The Fair Game - Part 3 : who ?

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I poked my way around the notion that times are a-changing for game development and especially "indie" studios, as self-funding/publishing is likely to become the norm rather than the exception for mid-to-biggish budget titles. I've rather haphazardly covered what is happening, and going to happen in the business (imnsho), why it is so, and what kind of gamedevs and studios will be able to make the best of these new circumstances.

I'd like to spend a bit more time on the matter of who, now, because that's where the real meat is : games really are made for people by people, and games are generally better when (some version) of the humanity involved gets to shine through.

First, and it's as long overdue as my poasting, let's put a few stakes in the ground and white line the field to bring things in sharper focus, as we enter the always fuzzy and blurry space of human affairs.

Working assumptions : 
[If you strongly disagree with any of the bulleted points below, please head to the comments section of part one or two and show me where I took a wrong turn back then, this chapter is for me to get it wrong in all new and different ways. Thanks.]

• Thanks to crowdfunding, early fans/consumers involvement, committed investors et al, it is now realistic for "indie" studios to develop and produce high production value games — which used to be the exclusive province of big publishers. Distribution and retail are already cheaper and more accessible than they've ever been, and no longer a hindrance to self-publishing of any kind. 

• No matter the odds of success at first, studios have little to lose by taking their chances as self-publishers, and it will become the new normal of the industry. Since few among the current crop of studios that would like to get out from under the heel of publishers to build AAA titles are prepared to deal with the extra workload and demands of being their own publishers, most will fail in horrific, predictable, yet hilarious ways. Others will take advantage of the availability of publishing consulting services and for-hire talent that are bound to appear in response.  It will not be pretty, for a while at least.

• The traditional publisher-centric business model hinges on the cost of failure being unbearable for client studios unless they get publisher backing, and on studios not turning enough profit to buy their ticket out of indentured servitude. Lowering the barrier to entry in funding, distribution and retail is not enough for indie studios to reliably take on heavy duty projects, they also need business models that don't make undertaking primetime projects sound like playing russian roulette with a minigun (hint: it's not easy, and it ends in tears).

• The first step towards turning a profit from making (good) games is to not saddle the business with the dead weight of PR and ad costs that are only really needed if products and company are an embarrassment : don't suck, and you've cut your incompressible overhead by more than half, which brings you that much closer to breaking even without depending so much on chance.

• Traditional marketing and promotion are made largely irrelevant by the global village grapevine, and the bang / buck return one can hope to get from  big advertising campaigns now requires hearing aids to be detected. Because of the new funding models and the predicted explosion in the number of contenders for players' monies and attention, the first order of business for a self-publishing studio is to build and cultivate its very own loyal community of fans, which are expected to provide relatively reliable sources of funding and/or revenue, and to evangelise for 'free'  — in exchange for shweet shweet lub from the devs and for the opportunity to buy games that don't suck.

…and we're back on track.

Factoring all of the above, it becomes patently obvious that in order to survive, endure and thrive as a self-publishing studio (SPS), what used to just be clever PR is to become the cornerstone of any successful venture : a studio's first, core, and locomotive product is the studio itself, and the primary mesure of equity is to be customer goodwill and brand loyalty.

Because the cheapest way to earn and grow customer goodwill is to do right by them and make sure they realize it (without pissing them off, that is), and since small SPS can't afford to buy their way into customer love or out of public humiliation with expensive PR campaigns (bound to backfire sooner than later), the smart thing to do is to go by the Fair Game model and be the good guys (or RP the part, if you're a pragmatic sociopath who needs a change from Zynga).

Let's get meta, girlfriend !

Regardless of what you're building, a social game or a solo CRPG, your studio's online presence will have to rally fans and manage the slow burn of building interest and goodwill around your products and brand for the long haul, which is a game in itself.
Accurately, it's a coop tactical FPS set in a MMORPG, with few saves, no replay, and precious little chance of respawn… on the plus side, you can get reinforcments (if you're good) and more importantly you get to study the map at length before you join the game.

Some gamedevs may cringe at the notion of having to hug and press the unwashed masses' (even virtual) flesh, and though the attitude is not helping, it's worth acknowledging : community relations aren't for everyone, and require both a taste for it, plus a spoon of skill and talent.
To sum up: if community relations should be deemed important in any consumer business, they are the life or death of a Fair Game studio, and it's something you should take seriously enough to be proactive about, and factor in your every move.

