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Greg Kostikyan and the Gaming Revolution (not nintendo)
September 28, 2005 11:36 PM   Subscribe

Publishers must die, claims Greg Costikyan, industry insider. But can he win out in the end, or is his princess in another castle? It seems that Mr. Costikyan is putting his money where his mouth is. I'm pulling the trigger. At this point, I have no funding, other than a little money myself; nothing ready to launch, either. But I do have a partner, the offered support of some other companies, a clear sense of what I need to accomplish in the next few months, and a draft (not a final one) of a business plan and financials. This is, of course, terrifying. Mr. Costikyan mentioned previously here and here. [via] [personal opinion inside]
posted by shmegegge (26 comments total)

 
for my part, I find both of the articles and his recent decision inspiring. I'm not industry savvy enough to know if he'll succedd, but he has my support one hundred percent. I don't just want Mr. Costikyan to succeed. I believe in my heart of hearts that, whether he succeeds or not, someone else will. This is the future of the gaming, no matter how far off that future is.

Hell, I'm seriously considering switching careers to take part in this revolution in whatever capacity I'm capable. This is important, if you love games the way a lot of people (myself included) do.
posted by shmegegge at 11:39 PM on September 28, 2005


I liked First Contract.
posted by nervestaple at 11:55 PM on September 28, 2005


I 'd bet he'd get funding from a publisher in no time if he had Jessica Alba on his dev team.
posted by bobo123 at 12:07 AM on September 29, 2005


heh, I've been following this indie path -- on the Mac -- on my own for the past 2+ years. Well, eating my seedcorn more like, but I've got plans, dammit. (but can I put my hands in my head, oh no!)

There's a market, I tells ya. In the post-crash economy $50 titles may not fly anymore, while $1/week stuff just might.

I'd rather get $1/week from 3000 subscribers than try to market a $1M crapshoot.

Excellent fpp!
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:23 AM on September 29, 2005


I aims to please.
posted by shmegegge at 1:05 AM on September 29, 2005


[personal opinion inside]

My next tshirt slogan!
posted by srboisvert at 1:40 AM on September 29, 2005


Very interesting. I fired off a mail to him.

Good point about the 3000 subscribers, Heywood. I never really did the $1/week * 3000 math before. That isn't too bad. And only something like a thousandth of a percent of all people with computers. There's a target I like the size of.
posted by blacklite at 3:01 AM on September 29, 2005


I don't know if his business plan works or not, but I'm (at least provisionally) behind anyone who wants to find a new way to do business. What we got ain't working. Works great for the companies, and for the system -- but for the people? We end up just parts of the machine.
posted by lodurr at 5:26 AM on September 29, 2005


yup, and in his article he shows how much worse the typical business model has turned out in the games industry than in other comparable industries.

However bad it is in any other retail, the games industry is a thousand times worse because of this insane dependence on the publisher.
posted by shmegegge at 6:45 AM on September 29, 2005


"The machinery of gaming has run amok... An industry that was once the most innovative and exciting artistic field on the planet has become a morass of drudgery and imitation... It is time for revolution!"

99% of everything is crap. Why wouldn't it be the same with games?

I mean, right now, we've seen the Internet open up a world of self-published music, games, books, movies, etc. Most of it sucks. Every once in a while, something's actually innovative and interesting. That's how the world is.

Still, I wish him the best on his venture. Nothing risked, nothing gained.
posted by fungible at 6:52 AM on September 29, 2005


99% of everything is crap. Why wouldn't it be the same with games?

Sure, 99% of everything is crap, but I'd be a hell of a lot more inclined to experiment with "might be crap" for $10 than at the current going rate. The problem is that the major publishers don't gamble on "might be crap, might be a hit" anymore - they go for "will be good enough" instead. You generally don't get new, quality experiences with "good enough" - when's the last time you played a sequel or franchise game that was significantly better than its predecessor?

I picked up Space Rangers 2 and Fate on random advice, both rather cheap and from small/independant developers, and they've got more gameplay between them than Burnout Revenge, Fable, or other major release I've played recently. I'd like to see more games like them - maybe they're not as slick and polished as the next game from EA, but they're at least as fun.
posted by smith186 at 7:10 AM on September 29, 2005


not to mention that independent distribution and marketing means better opportunities for different games. Not just good, but different. Even if different isn't necessarily good in one instance, it will lead to good down the road. And a good that is better than people knew good could be.

