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Thursday, January 22, 2004

Comments

Paul Jenkins

Ok. I'll fire a quick shot.

Throughout the blog there's been considerable talk about things publishers have done to damage developers, etc. So, what kind of things could a publisher offer a developer to begin a relationship on a more honest premise?

Would it be feasible for a publisher to give back a dev's IP post-publication? What would be fair for a publisher to request in this instance?

Basically, while publishers and developers are always going to be somewhat mistrustful of each other (out od necessity), what can a publisher do to sponsor a more cooperative relationship between the two parties?

Warm Regards,
Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins

Oh, yeah... The premise of my question is this:

If developers are constantly encouraged to take an adversarial approach to publishers, how can a smaller publisher succeed and survive? When the only things a small publisher can offer to a studio will likely result in that studio running to a larger publisher, it becomes apparent that the "nice guy" will almost certainly always finish last.

Talon

Albeit cliched as far as questions go: How's Duke Nukem Forever progressing along?

Joe Studiostarter

If you were starting a dev studio today, with no money but with willing talent, what would your plan of attack be? What kind of game would you try to make? The goal is to, at a minimum, make sure your studio is around to make a second game.

I know a lot of people will say, you should make the game you're passionate about. Assume that the developers have an equal facility and passion about making a number of different kinds of titles. I'm interested in hearing what genre would be good to start off in, assuming no resources. Ex: If you try to start in RTS, and compete on a AAA level, you're probably a lot more likely to get creamed.

Mirik

Any strategies for small time studios to 'not' get screwed over by publishers? Especially when they are not yet capable of cross producing titles, and are in need of cash.

Any tips at all would help.

Mirik

Paul Jenkins

"Any strategies for small time studios to 'not' get screwed over by publishers? Especially when they are not yet capable of cross producing titles, and are in need of cash.

Any tips at all would help."

I think I can partially field this question.

First, of all, being in need of cash is going to undermine your strategy from the start. If you're just starting out, you should try to secure non-venture funding through grants and low/no-interest loans, at least enough to maintain operation for some time. The less operating capital you have, the more leverage a publisher will have.

Barring that, you should at the very least hide your financial problems from a potential publisher by any means necessary. It's not their business. All a publisher needs to know is how much it will take to finish the product, and whether or not you'll have the funds.

Next, decide how much of an advance will be necessary to complete the project. When you do this, make an effort to increase figures where you can. The reasoning is simple. A publisher won't give you the amount you ask for unless you have a very strong product (in *their* opinion, not yours), so you need to insure that you have room to negotiate. On the same token, if the publisher comes up with an offer that is more than you need, this gives you insurance against delays in milestone payments.

At the same time, make sure your publisher is aware that payments must be made on time. You may not necessarily need to be adversarial on this point, as a sensible publisher will understand its validity. (If you can't pay your employees, they won't get a product, and they'll have very little recourse if you go under). At the same time, insist that you get guarantees in writing.

Do your homework. Be sure to know before approaching a publisher what kind of a track record they have. If they have a strong reputation, take the time to know what they've done to earn that reputation, or likewise, to earn a bad reputation. Do they have financial issues? Consider how these things will be used to try to mold negotiations on their end. Is the publisher trying to diminish your royalties and advance because they need operating capital, or are they truly concerned about your products' marketability?

Get reviews! A publisher who is considering your project will secure reviews that will assist them in making contract decisions. It's in your best interest to, at the least, have an objective outside opinion. This will also help you to polish your presentation. You want to go in to any negotiation strong and well-informed. If you walk in thinking your product is the Next Big Thing, you won't be able to defend its flaws against a publisher who is intent on diminishing your share.

Give yourself options. If you have a finished product, shop around, and let the smaller publishers know that you're "considering offers". Smaller publishers will be more willing to openly negotiate if they know you're being considered by a larger house.

Basically, remember that you need to know what they're going to know, and set your standards accordingly. You'll absolutely want to stop considering your project from a development standpoint, and look at it instead from a marketing standpoint. Ideally, you did this before you started.