As a small company — it bears repeating — it's much easier to get it right and take advantage of many small opportunities to build goodwill at little extra cost, and to avoid the ruin of your reputation over silly or misguided moves. Conversely, it's much harder to cover up or fix a damaged image because you'll lack the marketing firepower and clout to silence critics or efficiently redirect attention.

Let's break down the let's make a name ! game to its core elements, and that which it really boils down to  : peeplz.

Hardcore fans : 
They're your first line of PR, CS and advertising outside of your official website/pages/boards …whether you like it or not ! They will take upon themselves to spread their interpretation of the gospel on your behalf, so you better make sure they don't misconstrue your plans, because people won't sourcecheck where the buzz is coming from when they start building entirely unrealistic expectations about your products or company.

Silent majority : 
Those are only a few lurkers at first, who subscribe to the newsletter and FB/g+/Twitter streams, and maybe come to check the website and devblogs once in a while, if you're proactive about teasing them the right way. They will/should steadily grow in numbers during open beta and after release, provided your evangelists do their job properly. 
You'll have a hard time telling if or when they break up with you in droves over some stunt you pulled off, unless you manage a paid-for subscription game, because they won't bother with the usual "You shits broke my heart, I quit forever, I hope you die of aids in a fire, bitches !". 
They're less obviously committed, but for most games they'll make a good chunk — at least a third — of your paying customer base. Those you want to monitor carefully, and survey whenever possible (again, without being obnoxious) to get a clue about what they think.

Pundits : 
Self-appointed leaders of opinion, they like to think they are influential enough to make or break you, and sometimes are right about that. 
Some may focus exclusively (or primarily) on your game/brand, and more likely than not have risen from the ranks of your hardcore fans, while some will be genre enthusiasts with an interest in your products directly related to how closely (or how far) they think you fall relative to their ideal for the genre. 
Tame those you can, ignore and casually dismiss the rest as haters, you can't win them all over. Since they typically live outside of your company's controlled ecosystem, on blogs, fansites and e-zines, they may have more bearing on prospective users than on your established userbase, unless they embraced punditry as a way to gain status inside the community and are soapboaxing inwards.

Caravans : 
They come to your game as a community, if there's anything to support their collective identity in or around your game and brand ID. 
You may or may not want them around, and you may, or (more likely) may not have a say in the matter. In any case, make up your mind about how you want to handle them. Properly charmed, they're a pre-heated PR machine working on your behalf that brings in an already cohesive sub-community to your userbase, and in turn can be a good recruitment tool and anchor for extra subgroups. If they turn on you, however, they will put the same amount of energy and coordination to hit you back with a vengeance, with a disruptive potential that shouldn't be overlooked.

The haters : 
Hardcore fans, pundits or caravans, turned sour, they are a lot of work to contain or flip over. The best way to handle them is to identify the leaders and coopt (or undo) them in some way while being politely neutral with the rest to avoid making things worse. If you manage to convert or mollify opinion leaders in your favor, you're halfway there. Even if they fail in turn to steer their infuriated sheeple herds back on the path of truth and justice, at least you'll have seeded the roots of discord among them, and the ensuing infighting is that much distracting them from messing with your stuff.

Community manager(s) : 
Start with one, and make sure it's a good one. It's better if your CM is closely related to CS, but if at all possible, try to avoid saddling the same poor soul with more than one lead role. CS is a great place to look for potential CM reps and even lead if you don't have one for your next project, but you should have someone in charge of community relations before even you need CS (pre-beta).

Mods : 
Your (hopefully) affable, tireless, incorruptible and thick-skinned bobbies, and your first "official" line of CS and damage control. They work under the supervision of the CM and they can either be CM staffers or (more likely) volunteers pulled form the hardcore fanbase pool.
Beyond keeping the tone of discussion reasonably civil on your public pages, they also should act as GMs of sorts in the community building game, and help people find their way around and get busy. Keep in mind if you decide to keep volunteers around during the commercial phase of a game, you may soon need to hire a dedicated lead mod to handle HR and operations, because your CM may not be able to do both. It may sometimes be at once cheaper and more advisable to promote two interns from CS to paid mod positions than pay an extra manager to herd a dozen volunteers.  

Project Face : 
In the case of the studio, it's likely to befall your CEO, while for any given game it may be the lead designer or producer, usually whoever is first to accidentally step in the limelight, or is the most outspoken. If your 'natural' candidate sucks at PR, have the CM vet everything they say before they open their trap, or find someone else with better dispositions, which you can curse with an Executive Producer title and send to the frontlines instead.