For instance, the velvet underground was good/great. But more importantly they were new and different and what came after them revolutionized music in the minds of a lot of people who would never have seen anything like that if the velvet underground had never existed.

Personally? I'm hoping that the business model mr costikyan comes up with means that, like books movies and music, games will have more longevity. That in 40 years or 200 or whatever, the good games that come from this movement will still have appeal to audiences of game lovers. Right now it's not even possible (under most circumstances. there are exceptions) to even play games from 10-20+ years ago.
posted by shmegegge at 7:26 AM on September 29, 2005


when's the last time you played a sequel or franchise game that was significantly better than its predecessor?

Just this morning, in fact, when I was playing We Love Katamari. This may just be an exception that proves the rule, though.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:36 AM on September 29, 2005


when's the last time you played a sequel or franchise game that was significantly better than its predecessor?

Advance Wars 2
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:50 AM on September 29, 2005


when's the last time you played a sequel or franchise game that was significantly better than its predecessor?

Return to Castle Wolfenstein
System Shock 2
Thief 2
Resident Evil 4
Silent Hill2
-- and many more I'm sure.
posted by undule at 8:57 AM on September 29, 2005


I second Advance Wars 2... and Advance Wars DS is somehow even better. Arguably the best game for the DS.

But also, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is better in most ways than 1 -- only the special stages are worse, it's got the quick dash move, the levels have a lot more variety, and it's got a suprisingly awesome two-player mode.

Super Mario 3 (Mario 2 US is only technically Mario, Mario 2 Japan is just bone-breaking additional levels) is much better than Mario 1. It's just got that much more variety, unmatched by any other game even to this day. Almost every level introduces something new and cool, and there's almost a hundred of them!

Pikmin 2 has a lot more going on than 1 (even if the overall design is not as pure). One of the most underrated Gamecube titles.

Sly Cooper 2 is better than Sly 1 for the simple reason that it has a life bar.

In fact, many original games have to play around with their concepts and whatever answers they find to whatever design issues they inspire, and it's not uncommon to find a few problems with the first permutation. A second game provides opportunity to take what worked from the first game, fix what was wrong, and add just enough to make it sing. Later sequels often end up finding less and less new to present as the developer becomes locked into finding new features to drive further sales.
posted by JHarris at 9:09 AM on September 29, 2005


when's the last time you played a sequel or franchise game that was significantly better than its predecessor?

Metal Gear Solid 3
Devil May Cry 3
GTA: San Andreas
Half-Life 2 (maybe not 'significantly' better, but a great game)

Agreeing with JHarris, I think it's more common that a sequel is better in that the developer is experienced with the platform and gameplay and knows what works and what doesn't. Sucks though that almost every single game out there is a sequel.
posted by bobo123 at 9:13 AM on September 29, 2005


when's the last time you played a sequel or franchise game that was significantly better than its predecessor?

I second Advance Wars 2 (though I'm not yet sure if DS is really better than 2, or merely just as excellent).

Also: Heroes of Might and Magic III (though IV was a major step down); Diablo II; Warcraft II.
posted by Prospero at 9:20 AM on September 29, 2005


smith186: [Publishers] go for "will be good enough" instead.

The article makes the opposite point. There are no "good enough" games. Each game is either a flop or a hit, like only being allowed to bet on one number in roulette. And the minimum bet keeps rising...
posted by fleacircus at 9:27 AM on September 29, 2005


when's the last time you played a sequel or franchise game that was significantly better than its predecessor?

Burnout 1 -> 2 -> 3 represented a steady increase in awesomeness. Burnout revenge... no worse anyway.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:53 AM on September 29, 2005


8bit era console gaming offered plenty of excellent sequels. Final Fantasy 2(4) and 3(6) were wonderful. Mega Man 2, 3, and 4 were all great fun. Shining Force 2 had the fun of 1, but with much better AI.

Regarding the PC, look at X-Wing and TIE Fighter from Lucasarts. Diablo 2. Warcraft 2.

It's good to see fresh innovation. The downside is that regurgitated crap that's just graphics patches trying to justify another $50 spent still makes money in the industry. If it didn't, EA would have been put out of business long ago, largely unmourned.

People mock the new Nintendo Revolution controller. It's innovation, and there's ridiculous amounts of potential for it. However, the trick is creating a few innovative and enjoyable games to entice third parties to do the same.

Most games are crap. It's bound to stay that way, because people still buy them. If innovation were the norm, it would be ill rewarded. There's only so much money to go around, only so many games can be the "best" of a time.

