Here’s my honours project for my final year at the University of Abertay Dundee, for my degree in BA (Hons) Game Production Management. It comprises of a dissertation proposal, the dissertation itself, and supporting project work which serves as a worked example of some of the concepts proposed in the dissertation body. It was published in May 2008.
- Part 1: Proposal (The problem for Independent Game Developers)
- Part 2: Dissertation (Survival of the fittest – Investigating the survival strategies of “Small and Agile” game studios)
- Part 3: Honours project (Game Development Plan and Reflective Log)
Some five years have passed since I wrote this work, and back then the prospects for indie game developers looked quite bleak. Since then, the games industry has changed dramatically — Angry Birds demonstrated the huge potential for small developers in the mobile apps market; the rise and fall of Zynga highlighted the potential and risks of Facebook as a games platform; Humble bundle, Good Old Games, and even Xbox Live emerged as reliable digital distribution channels for independent developers; crowdfunded projects on Kickstarter took off in a big way, resulting in the world’s first crowdfunded indie games console the Ouya. Oh, and Minecraft happened. :)
At present, I feel confident that independent games development is thriving in a very positive, if unexpected way. Yet, many of the problems and challenges surrounding Next Gen / AAA development reported in my original proposal are still present. With the latest round of next gen consoles – the PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U – the costs of games development for the home consumer is unlikely to go down any time soon. The business model, as far as I’m aware, is still broken, with regards the developer royalties. In particular, the use of Metacritic scores as another way to control and limit how much a studio earns is particularly troubling.
There are still development horror stories — L.A Noire was a critical and commercial success, but plagued by a protracted development schedule (7 years) and controversy surrounding poor working conditions. In spite of the game’s success, the developer, Team Bondi, was shut down after failing to secure another game project. What’s more revealing is the recent downfall of middle tier publishers such as THQ, and the closure of several notable development studios (e.g. Psygnosis), throwing doubt into the previous convictions that being acquired by a major publisher would offer financial security and was a viable end-game for any independent developer. The Radar Group, which I had high hopes for, seemingly disappeared after 3D Realms ran into financial difficulties, and at the time of writing, no one else seems to have taken the concept of a production studio on board. To be fair why would they? Having another middleman to share royalties with is unappealing to both publishers and developers, even if it does reduce overall project risk.
If asked on my views of the games industry today, I’d refer to Dickens and say it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Better games are being made, and there’s good reason to be hopeful. Yet, there’s still much to criticise and past mistakes aren’t being learnt from (for instance, sexism in games / production is still a prevalent issue).
In closing, Scott Miller, who I used to admire quite greatly and referenced heavily in the above work, once posted the question “Who’s left who can design their own game?” Back then, the answer was very few. Today, it seems like there are plenty of opportunities for anyone with a clear vision, and the skill and talent to see it through. Time will tell if the kickstarter bubble bursts, but for now at least, it seems like an exciting time to be developing games, and I’m looking forward to seeing how these projects pan out.