Also, Donkey Kong was not created by a "lone game developer." Miyamoto may have designed Donkey Kong by himself, but he had entire team of contract developers at his disposal.
There is so much unexplored space in the medium. We might have stripped the surface, but there is gold down there somewhere. :)
While Moore's Law marches on, I'm hoping the days of AAA titles for mobile are just around the corner. It's true - I suppose I'm not willing to pay even 0.99 for some generic platformer or cutesy puzzle game. I would be willing, however to pay 20+ dollars if someone could give me something close to say, Fallout 3 for my phone though.
We're already there. You can play, today, on your iPhone and/or Android device: GTA San Andreas, Bioshock and Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. These are complete ports that spare no features from the originals.
However, I found that the experience is not what I sought it out to be. I realised that these are games that require focus, since they rely on immersion. The only situation in which I can actually sit down to play them for any meaningful amount of time is when I'm at home on a weekend; in which case, why not just use a console or my computer, with vastly superior input devices and display quality?
I'm old enough to remember mobile dev before the App Store(s). No matter how bad they are, they are thousands or times better than how it used to be.
For example, typical returns to a developer back when you had to sell via a Telco was less than 30% of the price the consumer paid. And you felt lucky to get that 30% - that was a high point of the whole experience.
And so the cycle continues :P
I think in the past 20 years, we actually have not made as many breakthroughs in game mechanics (of course, this was easier in the early days). Games are still fairly similar to those of the 90s, only technically more complex. I think we are beginning to maybe get a better handle on game design, which I am seeing creep in with more appreciation of more obscure (now less obscure) game types like roguelikes and CCGs. Little known fact is that Plants vs Zombies was largely inspired by deck building mechanics found in Magic the Gathering, so you are beginning to see some more obscure mechanics like that get mainstreamed.
Genres completely abandoned by AAA developers ages ago are seeing a resurgence thanks to crowdsourcing. Space sims have been all but dead since Freelancer in 2003 but now there are several to play and look forward to.
Formerly obscure genres like roguelikes are seeing mainstream success thanks to high quality "roguelike-like" games like FTL.
Hell, even the impenetrable Dwarf Fortress brings in enough money from donations to support future development.
Not really. Its golden Age was in the late 80s, early 90s, where games were still made by educated people FOR educated people, before the whole thing went mainstream and any sign of complexity went progressively down the drain so that Everyone could start playing games. I miss Falcon's 300 pages manual, or even Colonization's fantastic booklet that went far above describing how to just play the game.
The early 90s were dominated by AAA titles from Origin, pushing both the boundaries of what was technically possible on PC as well as driving genres forward by developing non-linear game structures and exploring 3D environments. Nowadays AAA blockbusters jsut rehash the same formula over and over again (care to take another Assassin's Creed?).
I kind of agree. A lot of AAA games these days are just unoriginal. They follow the genre they exist in without much creativity or original ideas. Perhaps the storyline in the game is what people are after these days, but gameplay-wise, I don't remember when I've seen a big production game that I would have wanted to play.
Not to underestimate the value of nostalgia, of course. Some of the old games have not stood up to the test of time. E.g. I played the original Dungeon Keeper recently and I was a bit underwhelmed because I remember when I played that game when it was new and how great it felt.
Good thing that there are still interesting indie games. Even 15-20 years ago when I played more games, I spent more time playing small indie titles I found from BBS'es and computer magazines than I did playing big titles.
Certainly, but the opposite is also true. Baldur's Gate 2, Planescape Torment still hold up very well to this day and shame more recent RPGs lacking good stories and good character development, aimed at folks who liked RPGs on pen and paper and who actually liked RPGs before they existed on computers.
Indies are great, but there's a certain lack of ambition and a lot of rehashing there too (shovel knight reproducing 8 bit games, others using pixel art as a form of style instead of using all pixels available on screen to do something gorgeous, many reboots of ancient IPs, etc...). Truly original, innovative games are few because most of the genres have already been established for a long time.
Colonization 2008 manual (38 pages): http://replacementdocs.com/download.php?view.377
Edit: fixed duplicate link, thanks ekianjo.
The booklets also helped the immersion, things really have changed.
Incidentally, for many years, everything I "knew" about the colonial & revolutionary times in the US, I had learned from Colonization and Day of the Tentacle :)
The golden age is in the future, and the future is already here (just not evenly distributed).
Also, he's VERY involved in the design aspects. CIG recently published a breakdown of their ship design and development process. There's three or four major stages, and every one has "approval from Chris Roberts" as a gate at the end.
So, while he's certainly not writing a majority of the code like he might have in the past, I'd definitely disagree with the phrase "not involved in development".
I do really miss Microprose and Bullfrog. As a wargammer, I would add SSI, SSG, and Three-Sixty to that list as well.
I actually trace this to Diablo II and Torchlight. Yes, they aren't strictly rogue-likes—among other things they're realtime—but they raised excitement for the genre just the same.
Diablo 2 and Torchlight have the latter, but they are quite old, and the resurgence of roguelikes is relatively recent.