Finally, if you don't have any projects in the works, and you need a quick turnaround, consider approaching publishers that have dead projects that they may want to revitalize. This happens when a studio goes under and the publisher manages to keep the IP and source code. Often a publisher will be willing to hire a third party developer to finish the project so that they can secure an ROI, and will be willing to advance a flat fee plus a smaller royalty for the service. It's not an ideal set up, but it is a good way to insure your employees get paid and to build your reputation for delivering, which gives you more leverage the next time you need to approach a publisher.

Brad Renfro

Here's a question that I always want to ask developers. Why do it? Why go through crunchmode, broken development processes, horrid schedules, uninformed publishers, poor job security, constant technology evolution? Especially when there's such a big divide between what a developer wants to make, what a consumer wants, and what eventually makes it to the shelves.

Paul Jenkins

"If you were starting a dev studio today, with no money but with willing talent, what would your plan of attack be? What kind of game would you try to make? The goal is to, at a minimum, make sure your studio is around to make a second game."

Make a children's game, targeted at ages 8 - 14, with a focus on edutainment.

It's a relatively untapped maarket with a moderately secure ROI. Additionally, working on a game like this will qualify your studio for a number of grants through various agencies. A good marketing approach would be to market in national scholastic fliers and through publications devoted to parenting, family, etc. My personal thought (without any research mind you) would be to aim for a children's rpg with some of the complexity of more "adult" rpg's, such as an rpg devoted to playing a historical character's adventures, a trader in the Renaissance period (working with the Medici's or the European trade routes, possibly), or even a science based rpg, where you play some sort of scientist embarking on a research project.

One of the biggest problems with developers is that they often ignore markets that don't appeal to them as gamers, losing them money in the long term.

JP

"Here's a question that I always want to ask developers. Why do it? Why go through crunchmode, broken development processes, horrid schedules, uninformed publishers, poor job security, constant technology evolution? Especially when there's such a big divide between what a developer wants to make, what a consumer wants, and what eventually makes it to the shelves."

In a nutshell, that's why I left a perfectly serviceable job in the game industry to work on independent projects. The game industry isn't the only place games get made, fortunately.

Gestalt

Brad - "Why do it? Why go through crunchmode, broken development processes, horrid schedules, uninformed publishers, poor job security, constant technology evolution?"

Because it's FUN. :)

Scott Miller

"Why we do it?" is a question I've seen developers answer many times in other forums. Sure, it's often tough work, but let's face it, what else would we be doing? Most likely, something not as fun nor as creative. Also, making games keeps developers near the cutting-edge of technology, and most of us are tech geeks who love to be immersed in this stuff.

Just out of high school I flipped burgers for two years, then I entered journalism, and also worked at a college in the computer lab. After that I worked in a computer consultant firm -- my last "real" job. Though often less stressful and overall easier, none of those jobs compare favorably to what I'm now doing.

The game industry is pushing into uncharted regions of entertainment, and who among us doesn't have some explorer in our veins?

I rest my case.

Jeffool

How do you see the job market of the in about six months? ... About the time I'll be graduating... ;)

Seriously, to any and all industry folk here, what project do you feel the most proud of having worked on, and why?

I guess other common (and good) topics are a game you felt didn't get the props it deserved (Rocket Jockey. Great game.) Also, a write up of a game you didn't have anything to do with, done with a designers eye'. (Jamie just posted a great summation of Deus Ex 2 on GameDevLeague.)

Greg

No, I don't want to ask you questions.... I want to hear what you have to say. It's always an entertaining rant.

Scott Miller

Greg, writing weekly is tough. I need to mix in some simple topics now and then, so getting ideas from readers is a way to lighten the load, otherwise I may have to miss a week now and then.

Jeff, I'll probably give short reviews of some of the more recent games I've played, like Call of Duty and Crimson Skies. I like how Jamie reviews games from a developers perspective.

Mark Ventura

Has any developer ever tried to self-publish using the internet?

Mike

When working with a publisher, if they demand more features & time out of you than what you agreed to for a set price, what should be done? If you are explicit with what they were getting up front (by-the-day breakdown for all people), and they start asking for a significant increease in tasks (sometimes to be done in the same amount of time!), what is the status quo? If the company can suck it up, should they? Should the company charge tens of thousands of dollars to cover the salary costs, or should the company try to renegotiate from scratch?