The team : 
Keep in mind whenever a team member speaks, it will be heard as the voice of god and contractually binding, even if said speech is clearly presented as personal opinion, or in jest. Whether you decide to allow anyone or no one to speak their mind (or stick to a script) is your call, but not having a clear policy on the matter is ruinous and will drive your CM that much closer to her already looming meltdown.

Griefers & Trolls : 
No listing of key players in the community game would be complete without a nod to the antisocial club, and as a small-ish company presumably catering to a niche market you're in a better position than most to mitigate the noxiousness of bullies and pissants to your users and community, for reasonable costs. This is a standard CM matter however, and going by the Fair Game party line doesn't significantly alter the in and outs of tackling this issue.

As should be obvious, your hardcore fans are to be your main marketing and customer acquisition force. Your official and concerted outreach and ad efforts may yield some results in awareness raising, yet fans can and should do more to drive interest and conversion rates up than anything else you do. 
What is up to you is how smart you are about attracting those few early apostles of your new cult, because they will contribute to set the tone of your player community and self-select kindred spirits, which will inform both the flavor and size of your potential customer base. Later on, hardcore fans management is mostly a matter of providing them with the right PR ammo to subtly train them towards the right targets, and let them loose, locusts upon the world …because you can't stop them, short of turning them into Haters.

You only get one chance…

Assuming you start without baggage as a debuting studio, the timeline of your coming out and starting to build your image and community relations is entirely in your hands. Obviously there are reasons to make noise early, because you need to raise funds, recruit talent, negotiate deals, all the exact things some brand recognition and a community network are supposed to help with, but… 
as previously hinted, once you get the ball rolling, you can't afford to stop. 

Slowing the pace of community outreach and communication will shortly curse you with the stink of death, something that's really tricky to recover from, and which is incredibly damaging to your staff morale, too. Gaming and gamemaking alike are fueled as much by enthusiasm as they are by money, and here, like in many places, riches beget riches.
Motivated staff and fans will feed on each other's enthusiasm, which can drive productivity, creativity and hopefully sales up, but this sort of euphoria is as close as it gets to collective hallucination, and can be dispelled by the slightest whiff of a faith crisis.

…All of which is not to say you should fake it, and behave like ever-smiling corporate drones living in plastic-y bliss, because a) it's creepy, b) nobody buys it for long, and c) you'll have to deal with some bad shit eventually. 
Rather I advocate the opposite : be open from the get go about the hurdles and the difficulty of the task ahead, and always show how you're going about solving problems. 
Never whine or complain, as it won't get you any sympathy ; don't brag, as it'll make you look like pricks, and come to bite you back eventually ; be upbeat and resolute, or be a prophet, whichever you reckon you can pull off for the duration and matches more closely your identity, that of your project, and the expectations of your fans. 

In any case, you need to be lucid and practical about how you want to present your company, team and project to the world, and who should be on the frontlines : don't try to pretend you're something you're not as individuals or as a team, and instead strive to behave like the best version of yourself you can muster — it may even rub off on you in a good way, over time.

Defining, projecting and maintaining a public image is like UI design and Quality Insurance : get it right and most people won't even realize that's why the product feels right. Screw up, and everything else you do is for naught. 
One person (at least) should be in charge of PR and CM (which are essentially the same in a Fair Game studio) from day 0, and be recognized as part of the core team, on par with your money guy, lawguy, lead producer, codewiz, designers and artists — and I mention those in pointed order because the last ones are those you weren't going to forget and credit as your core team. 

In essence, you want to go about your studio and project coming out into public view as you go about producing a game : see what assets you can realistically mobilize (your people, mainly), consider your acceptable timeframe, and within those constraints, put together a design document or a bible about your brand, community relations and PR, then implement it — amending as you go because plan, enemy, etc.
Think about launching your first website as public beta time, be mindful of how much or how little noise you want to make initially, and where you want to go from there.

The limits of virtue…

One massively cool thing about the Fair Game model is how, for once, it may genuinely pay off to do the obvious right thing, which in business matters has frequently proven to be a sucker's game. It's probably why the bittervet in me has a hard time believing myself, because it's just too good to be true.