I believe it's just has to do with it being a very solid (and addictive) gameplay model, and one that fits much better indie games than AAA titles.
Before, the top AAA studios made games with mods in mind. This allowed massive genres like Dota and Counter-Strike to come into existence.
Nowadays AAA studios see modders as leeches and try to cut them out of the game so they can sell DLC and skins to whales.
You can see this happening everywhere.
- No modding in Blizzard's new games.
- No modding in Dota2.
- CS:GO and TF2: Making 3rd party servers hard to find compared to official ones.
- Minecraft declaring freemium servers to be illegal
The indie games on Steam Greenlight don't make up for this. It is much harder to prove a concept by making a game from scratch. Most of them are quite shoddy and get abandoned after they receive a bunch of money from early access.
What about Starcraft Arcade, which makes use of Blizzard-provided tools to heavily mod the game?
> No modding in Dota2.
Valve announced workshop tools that would allow users "to create, play, and share custom maps and game modes for Dota 2."
Starcraft 2 is not recent anymore. Out of WoW, Diablo 3, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch, it is the only one.
> Valve announced workshop tools that would allow users "to create, play, and share custom maps and game modes for Dota 2."
Announced about half a year ago with no apparent progress? And the game has already been out since 2013 with a hefty 1 year "beta" where anyone that wanted an invite could easily get one?
Starcraft 2 is still quite heavily played, and an expansion is still in the works.
I don't see how you can say Starcraft 2 is not recent, and then use WoW to further your point, when that game was released many years prior.
The fact that Dota 2's workshop tools are still in alpha is irrelevant. The fact is, there is a healthy, modding community within Dota 2, and this is being officially supported by Valve. It is also growing all the time, which contradicts your point that we are "headed for the dark ages of PC gaming".
The valve mod tools are based on source 2 and already work, though they are in an early state. I've played maps made using them - anyone can - they're in the DOTA 2 workshop. Valve has said the dev tools are paused while they port the main DOTA 2 client to source 2 so the client doesn't need to close & boot source 2 to play user-made content. I'm not a game developer, but I'm told the current source 2 map maker is excellent if buggy & poorly documented.
It's possible Valve will release Source 2 for the client and never update the tools, but that seems unlikely. They've made an enormous amount of money off user-created content, and I expect they'll want to continue to add to that revenue stream (as well as it being the cool & decent thing to do).
2. Starcraft 2's mod tools are vastly more powerful than those from Warcraft 3 and especially Starcraft 1 (in some ways this is actually a bad thing).
3. Blizzard implemented a major overhaul of the custom games interface for Starcraft 2's first expansion in 2013, so clearly they still care.
4. Starcraft 2 is still under active development; the latest expansion is expected sometime this year.
I am not familiar with the other games to know how much original content there was, but I remember that both CS and TFC used a number of assets from the original.
Source is not free. Saying Unity is free and Unreal is cheap completely ignores the cost of modeling.
One of the more 'interesting' gaming communities is the PAYDAY 2 community. It's a fiercely competitive multiplayer game with lots of levelling up (why does EVERY game want to be an RPG these days.... I digress) yet all the play has been sucked out of the competitive part. There's this massive conflation between 'modding' and 'griefing' where the attitude to people experimenting with the game is openly hostile.
Now admittedly yes, in a multiplayer competitive game it sucks when a cheater enters your game server and griefs your game. Yet I couldn't imagine the kind of open hostility existing in the Doom or Duke Nukem 3D communities of old, where modding was encouraged and celebrated as experimentation and where the games weren't taken so damn seriously.
There is not enough accountability on Early Access and Kickstarter, and this is magnified by the fact that most people are not good at judging a team's ability early on (see: YogVentures, etc).
It may take a while but I forsee people getting tired of getting milked for DLCs and skins, and the major studios won't have another genre like Dota or CS to copy because they screwed over modders.
Yes, the dark ages, where developers look to protect their consumers (which in this case are often children!) from money-sucking leeches.
The Minecraft mod scene is thriving and massive and Mojang hasn't tried to stop it at all.
That's the least you can say... you need an official dev kit and those used to cost several thousands of dollars if not more.
Back when I was a console developer at EA, the ambient wisdom was that the money was falling out of (non-online) PC games in large part because of piracy.
Is that not the case? Do you happen to have numbers on what the PC game industry is like? How much of this is because of Steam?
What you heard at EA applies to AAA console devs. If you're gambling everything on a blockbuster game with an enormous budget, it's true, I don't think it would be smart to make a PC exclusive today. That has everything to do with the crazy budget management, retail relationships, unsatisfiable consumer expectations, and unsustainable nature of the western AAAs, though. When a game like Bioshock Infinite can sell over six million copies and the developer still goes out of business, there is something deeply wrong with your business model.
If you are an indie, it's totally different. You can do everything on a very small budget with a very small team, perhaps even by yourself. You can plan to break even in the thousands or tens of thousands of copies sold, not millions. You can target the long tail instead of making or breaking your company on the first week of sales. You can have a direct relationship with your fans. Piracy changes from a death sentence to free marketing.