I understand that you are in a strong negotiation position, but I would be interested to hear it from someone who is at a weaker vantage point.

Paul Jenkins

"When working with a publisher, if they demand more features & time out of you than what you agreed to for a set price, what should be done? If you are explicit with what they were getting up front (by-the-day breakdown for all people), and they start asking for a significant increease in tasks (sometimes to be done in the same amount of time!), what is the status quo? If the company can suck it up, should they? Should the company charge tens of thousands of dollars to cover the salary costs, or should the company try to renegotiate from scratch?"

As a general rule, a new negotiation is in order. Once the initial contract is signed, the deal is set, period. A publisher can demand more if they want, and you can calmly reply, "That's not in the contract." and set your demands. At that point, it's up to the publisher to determine if it's worth it.

You're only in a weak negotiations stance so long as you're going to them. The second they wish to change the contract, or add a new project, you're in control of the negotiation. (So long as you did your groundwork and got a tight contract at the beginning)

I'd personally hear them out, then at the very least discuss what the revisions would cost, and be as open to their ideas as possible. If the ideas were going to threaten the initial project, damage the team's focus, or frag schedules completely, then I'd either turn them down (politely) or charge them based on a fair estimate (with a moderate mark up... about 15 - 25%).

Jim Vessella

Hi Scott, I'm curious on companies that have tried variability in the pricing of games. For example, with Serious Sam the retail price was set no higher than $19.99, and resulted in the game hitting a wider audience. Do you know if this strategy was still profitable?

And for MMORPG's, why don't companies sell the box for a minimum price, and rely on making money from the subscriptions. I know for a fact that many of my friends don't get into MMO's because first you pay $49.99 for the box, then if you don't like it you're stuck with a worthless piece of software. Is there a reason publishers still charge $50 when they could easily charge less and make their money from the $14.95/month subscription fees. Thanks!

Brad Renfro

"The game industry isn't the only place games get made, fortunately."

Where is this magical place? I must know!

Jesper Juul

Just write about whatever comes up and seems interesting at the time - keeps the blog fresh and personal.

JP

"Where is this magical place? I must know!"

Independent development. You can still do very innovative things, you just don't have a zillion dollar budget - or a publisher / shareholders breathing down your neck.

My point is that you can make a game for reasons other than turning a profit. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that it's the only way certain games are going to be made.

Brad Renfro

"My point is that you can make a game for reasons other than turning a profit. I'm becoming increasingly convinced that it's the only way certain games are going to be made."

The thing that saddens me is that, when you don't make a game for profit, it likely means man-hours spent will have to be relatively low. And that probably places some very rigid constraints on the game's design as well.

Jeff Mackintosh

What do you see as the biggest problems facing the video game industry, in the long-term, and how do you see those hurdles best overcome.

Greg Findlay

"...when you don't make a game for profit, it likely means man-hours spent will have to be relatively low. And that probably places some very rigid constraints on the game's design as well."

I would say that depends. Typically indy games suffer the larger the project becomes. However, if the project isn't the first project the company has done independently, the chances that it succeeds greatly increase. It also depends on whether or not the developers can support themselves while working on the game full time. That's tricky to do, but there are those who do it.

Jonas

Brad said: "The thing that saddens me is that, when you don't make a game for profit, it likely means man-hours spent will have to be relatively low. And that probably places some very rigid constraints on the game's design as well."

Brad, because it's an indie game (out side the retail machine), it doesn't mean that it's a Freeware game. Any successful indie ( I define "Indie" as folks that pull ALL of their own strings) is going to design a game to make a profit. Otherwise it's just a hobby not a biz.

The reality is that we as Indies still have ourselves breathing down our necks, but at least we don't get axed because of some choice beyond our control like a axing of a project due to a merger.

Perhaps you meant that without having the pressures of a publisher that you would be apt to lower the project standards?

Obviously though, the budget your team can afford will provided constraints, but isn't that also true of a publisher funded game?

Brian S.

Scott, a question I'd really like answered and may help developers at the same time is why so few American/English(lang.) -made games are translated into other countries, especially Asian nations of Japan and S. Korea? And I am not just talking about games that are centric to American culture like football. Japanese publishers have from the beginning done this for the Western audience.