The luxury of being a budding indie studio is it's entirely within your purview to not need any coverup of your abject business practices : you haven't screwed the pooch yet, and you just have to  keep it that way. 
Gamers are, as a rule, passionate people who're just looking for stuff to get excited about, and if you can earn their love and respect, work hard and smart and don't betray their loyalty in ways they can't forgive, they can in return grant you the opportunity to do the exact stuff you dreamed of when you signed up for this career : make games you really care about, for people who will appreciate your work, in good company, with decent-to-good pay and labor conditions. Getting rich and/or laid are also distant possibilities, but let's not get crazy, here…

As ridiculous as it may sound amidst the bright-eyed optimism of my previous arguments, it's important not to be naive about this game, however : you will not win by virtue alone, and your heroic stance in the face of greedy exploitationism is only worth anything to your audience insofar as they hear about it. 
While it may simply feel right to you individually to be the good guy and to play fair at all times (which I personally applaud), and while it's generally good policy under the Fair Game doctrine (because it's the intarwebs and you must assume everything worth mocking will find its way to youtube, eventually), the fact remains you will have to whore your goodness at least a little to make sure it registers. The best self-promoters have mastered the art of making sure everybody knows when they modestly refuse to take credit or brag, because nobody ever heard of the truly unsung heroes.


In next episode we'll talk some more about morale, and — shockingly — morals.


The Fair Game - Part 2 : what ?

In part 1, and all through this series, my working hypothesis is that mid-to-biggish budget videogames will increasingly be funded, marketed, distributed and retailed without the involvement of classic publishers, and mostly through channels that exist already, only a bit more refined and mature than they are now. 

The distribution and sales end of the circuit is pretty much sorted out by now : indie studios can already release and retail their titles through established online app stores or run their own webstore for little to no upfront costs, and get to bite a significantly larger share of the moneypie from gross sales (currently averaging at 70% of gross in appstores, roughly the reverse of the best case scenario 30% a studio can hope from a big name publisher if they don't get screwed out over 'hidden costs').

On the funding side of things, I'm reasonably confident crowdfunding (or something very much alike) and committed investment will become the dominant channels to secure development and production funds over the next five to ten years, as traditional publishing loses relevance in all but mega-budget projects, leading to a very fertile ecosystem of specialist fundraising and financing platforms, and spawning a middlemen industry of fundraising campaign managers, transparency certificators and patrons of the arts agents.

In this section I try to outline what species of gaming studio are most likely to thrive in this new environment, and it comes as no small surprise to me (spoiler alert) that it's mostly good news for gamers and gamedevs alike.
Whether I banged my head and am hallucinating is for you to tell, because obviously, I can't. So let me paint you a picture.

No, I can't draw…

The first good news, although we'll see it's a mixed blessing, is more games will be produced.
Well, maybe just as many as today, for the recent explosion of the browser and mobile games platforms has more than compensated for the draught of offer during the mid-naughties, but the cornucopia theme is here to stay, as more studios and gamedevs try their luck, thanks to a generally dev-friendly context.

It may not all be good or interesting games necessarily, and I expect Sturgeon's Law to hit in full force, possibly cubed, during the early euphoria. Much like youtube, blogs and podcasts reduced the barrier to entry to publishing in other media, and cheap prosumer electronics have enabled anyone to start filming, recording and editing on a budget, I expect to see prosumer-grade middleware and game-building toolboxes to flourish and lead to a mudslide of terribad fan-made games to flood the various app stores in the next couple years.
The positive aspect being, from this smelly soup shall emerge actual talent, who may end up creating great games, at some point. But it will be a storm of (e)sc(h)atologic proportions in the meantime.

During that feisty period and beyond, the gamedevs and studios that are most likely to thrive will be those that properly account for three critical notions: 

  • The newly opened gates of publisherless funding, promotion, distribution and retail means indies can now compete with big name companies on fairly even footing, and should go for it without fear, provided they pick their battles.
  • Riding on the coattails of big hits is no longer a valid survival strategy : it's all about differentiating oneself and growing a loyal community of fans, customers and employees.
  • The endgame for an indie studio should not be about hitting the jackpot, so much as to endure and keep going, slow and steady, long after competitors crash'n'burn.
Because the main challenge for indie studios in this world of plenty will be to rise above the noise in order to find and secure founding, talent and customers, that aspect of the business will become an integral, and quite large, part of a studio's operations.
That last bit was true already under the previous publisher-centric model, but once publishers are largely removed from the picture, it behooves the customer/players/fans themselves to decide the fate of games and studios from a much earlier stage than used to be customary.

Such a shift in the balance of power may very well be the best thing ever to happen to commercial videogames, because it holds the potential to benefit equally well players and gamedevs, which is only (if belatedly) fair.

Friends, seen here groped by the invisible hand of the market.

The Fair Game doctrine can be summed thusly : do right by your players and your crew, and they'll do right by you. It takes more skill and committment, and is trickier at first than the old rape and pillage trick, but it's better business in the long run, because golden goose.