So for indies, PC is a clear win, because:
It's where most of the people that like indie games are.
The dev tools are free and available this second. You don't need to pay or sign an NDA and go through an approval process for dev kits, you don't need to pay for QA, you don't need to go through another QA process to push updates, you don't need a publisher. Just go and make your game.
There is no single gatekeeper. You always have the option to pick another digital distribution store or sell the game yourself. Even if you plan to rely completely on Steam, this fact makes Valve much more lenient and easier to deal with than Sony or Microsoft.
Most importantly, you can give people your game in a zip file. Free betas are awesome, especially for unproven developers. You get free word of mouth marketing, free playtesting, often great advice in early stages of development before it's "too late" to change things, and the peace of mind that people actually like your game and will buy it when you're finished. Do not underestimate the power of the free beta, it is easily the greatest benefit of the PC platform, and has singlehandedly made countless indie devs, even back before they called them that.
It was deliberately shut down.
Their problem isn't piracy so much as getting noticed with a marketing budget orders of magnitude smaller than most AAA games'. And to be honest, I suspect EA just likes using piracy as a boogeyman to blame their problems on and to rationalize the Origin service.
I don't know that overall numbers on the PC industry would shed much light on the indie dev scene since they're still a small fraction, but I've played a lot of great games in the last few years. On mobile I basically stopped bothering, with Monument Valley being the one recent exception.
Anyway, I will say the Steam Early Access program is amazing. It basically lets developers develop games in a Lean-Startup style, by releasing an MVP and then iterating on it, and it lets customers buy the game at any point to fund the development.
I've been playing Kerbal Space Program (highly recommended if you're interested at all in spaceflight, orbital mechanics or rocketry) on the Early Release Program, and it's just awesome. The developers are cool and are pretty at-large in the community on reddit.
Strangely, it seems that you should avoid Early Access when it's for games by [i]established[/i] developers (Peter Molyneux and Tim Schafer are behind Godus and DF-9, respectively). Meanwhile KSP was made by a bunch of (former) nobodies, who actually made a game that delivers everything they've ever promised.
It seemed like this happened with Minecraft, it was just popular enough that the POC was good enough.
I picked it up after a long hiatus and found new terrain types, new monsters, new neutral creatures, an enchanting system, a brewing system, an entirely new dimension ("The End"), and several types of abandoned structures.
Minecraft today is $27 (and totally worth every penny and then some), but this is very much not what Minecraft cost 2 years ago. The alpha version was €9.95 and the beta was €14.95.
So no this is not at all what happened with Minecraft.
Charging full price for alpha versions of your game, then putting it on sale once it's done, is a slap in the face to your biggest fans - and the people who will most likely help you succeed via word of mouth.
Arguably this market is becoming over-saturated as well.
I guess the percentage of successful devs on PC is probably on a historically low point.
On Reddit there was comments from one guy that gives from 10 to 100k to indie devs, he get 9 thousand applications per month.
Most of the time, whenever somebody complains about their games getting no sales and I look at the stuff they've made, I see games that are fun and clever, but very one-note. Like, you can already see how the rest of the game is going to go just by looking at a screenshot. That's not a bad thing, but I don't think it's the kind of stuff that sells anymore. (With obvious viral exceptions that occur unpredictably every so often.) Whereas with a game like Monument Valley, you want to get in and explore it because every single level is unique.
Several years back, the developers of Sword and Sworcery talked about how their business model was entirely about chasing the long tail rather than aiming for the mass market. It paid off wonderfully for them, and I think — I hope! — it still makes sense.
: Hey! If you liked Monument Valley, you should totally check out Windowsill. Short but gorgeous. Listed as an inspiration by MV's developers. Demo in browser: http://windosill.com
Also it's built by ustwo, and while they're lovely people, they're far from a small one man shop (they have hundreds of employees in several offices worldwide and know what they're doing when it comes to marketing). I don't think Monument Valley is a strong case for your argument (Sword and Sorcery is a better one, but they rode on the original iPad announcement, which is a strategy you can only use once a decade)
From what I've read in interviews, the team was comprised of about 6 people, and they didn't do any marketing or advertising.
Another recent example of a pay-up-front game hitting it "big" is Wayward Souls by Rocketcat Games (almost $10!!), though they have more of a pedigree.
As far as the game experience, it's far from being in the best of its genre (and I know many game designers who agree on that point). People like it because it's artsy and lends itself nicely to casual play, which is fine. But whatever, that's besides the point- which is that it's far from a one man indie success.
I loved Monument Valley and would be delighted to find more games in that vein. What do you have in mind?
If you're specifically looking for something that fits this thread's constraint of visually stunning, one-man indie dev Escher-style puzzle game, I feel an obligation to point you at Antichamber .
It's got some of Echochrome's starkness to it, but with some very nice writing/dialog(?) bits that play off the game's puzzles well. Most people will find something delightful about it, though be ready for a slower paced, introspective game. It knows you know it's a puzzle game, and will punish you for it :)
(I should note that Antichamber seems to have been in development before Echochrome or Fez, and as such likely deserves the originality that has been showered on it.)
