Its Hollywood All Over

by on Dec.04, 2005, under games industry, indy


There’s a reason big game fishing is so popular. Even if its a passing thrill, its fun to chase something bigger than yourself.

There has been a consistent murmur out there. A collective disgruntled buzz about games. I’ve been watching as closely as I am able, but to summarize it goes something like this.

Its boredom. Developer blogs, fansites, magazine articles, ezines, and some personal in-game chat all point to it. Its hard to find concrete examples, but I note an unsatisfied yearning for something new and different. Frustration with an interminable stream of derivative crap, siphoned from the big-media trough. And I see the complaint everywhere, from either overt commentary on the “state of the industry” or as a side-comment between players on a CS:S server.

The jaded sentiment is that gamers are getting bored with repeated renditions of games they’ve already played. People are ready for something new beyond lusher, linear games and big-name voiceovers. And like I’ve never really seen before.

Our appeasement, or how to get it, is starting to shift. How so?

Well, for starters, we see the XBox 360. I mentioned it earlier, noting from pure observation that there really truly is nothing new there. But the kicker is that there damned well should be in the face of 50 million dollar marketing budgets! And its not just a matter of big business. Its not simply that budgets for game production are soaring, and are expected to rise. Not just the boggling amount of assets that are required to produce the latest-greatest. Not just that the newest halcyon of NextGen gives us sports games with sweat simulation and FPS’ with absolutely no variants in gameplay. Its about the atoms of game activity. What do we do in the game? How do we do them? Very little progression has been achieved by our big media contemporaries in this vein. They play it safe, because they absolutely positively have to. Its easier to pile on the detail instead of coming up with something new.

So where is the innovation?

Its in the indies. The mythical upstarts. The smaller companies whose concentration is centred on the games they’re making, and not the happiness found in the genre numbers game. The indies take more risk, because they can. They don’t have armies of artists and programmers and suppliers and SKU’s and shareholders to maintain. They are the ones who push the bar sideways instead of upward. They change the playing field. And the communities exert an influence that no Superbowl ad could accomplish. They shift the market to follow them.

Since the first day of this blog so very long ago (10 months?) I have watched the debates swing around. People clamouring to tell us that PC Gaming is DEAD, and that the time for indie gaming companies has long passed the glory days of iDSoftware. I conversed with assorted developers at DIGRA Vancouver, and was met with the same eye-rolling recitation. And its clear to me that people have been overcome by something, perhaps even fear. But after over a year of observation and deliberation, I am utterly convinced that the “indy gaming is dead” mentality is COMPLETE AND UTTER BULLSHIT. In fact, it serves the big media to keep telling you that “making games is too hard”, “it costs too much money”, or “publishers are too restrictive”. Its not that they’re wrong, but the emphasis is. If you’re committed, these things are merely barriers to be navigated. Just think about what they gain by scaring off the masses from innovation. They scare off their most dangerous competition. They are free to churn out the same derivative crud without so much as a blip from underfoot. I set to thinking about these issues some time ago, and I am doubly sure that the world is ready for the next idSoftware more than you can ever believe. The gaming community is fickle, yes, but in this industry (more than most), getting mindshare of the end user is a live-or-die enterprise. And top-down marketing is not going to be able to reign in the enthusiasms of the collective headspace of millions of gamers that talk to each other daily.

Thats essentially my rant. People need to stop thinking that big media owns the space. And don’t think that better games can’t be made by the little guy. Anyone who believes that has been duped (yet again) by news and entertainment media.

I hate to rant about rallying the little guy and then talk about Nintendo. But in the sphere of computer electronics and future media, I really do believe that Nintendo has its sights in the correct places. And they really are innovating when the bigger players bat around around their latest Hollywood-style triple-A contender.

It only takes the will and a small group of committed individuals to innovate. And the time is right.

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