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Adrenaline Vault series on Devs&Publishers

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 20, 2001 12:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, i finally got around to reading his articles, and apart from the constant self-promotion, he's done a decent job. It's cynical and romantic, just the right combo. *g*

PC Gaming As An Industry
    But in all cases, you can see why spending $5 million on producing a PC game is risky. You have to crunch the numbers and realize that thousands of titles are released each year. Less than 10% of them ever see a day on the retail shelves. Budget wisely. The other thing to remember is that publishers and development teams not only exaggerate their sales, they exaggerate their team sizes. This is to intimidate smaller developers, "Oh, I could never do a Starcraft III, they have 40 guys on that game…." Well, maybe technically. But I would bet that 90% of the work is done by eight people and if they didn't have the art requirements, you'd be down to four people. Don't be intimidated and don't think that you have to spend millions to do a decent game. If you budget carefully, you can make a really good product for less than $200,000. Just remember though, you'll have to exaggerate it when talking to others or they'll think it's a "junky title." So don't think of the budget to our upcoming "Light Weight Ninja" side scroller as being $100,000. Think of it as $600,000 with a dozen people working around the clock on it with high speed rendering farms churning out its advanced 3D alpha blended graphics. After all, gamers say they don't like big bloated titles, but deep down, they expect their games to be bloated. If a product isn't using 100 megs of disk space, it must be cheap. My suggestion is to simply write a program that fills a .dll file with 90 megs of 0's. :smile:

Part II: The Industry At This Moment
    The good news is that the PC game industry is about to change dramatically thanks to the Internet. As the Internet proliferates and people become more comfortable buying games online, things will get much better. As if on cue for the next article, is getting into the action by having games that you can order, download and receive the box later -- that is the "Wave of the future."

    When millions of titles are sold off the net each year, then the retailers will lose their clout, and the game magazines will have to actually cover offerings that aren't at retail. That may mean coverage of the latest Blizzard expansion pack, but it will mean gamers will see a lot of coverage of lots of other titles as the playing field will be evened out a bit.

Part III: Ideas on what's coming next…
    Electronic Impulse

    One system I think you'll see be adopted is that game publishers will let you buy and download the title right then and there.

    Picture this: DOOM 3 comes out, you go to Id's website and you can buy it. They'll send you the box but you're also given a link to download either the installable game or a CD-ROM image to download and burn your own CD -- the ultimate impulse buy. Just a brief moment of weakness and click, you have just purchased a title. Dragging my butt to the store and buying a product requires a lot more "impulse" than getting a game without having to even get up out of my chair.

    Watch for to take over this segment. So you go to Id software, click on "Buy" and it takes you to an page or something with a 1-click buy; they ship it and make it available for download right there. Everyone trusts already right? They already have your credit card info.

    But what about piracy? Okay, let's talk about software piracy. The industry's quiet dirty secret is it's overblown. Yeah, supposedly we lose billions of dollars in piracy. But do we? How do we know? In my mind, the amount we "lose" are sales that we otherwise would have made. Or the well accepted tried and true, "Uncle Bill" factor. Everyone has an Uncle Bill. He's the guy you see every Thanksgiving and calls you a "Computer Genius." If he's playing a game regularly and he pirated it, that developer lost a sale. Uncle Bill is the one who discovered Napster last year and talked it up at Thanksgiving dinner which is why the record companies are so afraid of it.

    It's not the 16 year old warez kiddies that you have to worry about, it's the Uncle Bills. Uncle Bill only pirates when it's more convenient. [Side note: He also typically has a three year old machine (i.e., a PII 166 with 32 megs of RAM); this will be the subject of a future column about how game developers miss out on lots of sales by making their title unplayable on the bulk of systems.]
    So how do you get Uncle Bill to buy your game rather than pirating it? Value-add: You make the game you purchase be the beginning, not the end, of your service to your customers. Game players become customers again. It's a term many game publishers have forgotten about.

