10,000,000 manage to set itself apart from the rest? You'll just have to watch and find out.


10:36 AM on 10.18.2012

Mark of the Ninja Video Review

In honor of the game's Steam release, here is a quick video review of Mark Of The Ninja. Enjoy.


2:25 PM on 08.30.2012

Core Online: Gaming of the Future

Like it or not, Square Enix's "Core Online" is very possibly how we will be seeing our games offered in the future. It makes a lot of sense to deliver games in this fashion from the developer, publisher and consumer standpoint. The biggest problem is that gamers are cynical and quick to reject any idea that comes from a giant publisher. People are quick to dismiss new ideas as an attempt to snatch some of their hard earned money away. Coming from a company that charges copious amounts of cash for iOS offerings of decade old games, who would blame gamers for their pessimism? Join us in our quest to decipher what Core Online actually has to offer, and take away, from us gamers.

How it’s good for Publishers:
Publishers have long lived and died by the “launch window”. If a game doesn’t sell well out of the gate, it’s largely considered a failure. With a service like Core Online however, they are able to receive revenue from these games in the form of advertisement s. What this means is that they are able to generate revenue where there was no revenue before. They’ve helped solve the issue of used game sales with this system as well, but we will get to that when we talk about how this is good for the consumer. A gamer could be mildly interested in a game, but never interested enough to spend their money on it. As the industry is now, that is simply lost potential. The gamer never pays to play the game, and the publisher never makes any money from that gamer. With Core Online though, they are able to satisfy the curiosity of that gamer, and potentially make a little money at the same time.

currently only Hitman: Bloodmoney and Mini Ninjas as the only titles available

How it’s good for Developers:
Imagine you’ve got a new game in a series coming out, and you are afraid it’s been too long since the last entry. You’re afraid that gamers have lost interest in your intellectual property and it’s really going to hurt the sales of your new game. Now, imagine being able to push out the preceding games in the series to the public for free! Of course the publisher would never allow you to do such a thing if they couldn’t fiscally benefit from it, and that’s where a system like Core Online comes in. You’re able to drum up interest in the series, the user gets the play the games for free, and the publisher gets some revenue from the service. That’s what we call a “win-win”.

Would you try the original X-Com for free?

How it’s good for Gamers:
The phase, “There’s no such thing as a free meal” is the first thing most people think of when offered something as generous as a free game. Core Online however is making that a reality. If you’re interested in a game, but have never really been willing to spend money to satisfy your curiosity, this is a perfect solution. Sure, you’ll have to watch a few ads, but that’s a very small price to pay when it comes to playing a triple-A game... for free. What’s even better is that it’s a digital offering. This system combines the massive appeal of free games, with the convenience of downloading a game direct to your PC. Sure you could get in your car, drive to the store, pick up the game for $20, drive home and play it…but isn’t it so much easier to just go to the site and download the game? What’s even better is that you have a choice. If you don’t like the ads, you can always just buy the game. While used games are a very important part of the game industry, a system like Core Online is a major threat to their business model.

Less more of this...

What needs to happen:
It’s easy to see the potential in a system like this, but there are also obvious short comings. One of the first things that needs to happen is how/when the ads are presented. A simple time based system can be very frustrating when in the middle of a tense situation. You’re in the middle of an intense cutscene, then the game suddenly pauses and requires you to watch an ad. It’s a very jarring effect and can completely ruin the tone of the game. These ad breaks need to be incorporated into the loading screens, between chapters, between multiplayer matches. ETC. Not in the middle of gameplay.
The next “must change” about the service is its limited library. While this is likely this is just a test to see if a system like this will even work, the true test is when the selection of games is large enough to support an actual community. If done correctly, this kind of service could be the video game equivalent of Hulu or Netflix.

The most important thing Core needs to do is bring the service to a console base. There are plenty who feel PC gaming is largely superior but the numbers don’t lie. Console game sales still greatly outnumber PC game sales and there is something to be said for the simplicity and ease that comes with playing games on a console.

