Within the recent years, game development has transformed into many different methods of practise. Back in the day, it was quite the norm where the design elements for top grossing titles would be dictated mostly by shareholders, publishers, management or basically anyone that isn’t a part of the actual game development team. What resulted was the highly rated triple A titles; very good to look at, but barely any substance. Games that had great graphics, but questionable gameplay. Questionable, as in it is no where near the quality of the graphics. Questionable, as in countless copies of the same game are re-branded and renamed with different titles, filled with better graphical enhancements coupled with just one or two added twists in gameplay.
Eventually, there comes a need to deviate from the standard procedures in game development which was dominating the industry, as games had became less in terms of diversity and creative gameplay mechanics.
“Also negatively impacting the video game business today is its hit-driven nature. A publisher relying on a proven formula instead of branching out and trying something new “kills innovation” and leads to fewer major new franchises coming to market, he said.” As agreed with by a GameSpot article written by Eddie Makuch to the statements made by Christofer Sundberg.
By identifying the need to break free from the standard procedures in game making – generally with the help of the internet; game developers are now able to utilize the internet in ways that ushered a creative and free growth for games. Unrestricted by the previously mentioned ‘non-essential members’ in game development, games can now be developed solely by the direction and intention of the creator, and/or the players as well. This means that games are now designed with the intended purpose; to be played and enjoyed by the players, or to be created in the likeliness of how the creator intended it to be. This is unlike the standard procedure, which was intended to swell the wallets of shareholders, publishers and the management, by recycling the same popular content over and over again.
Eventually, this predicament may have spawned the utilization of two very interesting means of development; via early access or crowd funding. Early access games are titles which were in their early Alpha stage, like a prototype of an actual product, put onto shelves to be sold and used as an actual merchandise. This is to usher in early funding for most indie development teams to make design choices which aren’t restricted by the traditional blockades, or to test the waters for new and innovative elements. This also meant that, players are now given the power to mold and shape the game in it’s budding stage, rather than being given the full product and groan over what could have made the game better.
This is very similar to crowd funding as well. The only difference being, crowd funding offers ideas and promises of the bigger picture (their intentions) instead of a working prototype for interested parties to test it out. In other words, they are merchandising their ideas. And if you love it, you can pledge some funding; and at every milestone of funding they receive, a new feature is added onto their product. In essence, this empowers the players to control the depth of the product. Should they want to have a game with design elements in the next milestone, they could pitch in more funding. But should the idea not get the liking of the players, it will be static in terms of additional content.
Through the heavy usage of the Steam platform as a place to purchase games and even ‘games in production’, early access games has now became quite a phenomenon. One very good example would be DayZ Standalone.
Riding through the popularity that spawned this genre, from the original ArmA mod – DayZ, comes an Alpha state of the Standalone version of DayZ. The game enjoyed a huge surge of interest from the public to actually purchase a game in it’s infant state. Incomplete, filled with bugs and glitches, yet people flock to buy and test the game.
It was successful, which actually spawned several variations of DayZ by different developers who were trying to ride on the bandwagon. Some to note was the ever controversial WarZ, or now known as Infestation: Survivor Stories. Riding on the same early access platform in steam, Infestation gained slightly more favourable than its predecessor (DayZ). However, it was a total failure in comparison. With the same genre, same game idea, same method of development, yet it failed so badly it was highly criticized online by the people who bought the early access and even by onlookers, thus receiving a nasty 1.7 metacritic. Upon closely examining both titles, one can easily find out that WarZ has made blatant promises that were never delivered on the release date. This begs a question on the reliability of early access games, which has sparked quite a few discussions on popular gaming forums such as Reddit.
Similarly if seen on the same light, DayZ on it’s present state is slowly receiving the bad end of early access. With the slow development (although quite consistent updates) and unimportant patches to the game, consumers has began to criticize the development pace and DayZ may end up to a similar disposition as its previous contender WarZ. Even with the constant reminders that DayZ is -still- in its development stages, impatient consumers may find themselves distressed with the pacing of development.
Enter Kickstarter, a primary example of one of the most successful crowd-funding platforms online. This platform has allowed game developers to utilize the tools available online in order to advertise their ideas. Indie developers and even veterans of the industry swarmed to the change, utilizing this platform to further their dreams which was once impossible. One of the best celebrated crowd-funded game is none other than Star Citizen, headed by the designer of the classic “Wing Commander” series, Chris Roberts.
Having amassed more than $46 million in development funds from a community of more than 400,000 backers in 2013, this has given Star Citizen the titleholder of the biggest development budget in the history of crowd-funded games.
“Roberts set up a Kickstarter for Star Citizen in mid-2012 with an initial target of $500,000. The total raised by the funding drive’s conclusion was above $2 million, and Cloud Imperium has since continued to raise funds on the Star Citizen website by selling additional spaceships and other virtual goods priced from $25 to over $200 per item.” as written by Rob Crossley in an online article praising his success.
From closely studying Star Citizen’s success of utilising crowd funding; PC space simulator, a genre other publishers have largely ignored for years, was given another light to resurface into the industry. With the highly supportive community, this has shed light over the actual desires of the players to want such a game genre. And should the industry be following without change the age old relationships between publisher and developer – it will be very long until another space simulator will resurface, perhaps you won’t even see the genre any more; especially with fast paced FPS games dominating the majority of the market now.
However, not all are as successful as Star Citizen, and while heavily pointing out the general flaws crowd-funding has in general is a game that has been quite a topic to most avid kickstarter backers. Godus, a game developed by 22cans and headed by the father of the god-game genre Peter Molyneux, which received roughly $800,000 in funding back at the end of 2012, is truly the highlight of how crowd-funding could be done wrong.
This is because crowd-funding isn’t exactly what most seem to perceive is. What most users of Kickstarter seem to view it as a place to ‘purchase games that doesn’t exist yet’. The workings of Kickstarter truly works otherwise, as Kickstarter allows the users to express an interest in a product and quantify it by providing funding to the creator in order to bring it to an actual product. And as mentioned earlier, depending on how much money which is pledged, the users may or may not receive a copy of the product itself, as it truly relies if the project turns out to be viable before it can be finally created.
Naturally, this causes distress in the community and cries for refunds are often heard whenever things don’t actually work out as the developers planned, when this is largely the user’s responsbility if you understand the workings of Kickstarter.
Has game development evolved for the better? We can tell from how innovative methods of game developing (crowd-funding and early access) can be an astounding success or a nasty failure, but if we shift the focus of our attention from the ends into the means; we can notice that games development are highly malleable. It doesn’t need to have the finance of big name publishers in order to reach a quality that of a triple A product, nor does it need the stern pattern-following rule the very same publishers tend to stick to. Admittedly, this has very well helped in the growth of the games industry as well, since the accessibility of funding for any aspiring game developers will be available.