Oh, and Fez, of course.
For more modest success by an actual one-man developer, you can look at Michael Brough's games. I think he makes a living off of them now, even though they're very niche.
Did you count in the failures and almost-failures for the rest of the company on their way to discovering this ?
This is technically true, but if you want to finish the game, you'll need to solve some puzzles.
(And for the record, you can easily play a game like Super Smash Brothers by hitting random buttons, but that game has depth for miles. "Tapping randomly" isn't an indicator of a game's depth, merely its accessibility.)
The race to the bottom with free being the default has spawned this attitude. And the economics work out so that an indie developer can't really break even on free; you need 10s of millions of users to produce a reasonable income from ads. You can be a critically acclaimed indie game and only have a few million users.
Sure you can create a "fremium" game that sucks either time or money from users (where you basically charge people so that they can play the game less; addiction is a terrible thing). But if you don't want to be making freemium games (there's a formula you typically need to follow for them to be successful), you're stuck charging.
Here's the worst part: If you decide to make a "demo" for your game so that people can try before they buy, then when they reach the end of the demo, MANY people will end up leaving a 1-star review "SUX costs money!!!!!". Ratings are life in the app store: If someone sees an app with less than 3 stars, they're far less likely to grab it.
So because of poor user behavior, now you're stuck NOT offering a demo for people to play -- or you have to release your game as "fremium" even if it's not designed to suck people's wallets dry, which (as I've experienced firsthand) is a recipe for failure. At least my game has 4+ stars; not that it helps.
Available substitutes affect the price of goods, and the internet has brought us endless hours of free distraction. (Also, prices can trend towards the marginal cost of production over time.)
Supply and demand determine pricing, not the amount of labor that goes into production.
The labor theory of value is tempting, but flawed. Suppose I pedal a bicycle all day to generate electricity. Then say I demand you buy my day's single kilowatt at a price that provides me a living wage. Keep in mind that I live in California, a mecca for startup bicyclists, and support a family of four. So I'll be asking $177 per kilowatt. You decline, noting that you can usually buy a kilowatt for around 16 cents. Is it fair for me to call you "entitled" because you expect energy at market prices?
If game developers demand that consumers pretend other ways to spend time don't exist, or claim immunity to fundamental laws of economics, then they're the ones acting entitled, not their users.
Price, of course, is a different thing from value, but that's another matter entirely with a vast literature, pro- and anti-LTV.
The LTV is a reasonably good predictor of the behaviour of markets in commodity goods, with some exceptions (the rent-economy around oil is a good example). My feeling is that with indie games, niche music and so on, there's a problem in that some people will make them for the sheer joy of it, which means wider movement in these small sub-economies do not track things so closely.
 Using Marx's version here, not so well read on Smith, Ricardo and so forth.
So when someone claims "These people should get paid more because they worked hard," they're making claims that not even Marx would endorse.
If "should" means "in an ideal world", however, Marx and his followers would argue that the whole point is to enable people not to work so bloody hard anyway, so the question does not arise.
What I'm saying is that people should rate an app based on its quality, and not give 1 star as a result of their anger that they aren't getting tons more for free. Ratings should be about the quality of the game or app, not the price. If they hated the app, then fine, slam it in the ratings. But if they LOVED it and are just pissed they can't play more? Then they're jerks if they put a 1 star review up out of spite.
Just as the person asking $177 per kilowatt is delusional, so is the person who is demanding that I create games for them for free. I'm not acting entitled, I'm just trying to make games that people like enough to spend enough money on them that I can keep making games that they like.
I'm perfectly fine with the fundamental laws of economics, and I'm not asking for a special exemption. There were thousands of people who were willing to spend the $2 on my game before I switched to a "fremium" model (where the ratings ended up higher, but the income lower).
Aside: I'm not going to create another game like the one I mentioned above. Not enough demand and it didn't distinguish itself. I have no illusions there. People DID like it (I still, years after release, get fan mail), but I was paid a pittance for working on it.
I do have an idea for a game with a better supply and demand equation, and I have thoughts on how to monetize it, which involves payment for the game instead of ad support. And I would love to offer that game to users to test for free before they buy. But because of the quantity of jerks who feel entitled to get everything for free, and who will wreck the ratings of my game, I may not even offer a demo.  Which may itself kill the game. Time will tell.
 Just to be clear: Until you've installed a game you can't rate it. So if it's a free-but-limited demo they can rate it after they download it, but if it's a paid app they have to buy it to rate it.
In any case, whining aside, I doubt their sales suffered too much! And I'm glad we're getting more high profile pay-up-front games like MV to reset buyers' expectations.
Frankly, if they released another pack at full price, I'd be thrilled. Forgotten Shores started with the same slow pace, but by the end the levels were truly lovely works of Escher art. The final level harkened right to some brilliant bits in Fez, which is a far larger and complex game.