Part IV: Destroying Myths
    I received several emails from people who work at very well known game companies (you know who you are) who asked me to talk about this issue. You want to program video games, that's great, but if you think you're going to start at $75,000 a year then you're insane. That's not to say it never happens (lots of dot-coms paid big salaries too) and depending on the developer and the location, the amount is more likely to be less than $40,000. Why? Because the number of people who can code C++ who would like to program video games for a living rather than write Visual Basic programs that interact with an SQL database at an Insurance company is great -- far greater than the number of video game programming positions available. That's why developers making VB programs that interact with SQL databases make lots of money and people who write video games don't make nearly as much. If you want to make money, start learning SQL, ASP, and JAVA. You want to have fun making games, then you won't make as much. Personally I prefer to have a cool job than make a ton of money doing something that's boring but you don't usually get it both ways.

Who are we making these games for again?
    Now, another shocking thing to learn is that most people actually prefer single player games. Surely that's wrong? What about all the multiplayer-only titles? Dare to put out a strategy game these days without a hefty multiplayer experience and you're in for a pretty painful review. How many times have you seen that? A really good game get a luke warm or negative review because it didn't have multiplayer built in. For me personally, multiplayer is a must. I generally won't buy a strategy game that doesn't have it, but I'm in the minority, I'm a "hardcore" gamer; I live to play online. But according to the report and just from anecdotal evidence, there is a growing backlash from gamers who simply want designers to start putting their energies into making a good single player product. Make decent computer players and make the game rich enough to keep them coming back for more. As opposed to what many recent titles have brought us -- single player experiences that are essentially tutorials for multiplayer.

    It's easier to prove that multiplayer isn't that big of a deal than it is to prove how low end most people's hardware is because we can just go look at GameSpy or Microsoft's GameZone or Lots of people on there right? Yep, thousands. Note: Thousands, not millions. Counterstrike is pretty popular; how many people are playing at once? Several thousand, not hundreds of thousands. Games like EverQuest and Ultima Online have shown that you can make online only titles successful but they did their homework (or learned through bitter experience) that there is a pretty substantial online gaming community out there. One that is big enough to sustain these kinds of products but not big enough to sell a million copies (not yet anyway). But even their subscriber numbers aren't huge -- couple hundred thousand total and that's after years of availability.

The Gaming Media
    Just as most people are shocked to learn how small many game developers are, and how small game teams really are in terms of full time people, people would also be shocked to learn how the PC gaming media is arranged. If you envisioned polished offices full of professional journalists carefully considering what they should include in their next magazine think again. A more accurate description would be a typical scene from ER, but instead of the people running around helping trauma patients being fully trained doctors, replace them with guys who have a basic knowledge of first aid trying to do "the best they can" under tight deadlines.

    Since the PC gaming industry is relatively still small, the media that covers it is also relatively small and that means things tend to be done by the seat of one's pants. Much of what is covered isn't based on some broad consensus but instead by the opinions of a few people who are greatly influenced by lack of time and need to increase circulation (if it's a print magazine).

    No event really shows the problems of the PC gaming industry than the post-coverage of E3.

Chapter 7: Finding a Publisher as an Indie
    It also allows the developer considerable freedom to ensure that their vision of the game is realized. Contrary to what some developers have written in the past, most publishers do not want to interfere with the game design. They usually only do so when the title begins to miss target dates and the publisher has to step in and start looking at what changes need to be made to get the release completed in a reasonable amount of time. For example, in Galactic Civilizations we don't plan to complete it until Fall 2002, but we are targeting a December 10th beta for it. That gives us a solid eight months of letting beta testers give us suggestions and ideas to implement. Better to have a solid core set of features that can be added to than an overly ambitious game design that one ends up having to strip features from due to missing milestones. Thus by the end of the year, we should have a reasonably solid beta, cutscenes, music, and sound that demonstrate the basic gameplay and production values. Then we can talk to the various publishers and see which one makes the most sense to team up with.

[ This Message was edited by: MajorFreak on 2002-01-26 11:55 ]
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