Most if not all gamedevs are passionate gamers themselves, and the way they prefer to go about their business is not dissimilar to the way avid gamers go about their patronage : they're both willing to put all the time and resources they can afford to satisfy their desire for good game(s), and share the belief games ought to be judged (and succeed or fail) on their own merits.

Conversely, publishers have little incentive to care for good games, as they're not in the business of making games and keeping studios going, but in that of selling game boxes. It's common wisdom for publishing execs that there is no more proportionality between development/production costs and quality of the product than there is correlation between gameplay value and revenue generated : once bare minimal requirements are met to avoid scaring away customers, the theory goes it's all up to marketing and good luck.


In a context of instant global grapevinery, of plethoric quantity and variety in offerings, advertising dollars will only get you so far : beyond raising awareness about the existence of your product, promotion firepower no longer has the juice to make things happen and close sales but with the least discriminative of buyers.
As the market segments into well-catered to niches, and the old blob that happily swallows anything coated in enough eyecandy shrinks accordingly, it may become increasingly difficult to justify ad-spending, except in those market segments where competition remains constrained to a few players and the Matthew effect works well enough that an initial overwhelming show of marketing force might still pay off.

My hypothesis then, is the key to financial health for self-publisher studios in the near future will be frugality in all expenses that aren't directly contributing to increased product value or to stronger customer and employee loyalty.
Profit shall no longer be expected to come from artificially pumping volume up, but from reducing overhead and the cost of closing sales, leveraging customer loyalty and word-of-mouth to supersede advertising dollars, and from cutting on the hidden costs of high turnover and burnout rates, to instead capitalize and cultivate in-house talent and assets.


All of the above may seem self-evident, as it's nothing but conservative, common sense practical advice for small businesses, and yet, that's not the way most studios have operated to date, which is why it's worth pointing out they now can, and should, adjust their SOP to their changing circumstances.

What's happening to alter the deal so fundamentally is, once again, the end of the publishers' hegemony on mid-to-biggish budget productions. 
Unless they were lucky enough to be sitting on a fairly fat war chest, or to be savvy enough to secure funding from committed investors, studios who wanted to venture into productions that cost more than a decent car had to submit to the conditions of a publisher. This meant pretty much losing control over both treasury and calendar (and often original IP, too) to an entity whose primary goal is to ship fast'n'cheap, take the money and run, as it itself must answer to shareholders concerned only with the bottom line and quarterly profits — possibly brand and reputation of the publisher's, yet only insofar as it could impact stock value.

In any case, what publishers cared little about, and arguably couldn't much afford to, was the health and growth of the individual studios providing their wares, unless they incorporated them, and then had a vested interest in their not tanking days after release, and keep on churnin' titles out.
With their priorities at odds, publishers see studios as disposable resources, while the studios more often than not don't plan to disband the day after the wrap party, and instead hope to push onwards to the next game or ten, which in truth is not for them to decide, as they're unlikely to make enough royalties to ever fund a title on their own, or afford to concern themselves with the career development of their staff with what crumbs the publishers toss their way.

Thus studios tend to operate with the overhead and immobilization of small factories, yet the bubble'n'burst economics of movie production gigs, which goes a long way towards explaining why this industry has got into the bad habits of eating its young and burning through talent like it's crack cocaine.


In part 3 of this series, we'll look further at talent and players as assets and partners, and how to make the most of them to run a successful silent killer of a Fair Game shop.


The Fair Game - Part 1 : why ?

Or why a Fair Game doctrine of game making is the sensible thing to embrace now.

With the seemingly irreversible onward march of online distribution, cloud gaming and DLC, and the probable end of brick and mortar retail, along with traditional console gaming business models, the incentives for small studios to throw themselves into soul'n'blood-sucking publishing deals are vanishingly reduced.

Those among the present set of big publishers that are swift enough to make the transition certainly won't die anytime soon, if ever, as they have plenty of wiggle room to cultivate walled gardens that should prove profitable for years to come, yet they are liable to lose huge segments of the market to the self-publishing studios pushing titles on comparatively 'open' platforms (Android, cloudgaming, possibly some desktop OSes), funded through crowdfunding and 'committed investors', and which manage their growth mom'n'pop style (profits reinvestment) as opposed to bubble'n'burst.