It’s like a mashup of Naya’s Quest  and Fez  (or Crush or Super Paper Mario).
Maybe I shouldn’t have expected a puzzle game, but this sort of space bending would really lend itself to more interesting problems to solve.
Mobile Phone games are suited for that kind of gameplay (and Dragon's Lair has been re-released for iOS I read), everything old is new again I guess :)
They don't overstay their welcome and both have very refined game mechanics while also telling an interesting story.
But it's easy to forget just how unusual those games are. There's a dearth of well made Escher games. I can only think of half a dozen off the top of my head, and perhaps none that are simple enough to be on the iPhone (4S in my case). Now, we can argue about what counts as well-made, as there are a few that were acclaimed that I didn't really like (I'm looking at you, The Bridge). But MV really is a fairly unique take on the idea, and about half-way through Forgotten Shores really begins to wake up into its own.
I consider $2 impulse-buy money, so I got the DLC. It starts off the similarly, but about half-way through ustwo seems to hit their stride. The last level has some flat-out brilliant Fez effects, and a few of the levels really play proper homage to the Escher design. My math says you get 2/3rds the game at about 50% more quality (integrated over the whole run) at half the price, so that's like twice the value. Compound levels are used more, so the game pleasantly drags on a bit. Just don't expect to be confused or stuck on any puzzles.
I won't lie: it's still short, and it's still easy. But it's also two bucks, which is slightly more than a candy bar and a bit less than a load of laundry. And I tend to enjoy the game art for its own sake.
So I think the game is still mostly an art project and it stands on its own in that respect. While FS doesn't expound on the plot much, I don't think anyone will mind too terribly. But there is some thread to follow, and for a game without much of a plot there are certainly twists.
Gamers are easy to impress, I suppose.
If such a game got no attention... how would you find it?
Systems are small, expectations low, challenges firm.
I very seriously enjoy the retro scene today. It's possible for ordinary people to participate, even make games others will play and pay for. Homebrew.
Completing that experience was one of those life checklist things. I had a great time and have learned a lot and was able to explore games on a technical level in an achievable way.
Personally, I see this being cyclic. The big names and players will always be there. But little scenes pop up regularly, and those are a treat for those who go looking.
I personally prefer retro on the older machines. One can play and code via emulation, which is quite good these days, or get some older gear and go that route.
Both work for me. I enjoy the real gear for those machines I am familiar with and own. (Apple ][, Atari 8 bit, CoCo) Emulation is great for others.
Emulation is good for coding either way. We get modern tools. There is a fun experience to be had working right on the hardware, but it's hard to put in the time. Emulation helps a lot with that.
The other path is to visit sites and forums that focus on older hardware. New productions are frequent, emulation good, help at the ready.
As satisfying as that work was, I get as much satisfaction from writing Enterprise/B2B apps. The thing about game development is that, when you're years into it, it's just another app. Video game lovers especially start out thinking they want to do game dev and game dev only, but a great many of them would benefit from exploring what are thought of as "boring" areas of development. It's only boring if you don't like making software.
I think that's at least somewhat dependent on personality, and at least as much dependent on what sort of enterprise apps you're writing.
Personally, there's only so much enjoyment I can extract from writing CRUD code at work, especially when I'm literally handed a multi-page document detailing exactly how the program is going to work, right down to pseudocode.
I think a better comparison would be programming as a hobby versus job. I'm sure many game developers working at development houses like EA get burned out just like the guy working in the salt mines grinding out CRUD code. In both scenarios they lack a vested interest because creativity, in various amounts, is not allowed. Compare that to somebody writing 'boring' apps as a hobby where they have complete creative control.
For me, programming is an art. It's a creative exercise. I'm much more vested when I'm allowed to flex that creative muscle. The kind of application doesn't matter as much as the amount of creativity I'm allowed. Your mileage my indeed vary though.
My greater point would be that there's a lot of creativity that goes into developing good UIs, even for non-entertainment applications.
The Fantasy Sandbox MMO market is begging for some love. Nothing great since UO or SWG:Pre-CU... Everything after WoW has been just flat out terrible attempts at stealing wow and its really hurt the market.
The whole game development now is just about profit and not about creating original, amazing works of art like the early guys.
I'm fortunate that my skills are way more transferable than the majority of game developers (I build and lead SaaS teams), but it can be a bit of a slog to actually shift gears.
Games are a place to be if you're really passionate about it or you feel like there's another hill to take. In general tho, there are much more meaningful things you can do with your life (like raise kids). So I'm on the hunt for a job that lets me continue to build awesome products while have the ability to see my kid on a regular basis (not just 6 months out of the year).
I'm glad for my time in the game industry because it sharpened my skills and made the rest of my life a cake walk. But, I wouldn't want to go back due to the exploitation I see in it.
If one sees 'the art of lone game programming' as a genre then this might be true. One successful lonely game programmer leads to a gold rush of many lonely game programmers digging the iKlondike for gold.