However, aside from outliers like Starcraft, it seems IMO that most developers/publishers do not emphasize the Eastern market as they could. And this is not just hoping that Asian consumers will have enough English language skills to use the original product.

Daryl Pitts

Brian,

"...why so few American/English(lang.) -made games are translated into other countries, especially Asian nations of Japan and S. Korea?"

Europe
======
As you might know, almost all U.S. developed games are distributed for sale in Europe. For PC games you can get 50% of your revenue from Europe, and for console games you can get about 40%. It makes great economic sense to translate your game into French/Spanish/German/Italian.

Japan
=====
Compared to Europe, the Asian territories (specifically, Japan) are more challenging for selling Western games. There are three high barriers for us to overcome to be successful over there:

1) aesthetics - you've probably noticed a predilection for cuter anime style characters in Japanese games. Namely, there's a preference for characters to have slightly larger heads and larger eyes, and for environments to use a high contrast color palette. This is out of sync with the more realistic style that most of us Western game designers employ. Crash Bandicoot is one of the best selling U.S. developed games ever because they designed their characters from the ground up to be compatible with Japan.

The disconnect we have with Asian-style aesthetics is only going to be exacerbated as the average age of US gamers (currently 28 years-old) continues to increase. As adults we're obviously going to want more realistic and less cartoony games.

2) camera - games that have fast moving cameras severely limit their audience in Asian nations because people there have a tendency to get dizzy or sick from jerky movement. First person shooters are almost impossible, and 3rd person action games with simplistic follow-cams are just as bad. I remember a specific instance when working at a development company in Yokohama where I was playing a game of Descent and my Japanese co-workers had to avert their eyes from my screen because they were getting nauseous!

Games like Ratchet and Clank 1 & 2 are huge in Japan partially because their camera spin speed is very slow, and they use smart, well dampened algorithms to avoid jerkiness. This was intentional because these guys were thinking about the Japanese market from day one.

3) difficulty - games that are too difficult or punish the player too often have trouble in Japan too. People tend to get lost in complex 3D space, so I remember reading a post mortem on Sly Cooper (I think) where they said that they added lots of infomration sign posts, arrows, and clues to help guide Japanese players through their levels.

There are a lot of problems which prevent most Western games from finding a market in the East. But on the other hand, you should see the thousands of games that come out in Japan that will never leave that island. We are lucky only to see the best of the best: Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, Sonic, and Mario.

ADoomedMarine

I don't know if you still have that email I sent you along time ago Scott with a suggestion for a new article.

Hmm lemme see if I still got it... yep here:

----------------------

Hey Scott,

Heres a suggestion for a topic you could cover on Game Matters.

How about writing about how hard it is nowadays to start up a gaming developing company (or even publishing) compared to say 10 years ago.

Considering that the gaming industry is now so much more evolved and how brand names (well in this case company names) also effect sales.

Keep it up, I'm finding the topics you write about extremely interesting.

- ADoomedMarine
http://www.planetmaxpayne.com/

----------------------

Diamond Joe Badger

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise.

Maybe in a future topic you can tell us about Prey? Or possibly how a first-person shooter can take seven year to develop?

Brad Renfro

"Obviously though, the budget your team can afford will provided constraints, but isn't that also true of a publisher funded game?"

Yes, my point is that either way, there are hard constraints. When I talk about not making a game for profit, I mean you don't depend on its financial success in any way. Purely craft for craft's sake. Shareware indies may be free from publishers but if they depend on their revenues to pay the rent, their designs are still constrained by the shareware market. Likewise, the designs of freetime hobby games are constrained by lack of manpower.

So while innovation is possible in independent games, seems like it's only a small subset of what is possible. Kind of like the reason why so many indie movies are about people standing around and talking to each other. A good example of relatively uncompromised game design that I can think of is Black and White, mainly because it was funded with millions of dollars, out of Molyneux's pocket.

Jonas Stewart

Yep your right definitely constraints any way you go.

If only there were grants for independent games.

back on topic:

Scott, I'd be interested to hear more thoughts on character development. Perhaps stuff like name creation.