The industry suffers from time to time. Occasionally, a new developer pops up to stir the pot and make things interesting again. Hopefully, we'll see one here.
posted by Saydur at 12:14 PM on September 29, 2005


I think one of the coolest things about this article is that it can serve as a confirming document when it comes to Microsofts shadowrun development.
posted by Rubbstone at 12:39 PM on September 29, 2005


Unlike books or movies, though, games are interactive. You only need to buy them once to play them constantly. So if the Perfect Genre Defining Game appears, it kills off the genre or at least subverts the genre to becoming knock-offs of itself. People think "Why should I play X, when I could play Perfect Genre Defining Game?" So it's in the industry's interests to not make good games, just good-enough games that keep folks buying, looking for that PGDG. It's also in the industry's interest to keep pushing the glitz as that's the only way to one-up the PGDG. For (debatable) example Super Mario III may have been the best platformer of all time, but new systems and new tech gave us Super Mario World and Super Mario 64.

I thought it was interesting that he mentions board/war games at the start as ancestors of the videogame, but sort of forgets them later on when talking about possible development models for games. Imagine if he was talking about the movie-development model with the latest edition of Monopoly or something. What if your videogame system was like that Monopoly board you probably have in your home somewhere? It's just a thing that everyone buys, but nobody improves on because, well, it's Monopoly! You can sit down and play it and it's a new game every time. No need for expansions or sequels outside of themed/gift/souvenier versions. If someone came out with a new game that was as like Monopoly as Quake was like Doom, even the average fan wouldn't buy it.

If chess was developed on the current videogame industry model, we'd have Chess 4: Revenge of Captain Rook by now. Heck, if it was based on the movie-model it'd be Chess V: Return of Samantha.

So what's the difference between the boardgame market and the video? The tech, and that's a double-edged sword. On one hand, new tech is the only way to defeat the PGDG and free up the gamer to buy more stuff. On the other, tech advances are constantly driving things forward, creating limited windows of stability during which companies compete to stay profitable.

The game industry can not stabilize until the tech does. And I have no idea when that'll be. I don't think the industry does either. Nintendo is trying to take control of the tech with the Revolution (less raw processing power, which is the stuff driving things right now, more imersion innovation) as a way of stepping out of the race and that may buy them some more time. Microsoft and Sony, though, are just going to keep charging ahead trying to become #1 via having the best tech and best exclusive games (I think MS has the edge this generation in game selection, due to the ease of portability between Xbox and PC, so if you were a game developer and could only develop a game for the P3 or the 360, but could easily release the 360 version in 8 months for the PC, which would you do?). The big game makers, like EA, are going to wish for what Greg mentions, a world where everyone plays sports games because that's a pretty stable market. The indie game designers may need to take a page from the terrorist's book; not blowing stuff up, but forming into a loose group of cells that can come together, innovate a PGDG, then split up after their new game dominates the genre and likely gets bought out by EA. Where they could get the cash to do this... I have no idea.


Wow. This was way too long. I podged it together after reading the links this morning and typed/edited/pondered it out over the course of the day, so my appologies if it makes little sense!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:09 PM on September 29, 2005


The Indie Developer FAQ is quite interesting.

"Is it possible to make a good living as an indie?
Yes, absolutely. Many indies are making over $100,000 per year by selling their games online, and a few are making millions. Again, there's a smallness implied with the term "indie," so once indies start making millions of dollars and grow their studios beyond a certain point, they usually cease to be considered indies."

Perhaps it's time for the Open Source/Indie games market to start its engine?

I recently read a great article about the earnings of the small shareware/independent software developers. Wish I could find it again.
posted by Duug at 2:08 PM on September 29, 2005


Heroes of Might and Magic III!!!

Let's throw in Ultima IV!

when's the last time you played a sequel or franchise game that was significantly better than its predecessor?

You kinda got your ass turned into a hat there.

Very insightful, robocop is bleeding.

Manifesto Games sounds OK, but I don't see what's new (or how he's going to survive) There are already avenues for indepedent game developers. If the market for $20 downloadable games was exploding (it may be), I could see his point, but I think he gives gamers too much credit. Most are idiots.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:23 PM on September 29, 2005


yeah, robocop is bleeding makes an excellent point.

But then there's the emulator scene which shows a significant (even if it's not revolutionary) market for older great games. Not to mention how many indie small game makers are making new versions of old games on modern tech.
posted by shmegegge at 6:18 PM on September 29, 2005


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