But I am pretty sure that there is always room for the brilliant idea that no one can grasp when you pitch it. I personally would have talked Notch out of the idea for Minecraft with the usual arguments (blocky graphics, not state-of-the-art, there's no real goal, etc pp). And when I played it, I was like - omg, I could have done that.
There always will be a lonely (game) programmer doing something extraordinary that you didn't think of in the first place or even despised. And then there is the next Notch, and I will again say - omg, not again.
And some of us have big ideas and don't dare to join the art of lonely game programming.
There is room for the one great idea. But the point is that the minimum production values on the platforms that sell that idea has risen beyond one person now. As it did in the 16-bit era in the late 80s and early 90s. I thought it was interesting that Monument Valley made it into the list at the end. Made by a graphic design agency, not a bedroom coder.
Minecraft succeeded not because it was one out of a hundred block-based games that got lucky, but because it had a perfect mix of simplicity (slick interface and controls), immediacy (play in your browser), wonder (explore forever in any direction), and persistance. I guess you could point to Infiniminer before it, but if you've ever played it, you'll know that it was slow and clunky in a 90's sim-game kind of way.
Which is just a tautology.
Hotline Miami - 2 core devs + 2 others;
Risk of Rain - 2 core devs + others;
Gunpoint - 1 dev (Tom Francis FTW, yay!)
Valdis Story - Dunno, but website says "we" and mentions a few different people in blogs;
Terraria - 2 core devs + others;
Vlambeer - 2 core devs + others.
It is very difficult, almost impossible for a single developer to make a competitive game now. Not actually impossible, but the dev needs to be almost preternaturally productive. It is much more common to find programmer + artist + others teams, as it became after the transition to 16-bit. Very common to have programmer + artist for pre-alpha prototyping, contracting additional programmers + additional artists + sound guys (as for several of the games you cite) + platform conversion teams + music, etc.
> pixel art using GameMaker, for example.
Pixel art can have high production values. Pixel art was still the main requirement for 16-bit games, well after the demise of the bedroom coder.
If you think that, say, Risk of Rain doesn't have many person years of production input, you're deluding yourself. Try making something equivalent yourself this year.
For the record, I don't think pixel art has to be particularly high quality for the game to be successful. Right now I'm playing an alpha of Vagante and having a ton of fun. It's looking like it's gonna be a hit. The graphics are muddy and kind of NES-looking with lots of cheap rotations — and that's OK.
> Try making something equivalent yourself this year.
I'm actually planning to do just that. So I guess we'll have to see!
Right, them's the 'production values'. They aren't comfortable because the quality bar is pretty high, even on pixel art, high enough that you really need an artist to do it, not a lone coder.
I think the situation isn't quite as bleak as he says in the OP anyway. The age of the lone coder is gone, I think. The few exceptions are exceptions. But the age of the prototype-in-a-game-jam-get-crowd-funded-and-build-a-product-with-a-small-team isn't over, though the bubble has definitely burst from when every kickstartered game seemed to reach its goal. So while I think he's right that the market has eliminated the lone-coder approach to game development, the ability to bring a good small game to market is as good as it has ever been.
As you said further up, it is PC that is the heartbeat of that.
Good luck on your game.
Minecraft drew heavily from other games, yes, but it was also revolutionary and one of the first games to have such an open development cycle. There is a reason that such a poorly designed and buggy game is arguably the biggest indie franchise of all time.
Post-hoc rationalization is humanity's only superpower.
I also wonder how much piracy contributed. I know I pirated the game before I bought it.
It was a series of thunderbolts and Notch and the whole Mojang gang are freaking geniuses in my opinion.
You're right, but I don't think the author would claim otherwise.
The article is not about the possibility of breakout success, but about lone, reasonably skilled game developers being able to make a consistent living. Not the same thing.
I still stand to what I wrote , because I think it is important to stress that it is important to follow your ideas, even if their odds might be low. Being downvoted is somewhat ironical on a meta level.
I think the state of the game market is good -- let the hobbyists of today create the game they want to play - and maybe it will make them a boat load of money. Or maybe they will be happy because they had their vision come true.
Now the big corporations -- well they will just push whatever makes them money.
They weren't -- but the dream people had was that their games would generate enough profit that they could make a living making them.
I read the post's message as being that they did, for a while, but those days have receded due to the collapse in what people are willing to pay for games. In a world where $0.99 for a game is considered expensive, it's hard to make a living making games unless you come up with some way to consistently make absolutely massive hits -- and that's a nut that nobody has ever cracked.
Yep. And anyone who likes a game enough to think they'd enjoy something else the developer might make should hope the dev could make a living off it too.
Otherwise, the dev will have to go back to the corporate IT salt mines, and you'll get whatever relative crumbs get produced in what we call "spare time," if that... and certainly not whatever their greatest work might have been.
(Hope we're all paying for what we like!)
But it seems a different story. Most of them do mobile-mini-games they sell to sponsors and game-hubs, or they do some promotion games for companies.