Although the shiny exposed bit of the crowdfunding iceberg right now is mostly outlier cases that raise millions in minutes, rather than slow and steady boutique studios doing solid work, and while some bubble economy useful idiots want to believe in neverending riches through yet-another gold rush, I believe the core model is here to persist after the dust has settled, as it is the most fertile environment for game production in the internet age.
In this context, the key factors for this new generation of self-publishing studios (SPS from now on) are to be differentiation and brand recognition, and customer acquisition and loyalty.


As is obvious from the most casual tour of the — comparatively well-tended and variably walled — gardens of Apple, Google or Amazon app stores, sorting through the offerings isn't exactly straighforward. Even ignoring for a moment the toxic waste of mal/spy/adware ridden ripoffs of other games, repackaged with complimentary keyloggers, sifting through the chaff of cheap ports and gimmicky flash games is a daunting task.
A slightly deeper look at this market shows two things, though : companies that release consistently solid products gain recognition fast, and the need for triage is quickly filled by fan sites and "personal shopper" apps and services that feed from the player community to highlight the good bits.

Inevitably some-to-most of these helper services will go the way of the gaming press and quickly turn into for-hire mouthpieces for big name publishers, but the quickloop feedback provided by other channels like gamer forums and trusted fansites is already easing the metagame of telling which advisors customers should trust.

From the gamer perspective, the online distribution channels are thus fast becoming a much nicer and satisfying shopping space, and the only question is how good the actual videogame offerings might be in the mid-to-long run.

Except for a few occasional exclusives, owing to a walled garden owner also being their backer and publisher, it seems the cat is already out of the bag, and if the Android gaming dynamics are anything to go by, many titles may end up showing on more than one app store (at comparable pricepoints), with those acting essentially as retailer outlets.

Even Apple, although it likely won't open its gates anytime soon, might unwittingly be helping and soon find itself circumvented by cloud gaming service providers, wherever broadband wireless/cellular is becoming ubiquitous.
[ISPs and cellphone operators may actually have a strong card to play here, by bundling cloud gaming services with cellular data plans, cable TV style, but that's a topic in its own name, so I won't elaborate here.]


If you're a gamedev, this should speak to you in more than one way.

As the pressure from a very real competition which doesn't spend more on advertising than production increases, making money from the umpteenth rehash of a tired franchise will prove increasingly difficult for big publishing houses, as the costs to market and promote big-budget games done the usual way will increase geometrically to achieve no better than linear revenue growth (which is the only metric that matters to a publicly traded publisher). This could mean a serious downtrend in budget sizes by big name studios, or a suicidal arms' race between major publishers if they fail to realize it's not their share, it's the pie that's shrinking. In any case, expect a lot of suddenly 'freed' talent to hit the gamebiz job market soon.

On the plus side, as the crud filter of community fansites and shopper helper services gets better at keeping the good wares flowing, SPSes that manage to build a good reputation* will have an increasingly easier time funding projects, recruiting talent, and making a pretty penny from their games, thanks to much lower overhead in customer acquisition and loyalty cultivation costs, and lesser interference from short-term revenue demands by their shareholders.

In time, as more of the videogaming action moves to on-tap model, existing entities that are well-established both as distributors, service and infrastructure providers, which includes notably Google, Amazon, Akamai and Microsoft (and likely more than a couple cellular network operators) will all find themselves in a very favorable position to claim a large stake of 'real' cloud gaming, by ignoring or circumventing net-neutrality hindrances and saving prime morsels for their own offerings both in bandwidth and computational access.
This once again may put comparatively "indie" shops at a disadvantage, but unless the hardware consumer market for general purpose / gaming devices crashes horribly, leaving nothing behind but dumb terminals streaming pre-rendered HD from the cloud, SPS should still keep enough of an agility and creative edge that they don't have to sell themselves into slavery, for a while.


If I'm even half right in that bucketload of unsubstantiated prophesies, we're looking at a pretty good ten years for gamedevs interested in making high-quality genre games, and an equally unfriendly period for those who expect business to run as usual and still believe you can make big bucks by wrapping lowest common denominator turds in shiny eye candy.

Not to say braindead big splashy titles will stop hogging the limelight in gaming "press", on TV and walls of your cities, but odds are you'll see fewer of them, further apart, as — unless the aforementioned fratricide arms' race ensues — I expect the megapublishers to begin flirting with cartel-style practices anytime now, to protect their bottom line.


In part 2, I'll ramble about what makes a Fair Game self-publishing studio, and some more on why that's what you should go for if you want to make interesting games for a living.

*[Good reputation is to be understood as producing good games, but also as being a good company,  because crowdfunders and committed investors are more likely to put a premium on company values, not just value]

The great crowdfunding scam (?)