Other titles are currently being prepped for the service

Only time will tell if the Core Online system will bear fruit. Honestly, gamers everywhere should hope it does. Given the odds, it can only be a good thing is this type of model catches on. While some would argue that Square Enix has lost their way in innovative storytelling (those people obviously haven’t played Neir), they certainly seem to have a staggering amount of potential with their Core Online.   read

5:20 PM on 07.11.2012

Buck Up Indie Devs!

You hear a lot of great success stories from the indie game development scene. It's fun to listen to these stories because they make you feel really good about this industry you've chosen to pour your interests into. The more common story is however are of heartbreak and failure. It’s easy to look at the developers like Team Meat, Zeboyd Games and Polytron and think, “I could do that. I love games and have lots of great ideas.” It’s easy to say that, but the reality of game development is that most teams will never ship their product, or their product will fail. This isn't, and shouldn't be, the end of the story. This is an article all about the hardships of game development, and why it’s one of the best things you could choose to do with your free time.

One of the Cinderella stories of the indie scene

The first thing to keep in mind is passion. To success in game development you have to be willing to put in long, thankless hours to honing your craft. Don’t think of game development as a way to make money and support your lifestyle. You need a job for that. Instead look at it as a way of bettering yourself and the industry. If you happen to make money while developing games, consider it a bonus. That may be a bitter pill to swallow for some of you, but if you’re unable to accept this fact, then maybe indie game development isn't the right thing for you. Shawn Achor says it best in his talk on "The Happiness Advantage" when he says to put your target for happiness before your goal for success. That way you'll be happy, no matter the outcome of your project.

Be happy, no matter how your project goes

Now that's out of the way, it’s time to examine some of your peers in the industry. When someone asks you, “What are some of the most successful game companies and developers in the game industry?” ultimately you think of names like Peter Molyneux, Cliff Bleszinski, Shigeru Miyamoto or the folks at Blizzard Entertainment. These are people/studios that have shaped the way we see and play games. Now, think about this; these developers didn't start off making the amazing games we know today. Molyneux didn't create “Black &White” as his first project. His first game was “The Entrepreneur” and it sold a grand total of 2 copies. TWO COPIES! That’s a far cry from the millions he ships today. So the next time you get a little down on yourself because your game sold 20 units, realize that you shipped ten times the amount Peter Molyneux's first game did.

Despite how you feel about his work, the industry wouldn't be the same without him.

Something else to ease your pain, is knowing you’re not alone. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other indie developers out there to interface with. Just because you have a cool idea that you don’t want “stolen” doesn't mean you should shut yourself off from the rest of the indie community. Now, don’t go shouting your idea from the rooftops because someone can and WILL take that idea if it tickles their fancy. That being said, being part of an indie developer community can be of great help. Not only can fellow developers help teach and troubleshoot, but you’re also establishing friendships and business partnerships that can carry you to some great things and possibly a career.

Cliff's first game: "The Palace of Deceit: The Dragon's Plight"

Something you should keep in mind is that reviews are not what qualifies your game. Well, maybe they are... but not it's not what should define the game's quality for you personally. You need to qualify a game on more than just its review scores. You should look at how much you learned while making your game, contacts you made while promoting your game and skills you sharpened during development. If you submit a game to a site like this, and they give it a poor review score, don't let it get you down. Simply look at what they deducted points for, take note and move on. Reviewers never want to stymie creativity or passion of developers. They only want to offer constructive criticism while informing potential customers about your game. So, while review scores are nice, don't let bad ones keep you from continuing what you love.

"Raptor Resort" was a pretty bad game, but we certainly hope the developers keep trying!

Game development can be a dream come true. It's a lot of fun, you'll learn a plethora of useful skills and hopefully can make a few friends in the process. It's not for everyone. You'll need to have a lot of resolve, passion and drive to survive this industry. But if you stick it out and have your priorities in the right order, the experience is like none other. Get out there, start making games, be prepared to fail, and love every second of it.

Blizzard Entertainment's first game: RPM Racing   read

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