It's pretty cool actually and they'll be releasing a 3D version of it at some point. It's basically a survival MMO with permadeath, and hence a lot of cool stuff has emerged, like world wars and geopolitics, complete with player-run and protected trade hubs and so on. In the game there's no official carebear zones though, but if you kill another player you leave a scent that can be tracked, allowing rangers to exact justice. You also leave scents for vandalizing stuff or stealing things within staked "claims".
No game experience can beat the rush of adrenaline one gets when fighting for one's life in H&H, where you might irrevocably lose a character you've been building for a month or more, and where you get to take away that same thing from the person attacking you. It's amazing.
 = http://www.havenandhearth.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=3797...
That game actually looks like fun, and the graphics are great... !
I think the thing that bothers me about this sort of "woah is the small guy" viewpoint is it's like "oh no the brilliant little artists got crushed by the corporations and the me-too hacks".
You know what, fuck that bullshit. Most games right now are asinine. And I mean even the indie wunderkids and the pretentious art games.
Here's the problem: nobody knows how to do this shit very well yet. It'll happen, eventually. They're learning, but it's not really very good right now. I mean people try really really hard. They deserve some success. But as far as the results go, most of them aren't that interesting. I want good games.
Anyone can write a book now - and get it to market. It's never been easier technically to write anything including games. And app markets take away much, if not all, challenges of go to market.
Such markets are destined to get flooded and to (reliably) get noticed in such a market, you need a marketing budget.
The gaming market is big and fast.
It's fine if you don't want to run anymore but there are a lot more other people in the race who have a chance of seeing the finishing line.
It's been featured on HN before, so many people have probably seen it, but if you haven't, it is definitely worth checking out.
A remake of a remake; all games made by one man.
The second era of the bedroom coder is far from over and you can still make money from it without resorting to cheap, nasty, free2play tactics.
Part of the reason he can still do it is that he's been doing it for so long, and has a loyal long term audience quite happy to buy a new Spiderweb game because it's a new spiderweb game.
Most projects we work on are in house or contract and they have a couple or few people on teams. Sponsored games and advergames were also the money makers with flash gaming and will be with WebGL and more. Internal IP or titles also help pad revenues and transitions. Gaming is big in agency promotions. Gaming is bigger still in mobile.
It is very difficult no doubt but even a single developer is more like a team now with things like Unity/Unreal/Cocos2d-x/etc as the engine team, asset stores for many things, contractors for art/audio/design/development and plenty of markets to get into. The age of the from scratch lone developer is over, but there is just as much opportunity as ever for teams of 1-5 or so.
My new years resolution was to participate this year. Naturally, its the 13th and I haven't even started for this month. But I'll try, maybe this weekend.
VR is primed to be a game tech. You can maybe do some interesting stuff now, when the only hardware out there is a few hundred thousand dev-kits. But if the Oculus launch goes okay, the production values needed to compete will very quickly take it out of one-person territory.
Of course, there are always new tech. But for every platform that turns into money, there are many that are dead ends. Many single person devs who crash and burn because they are early to a party that never starts. I developed WAP games. I know this :)
Otherwise, this is no different than any other medium, is it? Content curation is hard. Pretty much period.
Some of my fondest memories of games are of the NES games I played as a child. They are still some of the most basic and fun games to play.
Ultima Online in my opinion was the climax of online MMO's. Someone needs to build a true sandbox fantasy MMO. CCP has proven that a sandbox done properly will bring in the crowd and keep the doors open.
Someone do it!!
I've tried multiple times however to build/find a team to work with and the team is never dedicated enough to complete even the most simplest of things.
This is why I had high hopes for World of Darkness.
I had huge expectations for darkfall too, but Aventurine is a joke of a company.
I run a small indie studio and our game Pit of War is a very niche game (a PvP, character building, gladiatorial strategy game with text and still images. You don't get much more niche than that!) and we've found great success by managing our resources well and not chasing the latest craze be it flash, facebook, mobile, or what have you. We chose to keep the game on the web and keep full control over it instead of having to pass a judgment committee, or handing over 30% of our revenue to some platform. I found a niche that I enjoyed and had little competition and then built a game and a community around it. That last part is critical these days. I'm sure many of you have heard about "A 1000 true fans", and it very much applies here. If you are using a F2P business model it is your bread and butter.
In 2010-2012 everything was awesome and then something happened in late 2012, early 2013. The user acquisition costs skyrocketed. In the last five years I've seen CPA costs increase 300%-600%. I spent time in Japan and knew some people at an ad agency there that mainly caters to mobile game companies and the CPA on those networks was averaging 700-800 yen (about $7-$8), with peak prices hitting 5,000 yen ($50) when Japanese companies paid out the yearly bonuses to their employees. Five years earlier CPAs were around $1.50 and less. The price increases on their networks have mainly been fueled by four or five companies like Supercell, GREE, DeNA etc. This is where the fairytale ended for a lot of indies and small studios hoping to make a living. It is a rare game that can pay those kinds of marketing costs and remain profitable.
My recommendation to anyone looking to get into indie game development would be to find a niche you enjoy and be the best in it. Build a community around it. Learn how to utilize an ethical F2P business model and last but certainly not least, have fun.
