It’s hard to find a gaming forum that doesn’t contain a rant about the lack of innovation in gaming. These rants are
usually aimed at the big publishers, which are rumored
to have bouts of hypothermia whenever they’re confronted with a new idea. The bad news is that these
rants aren’t completely off the mark. The
good news is that you can help fix this.
In general, the majority of publishers do
care about gaming. However, if you put all
of the employees together in one big room
and called it a “green-light meeting” where
they needed to approve a really cool new
concept, you’d have jinxed it: before you
could say $, they’d all take the no-risk route
and professionally shoot down whatever
novel idea was presented to them.
Why would they do this? Simple—a collective fear of being responsible for anything that could in hindsight be called a
failure. After all, innovation may be cool, but job security is even cooler. So they resort to things they know
will work, which is more of the same, with bigger
budgets (the Call of Duty series is a good example).
Game X because they lack the funding to finance their
Own_Cool_Thing™. But give them access to the piles
of cash generated annually by the gaming industry, and
proof will be given that innovation not only generates
more fun, but also more revenue.
To achieve such a reality, independent developers
need to play catch up with the established publishers.
Fueled by years of revenue earned on the backs of
developers, seven and even eight-digit productions are
now being made. This has created a pattern of expectation among players in terms of production quality. If
independent developers truly want to take the pole
position, they’ll need to achieve the same level of pro-
Devs must find a way
to access revenue
from their games.
duction values, otherwise they’ll be unable to reach the
same audience-level AAA productions currently enjoy.
Additionally, they need to find room for failure, or they
won’t be able to exercise their creativity fully.
For that, it’s imperative that developers find a way to
access the revenue generated by their games without
trading their rights away (which is what got them in the
gutter in the first place).
Swen Vincke is the
head of Larian Studios.
He still plays Ultima
The route to better fun
VII, adores Terry
Pratchett and hates
boring. His secret
dream is to create an
RPG that will dwarf
them all. Recently, he
It’s a situation that’s all too familiar to other creative
industries. For decades, developers, often consumed by
their own idealism and not knowing how to market their
own games, allowed others to benefit from their work.
This resulted in a creative industry where the majority
of a game’s decisions are made by non-creatives, and the
introduction of new ideas is dependent on the public
getting fed up with the old ideas, a short-sighted
approach that leads to market self-destruction of the
type we witnessed, for instance, with the RTS genre in
That’s why the advent of digital distribution and the
complementary rise of the indie scene hold such
promise. Most developers only work on the clone of
A digital fix
Direct digital sales are the answer. To help appreciate
this, here’s a (simplified) example from the real world: a
small console game with a development budget of $2
million sold 500,000 units. The total publisher profit
was over $10 million, with the developer not getting a
single penny due to some creative legalese. Since all the
developer’s money evaporated from making the game,
he then started to work on another game, on the same
terms with the same publisher.
Now imagine that this had been a PC game doing the
same numbers digitally. Instead of getting
nothing, this developer could’ve earned $10
million if all his sales went through digital
platforms such as Steam and/or Impulse, and
up to $20 million if all of his money was
earned through his own digital store.
With this surplus of funds, he could then
create the game of his dreams with AAA production values. Given the opportunity, you
can bet that most developers would take the
risk (that’s how our mindset works). And this
game might then become the next big
thing—the game that would never get the
green light at a major publisher; the game you
already want to play without even knowing it
yet. Therefore, to ensure the future of innovation, buying a game digitally is the best
investment you can make. n
Dragons with jetpacks: innovation we can get behind.