Psychochild is slightly pissed off (which only means he's not dead, granted), and he's not alone, today.
Go read this and come back after the break, please : I'll wait here.


Alright, I see where these guys are coming from, and respectfully, I think they're wrong on the parts that really matter, like does Molyneux acting like a bit of a greedy prick change anything for the worse, for you, and who is you ?

If you're a budding or career indie gamemaker, I don't reckon it seriously hurts your odds of getting crowdfunded, even if you happen to hunt on what could seem like Kickstarter "big name" reserved grounds. 

Molyneux' high profile and overpromising will, more likely than not, get a lot of people excited about the very possibility of more good god games, which some came to believe was something of a lost art, and thanks to the unrealistic expectations that come with overhype, this project is likely to disappoint people way before it hits beta and gets ready to under-deliver for realsies.

If you're in the same line of design, this could actually be good news for you, assuming a) your project doesn't suck, and b) you're aware of that dynamic being in play, and factor that in fundraising and project management.

There are good reasons why you have same-kind-wares-themed alleys in most commercial spaces : people who don't find the shoes they're looking for in a given shop are more likely to enter the shoe shop next door because, hey, they came here to buy some effin' shoes.
So think of the greedy big name opportunists on Kickstarter as your personal, pro bono, unwilling hecklers. There.


Moving on, and killing a strawman at one fell swoop : it won't hurt Kickstarter good name's, and indirectly your odds of crowdfunding there, if/when Molyneux next big thing turns out to be a dud. Kickstarter is big enough by now that it has its own momentum, and too many smart and endearing projects find their way through it for the occasional trainwreck to discourage pledgers. It's a rule that anything visible enough will draw criticism, if only because that's a way to differentiate when tackling an obligatory topic — and Kickstarter deserves criticism a-plenty for some reasons, but that's not one of them.


On the the really meaty part of the discussion : poor, deserving indies vs greedy fat cat exploiters of gamer naivete… yeah, that is bullshit, too.
The line is not drawn here, because many indie devs' life ambition is to make it big, while it is entirely conceivable for big name devs to make big games, with big teams, from the heart (it's just a freakishly daring endeavour and comes with a whole different problem set than that facing the budding indie dev).

If a line must be drawn to set apart what is ethically OK crowdfunding and what starts to look like a con job, or at least a tiny bit scammy, it should happen on the grounds of business ethics, and overall business model.

If your primary goal is to make games and incidentally a living out of it, because that's what you love and believe you can be good at, and certainly could commit more of your time and talent to it, didn't you have to keep a dayjob besides to pay the bills, then crowdfunding sounds fair : you're basically striving to make the sort of pro grade fan art kindred spirits might deem worth sponsoring and encouraging. This type of practice harks back to the time-honored subscription model, which has played a critical role in the development of many other art forms, and first among those, genre litterature (through magazines), and arguably some early pay-per-month MMORPGs.

If your main goal is to make a lot of dough by shearing a faceless herd of sheeples, the fact you happen to be a dishevelled nerd working from your three-jobs girlfriend's garage, or this week's flavour of rebellious trust fund hipster doesn't make you different from the most predatory corporate drones EA, Zinga or SONY has on staff.

Banging the Gavel of Obviousness +5, once again : it's all about why you're in the game of making games, or art, or tablecloth, and how you go about it — it has nothing to do with how big or how small a dog you are, and everything to do with your personal politics, ethics, and aesthetic preferences.

Also I'm really not sure I like Kickstarter that much, as it is now, but I'll get back to that sometime.


On to some constructive thoughts, because it's sunday… tune in tomorrow to check episode 1 of my new The Fair Game series.


On the day after Obama's reelection,

…I started drafting a post meant to cheer up the non-batshit-insane portion of the losing camp, namely Classic Republicans.

The gist of my argument was : 

• If you hold free market and fiscal frugality as cardinal values, and also agree that not only is a general election a popularity contest-a-looza, but that the nature of political campaigning today has evolved to become so largely fact-agnostic and divorced from reality that it is now a self-contained, self-referential show business devoid of any real ideology and ethical concerns (but what the audience can go for), then you must agree to the following:
Whoever wins an election, by whatever means, however ethically, legally and constitutionally dubious is a priori deserving of having won, since the sole available gauge to judge the worth of a candidate is the proxy of his/her campaigning, and the only true  judgement of which campaign is best is the pass/fail test of winning or losing the election.
That was the free market at work part of my case, meant to do away with any after-the-game objections and debates about whether Obama's victory was legit, whether he should have won, whether results-affecting voter fraud had taken place, and so on. 
Surely, that kind of whining is only for people who concern themselves with "fairness" of elections, be it only when it suits them (wingnuts), or most of the time (bleeding heart liberals), and would be anathema to staunch free-market believers, for which democracy is truly the marketplace of ideas, and who trust its natural self-correcting abilities to (either/both) digest or negate electoral fraud, propaganda and manipulations so that all is right in the end, at least at the meta-level where it counts.