 If you are curious about what can be accomplished with a web based niche game you can check it out here: http://www.pitofwar.com
I found (and still find) most games deeply underwhelming, especially when they get high praise for their creative gameplay or plot, because those are the easy parts. Very few games also have solid engineering like Minecraft. That solid engineering is so elusive, so expensive, that it’s effectively out of reach on an indie budget. The only thing left is cookie cutter games like Angry Birds, which I categorize as the first thing that would come out of any medium. So if all you have is eggs you make an omelet, if all you have is leaves you rake them, if all you have is a physics engine you throw things. It’s no wonder that the profit for something anyone can make either rapidly approaches zero or goes into the stratosphere on its own fame like Paris Hilton, creating the illusion of value for an industry that would otherwise have none.
Then I watched a talk by (as I recall) Jason Fried of 37 Signals, who made the rather astounding point that the way to earn a profit is to make something people want and sell it for money. This was after the dot bomb when people were still chasing eyeballs, I wish I could find the video. It was one of the prime motivators that got me to quit my soul-sucking job and flip broken computers for a year, and then get into contracting. It finally hit me that people make money doing all kinds of things because people want them, and I didn’t have to suffer the grind in my life any longer, because to work so hard at something people aren’t willing to pay for is the very definition of futile.
Sooo.. I may make another game. I may sell it at the exorbitant price of $5, $10 even $20. I may not even give away a free demo. All of the other free, ad-based, casual, social games of the world can keep playing house, and bless them for doing so. But people will always want the real games, and I know that because I would be willing to pay for one, should one come along. I’m thinking that in this case, if Apple and other companies have really created a race to the bottom economy for games and other apps, then nature will “find a way” and create more of an egalitarian way for developers to earn an income, perhaps from crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, but more likely from guilds, co-ops and to be quite frank a collective approach that takes the enormous wealth produced by the industry and uses it for something more productive than the hypervaluation of startups. As far as I can tell, we’re on the verge of total blah just like in 2000 and if everyone doesn’t wake up, history is about to repeat itself. If we glorify success and ignore wasted potential, the next thing we sell that people are willing to pay for could very well be a side of fries.
Every now and then I browse through the app stores for games that didn't get attention and I've never seen a great game among them. I'd like to be proven wrong on this but it hasn't happened yet.
I've also read a couple of postmortems of failed games and I haven't seen a single game that failed despite delivering quality. Most of the times I asked myself how they even thought they'll have success with such a low quality product. One of the best post mortems I've read was this one which emphasizes my point http://gamasutra.com/blogs/DomDrysdale/20150107/233677/Lesso...
>... we were inspired by the success of games like Ski Safari and Jetpack Joyride. These are not good reasons to make a particular type of game
>... I don't think we ever really had the passion for this genre of games to make something truly great.
it's taken years, and years, but with determination and $0 budget they've pretty much reverse engineered an entire game. It doesn't have to be done today. Start it, don't stop, keep going, and while doing that for fun(because that's why I started and still write code today.. for me its fun as hell.) find something that pays the bills like a day job.
I'm working on a project, all by myself right now.. I put in my day job, and then if I'm up to it, put in a couple hours on my side project. When its done, its done.. or it may never be done, but i make a little progress any chance I get.
It’s also true that there are few or no expenses in programming other than labor, but even living a subsistence lifestyle adds up. I think we each averaged over 500 hours per year, call it 10,000 total to be conservative. So we could have made the game over about 2 years if we could have raised $70,000 and paid ourselves minimum wage (which just barely makes ends meet for a single person where we live in Idaho). Instead we worked a bunch of dead end jobs, I ended up moving furniture for 3 years and my partner got sucked into computer repair rather than programming. We would work seasonally and then be on call at home during slow parts of the year and spend what money we’d saved on rent and food while we hacked on the game for days on end. Struggling with burnout and destitution for so many years set our careers and personal lives back so far that we still haven’t started families and we’re pushing 40.
What I learned from all of this is that if you want to raise money, you need to earn an order of magnitude more, somewhere between 2 and 10 times as much as you think, because of life’s expenses (mainly debts in this era). It works just like time where even tripling your estimate is sometimes not enough. As far as I can tell, there is nothing like an artist guild for indie programmers, no support structure to lend any dignity to the lifestyle through grants, commissioned work or the attention of benefactors. There’s just the starving artist mentality, which grows more unpalatable with age. I don’t view this as anything close to sustainable, so it’s no wonder that the overall quality of indie games has fallen to amateur levels (and eventually apps as their prices race to the bottom). It’s going to follow the same trend as books. I’m hopeful though that maybe something like a basic income might come along and rescue art from slow decline. Art is synonymous with culture so I guess that’s why I get so worked up about all of this, because I feel it’s intimately tied to whatever technological future we would like to see for ourselves and future generations.
Also, Donkey Kong was not created by a "lone game developer." Miyamoto may have designed Donkey Kong by himself, but he had entire team of contract developers at his disposal.