We currently see ourselves in the middle of this generations’ console “lifespan”. It took a while, but finally smaller game developers now have a better chance at creating a small game, taking a chance on an odd or “out-of-the-box” approach to the games story and development. Yet despite the almost unlimited resources at their disposal, developers seem to choose the more traditional route when it comes to downloadable titles.
I know I know, “but Tom, what about Double Fine, and Halfbrick, Twisted Pixel, The Behemoth, Playdead, and the other small developers that have broken through the sea of shit (lets be honest with ourselves here) that is Indie Game Development and into the proverbial yet still universally coveted “limelight”? That’s all well and good, but it took them a long time and a lot of effort to get to that point. When you compare the number of games that contain truly original content and gameplay to the number of games that are sequels, reboots, remixes, etc. it just seems like almost no one is willing to take a risk anymore.
True it is very very hard to break through in this industry, doubly so when you are a literal unknown in a packed concert of well known publishers, how can you possibly take the mic and get people to notice you? Take more chances. Get up on the stage in drag, and sing a yodel. Getting set up, properly funded, and efficiently coordinated can be an incredibly daunting task for a small developer, but overcoming that is a truly great accomplishment. What saddens me is that it seems once a developer has reached this point, they disregard their artistic side, drop the proverbial mic, and go for pushing another product that will bring home the bread.
Most (if not all) developers hope and dream to please everyone. That in itself is a difficult enough task, so most just settle for a core audience and continue along that path. What I propose is this: Why not create the work that will keep you grounded and close to your core, then throw out an experiment or two. If it worked, great. Your audience has expanded, and now you know how receptive your audience is to new ideas. If not, you have discovered that your lab pet was not good enough, possibly just to the point of requiring a bit of tweaking. It does not mean that the audience is not there, they may just not like the particular flavor of ice cream you happen to be offering. Perhaps they don’t like Vanilla. Maybe it takes a pinch of Chocolate to get them foaming at the mouth. Either way, when an experiment fails, it should not be looked at as a failure, only an end to one of many paths.
The potential for developers to create the next Mario, Halo, or Super Meat Boy is there. Always has been, and always will be. Unfortunately young budding developers look to those who are already established, and if they have not yet gotten on equal ground, will falter in their pursuit of becoming the next household name. That right there has to stop. One day, Walter Gretzky dropped a knowledge bomb on his son, Wayne. "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be" he said. I like to think that statement has truth is video games as well.
Good developers are where the trends are. Great developers set where the trends will be.
Once developers have established themselves as an entity, creation and immersion should be the general focus, rather then creating another fucking iteration of their first title, but with new costumes and weapons. Creating a truly unique and unparalleled experience is what will ground you. Building a universe that has never been seen before, and leaves the player with jaw dropped and pants soiled, will not only reap you a rabid dedicated fan base, but establish you as a developer that will always be guaranteed to be given loads of promotion just by word of mouth “HOLY S%*T YOU GUYS NEED TO PLAY THIS!” statements.
When more and more developers are taking chances after their initial success, competition between developers and publishers will be over the quality of their games, rather then who made more money this quarter. Of course it’s easy to critique from my comfy office chair, as opposed to actually getting off my arse and creating the future gaming culture that I’d like to see. Even still, the message holds true: Want to break through the shitbog, defeat the mighty shitdragon who guards the shitcastle, and rule the land?
Get crazy, get wild, or go home.
Trust me, the audience is there, they just need to know you’re listening.