Thus, the best man-campaign won, and this should be the end of it as far as Classic Republicans are concerned : as soon as they get over their (entirely natural) disappointment of finding themselves on the losing team after the adrenaline has worn of, all will be peachy.

• Fiscal frugality then, was the clincher of my semisardonic attempt at comfort : by all verifiable accounts, Obama's campaign and its supporters made more conservative use of their war chest and won the election. 
Not only did the Obama camp arguably spend less (if you put together superpacs, greyish and official campaign funds) in grand total, but they more often than not got a better bang for their buck on individual expenditures, such as the price they paid for airtime, and generally how much they spent by vote they moved around.
In stark contrast, albeit consistent with the republican track record of republican presidential mandates, the Romney campaign was plagued with poor spending decisions, multi-layered leeching of resources by consultants and contractors, showing that CEO in the banking sector may sometimes not be a reliable indicator of one's financial acumen. Never was so much spent by so few with so little results.
…all of which I argued are good news for my Classic Republican friends, because the most fiscally frugal (ergo conservative) candidate won, which made this urban guy closer to their views than the wastebasket of a mormon-robot the ballot market rightfully corrected out of the picture. 
At the end of the day, if your major gripe with big governement is ill-advised, inefficient, bloated federal spending, BarryBamz is your guy, so you sorta half-won this one, cheers !


Yeah, I was quite happy with myself, and I managed to milk this spider-demon of a cow to spin my yarn for a page or three before I got kinda bored with the ridicule of it all… 
Plowing ahead my line of talking specifically to reasonable conservatives (as opposed to delusional bigots) I kept bumping on the same rock-like question : how could one be reasonable while self-defining as a conservative (Republican is after all just a brand and no longer an ideology, if it ever was) ?
Short answer: one shouldn't, and yet…

Just to get the obvious strawmen out of the way, I'm aware there are many conservatives who show every evidence of being reasonable people, just as I don't even need an effort of imagination to dream up church-going christians and mosq-going muslims who aren't god-crazy holybook-thumpers/burners — I personally know a few, which is enough to disprove a negative. Moreover, I'm (rather self-servingly) cool with quirky people being at large in the genpop, as long as they don't act entitled to do harm to others on the grounds of their feeling threatened by anyone who fails to share their views.

My point being, unoriginal as it is, that it's hard to reconcile being reasonable — as in amenable to reason and rationality — with the belief you can (and should wish to) stop anything from changing,  which is what conservatism boils down to.
Plainly, the level of commitment to magical thinking required to uphold conservative views as central to one's political identity (as different from conservative bias on set issues, which is a another matter) seems hard to reconcile with the minimal required intellectual balance to be called reasonable. And yes, that's where the "Reality has a liberal bias" zinger comes from, although liberals in general don't show any greater indication of their views being tied to objective reality, but that's, again, a different topic and not on today's rambling menu.

The contradiction between the last two paragraphs is only apparent, too : one can indeed behave reasonably whilst holding unreasonable views about big-picture issues like political ideology and the (non)existence of sky-fairies playing a part in our everyday life, much like one can be a well-read, seemingly level-headed rationalist and still end up cowardly pleading guilty to a crime of passion in front of a jury. It could be argued most interesting stories revolve around the contradictions between thoughts, feelings and actions. 


Where was I going with this ? Not quite sure myself, at this point… mainly, it's about me growing tired of the BS, I guess, starting with mine, pretending I'm content playing smartass while the world is rotting on its feet.
I'll get back to that, I guess.

Meanwhile, merkins of all political creeds should rejoice and/or mourn in unisson : they have a new prez, same as the old prez, who's also a right-of-Reagan Democrat, so there's plenty to go around.
Also, the worse of the two ebils on the ballot has been avoided, for while Mitt Romney may be a non-quantity as an individual, and certainly not the devil, the people who paid for his excursion into big city politics, and to whom he'd had to answer had he been elected, most certainly don't have your best interests at heart (unless you're part of the 0.01%, and then you don't give a toss about who wins, seriously).