Also perhaps a discussion on emergent behavior of players using games in ways that we didn't intend.

Another interesting topic might be managing large communities of players. And how to leverage those communities to promote our games.

Jim Osborn

Do you think we'll ever see proper standards emerge for things such as control settings or save locations (i.e. where files actually get stored on my computer)?

I find it a bit annoying (as a PC gamer) that every time I get a new game I have to set up the controls to how I like them.
I think console games are fairly standardised by the natural of a single, fixed controller, but even with them you can get the odd game that does things slightly differently.

This is especially true for the countless number of FPS games on the market that all have the same basic control systems but have those systems mapped in slightly different ways - mouse sensitivity being the most obvious example.

To me, it seems that it would be much better if the user could set up their preferences in a central place, which would then be accessible to any game.

It would, obviously, only benefit games that fit nicely into well established genres and I’d never want standardisation to limit any creativity for future games, but I find it hard to see any downside to this kind of approach.

After all, it's becoming quite common in the hardware industry for competing companies to work together to create the standards for the next generation of products. Yet the software industry (it's certainly not just isolated to games) currently seems to be unwilling to standardise any aspects of their creations.

Anyway, I’d like to hear your views on this matter.

Jeffool

>>Do you think we'll ever see proper standards emerge for things such as control settings or save locations (i.e. where files actually get stored on my computer)?

It's a hell of an idea. I like it.

Though Microsoft seems to want to have everything in 'Program Files' and that be that, I'm someone who has seperate folders for everything: Audio, Games, Image, Text, Video, etc. Makes keyboard navigation cake.

And FPS mouse sensitivity? Seems reasonable to have a program that says "left click, move the mouse the distance you want for a 45(90, 180, or however you want to measure) degree turn, then left click again". Use that to measure your sensitivity and import it into any game. Assuming, of course, the speed isn't over the set max for the game, but still, love that idea.

Hell, why not just have a standard 'profile' format? Let it have tags like [name=Jeffool][mouseLook=145][musicVol=78] and so on. Using different tagnames for different game styles. FPSforward=W, mouseCamera=97... Dunno if it's a new idea, but it's new to me.

Jeff Lindsay

Hey, well I've been a long time fan of Scott here and I'm not surprised how popular this blog is... just that I never knew about it until now.

Anyway, Scott, a couple of things were brought up in these comments that made me think of my current venture, which I think you may find interesting and I'd love to hear your thoughts on.

http://www.openwaregames.com

JP

"If only there were grants for independent games."

In which case, the pressure would be on you to create games that live up to the terms of the grant and are worth the good faith implied. Like you say, constraints every which way.

Understand that I'm not advocating that game design have no limits imposed on it... limitations are unavoidable, and often they elicit far more brilliance out of the creator than if he were working in some theoretical, limitation-free environment. My point with the earlier comment was that if you remove the need to make money from the equation, a lot of ideas that would otherwise have been discarded as unworkable suddenly come into view.

I don't have any one dominant vision for the future of game design, nor should anyone. The one valid direction is Every Conceivable Direction. That includes places where the money-minded are unwilling to go!

John Beeler

Describe the perfect "fan."

Sofa

Scott, I'll ask a question, if I may...

What is your opinion of open-ended games such as Morrowind and Vice City, where the player is free to roam the world they're presented with and pick and choose their story path, versus games with a much more linear approach to their presentation, such as Max Payne and, and so I gather from the boards, DNF. Particularly now with MMORPGs, which by their very nature are completely open-ended, do you think such games are going to become more prevelant as the industry grows or do you feel that they're perhaps a fad and eventually fade away as fads tend to do?

I quite enjoy reading your blog Scott, hope you keep your interest in writing here alive for many months to come :)

Johny Zuper!

"If only there were grants for independent games."

There are grants for games! At least in Europe.

But not just for any type of game. Governments will only fund projects that they think are valuable to society. So if you want to develop yet another violent game, you shouldn't count on getting funding (unless you're in the US, perhaps ;) ).
The European Media program on the other hand explicitly funds adventure games and online multiplayer games, for instance.
We are Belgian and we have found small but useful support for our project in an educational facility, which lead to an additional governmental scholarship. We also got some funding from a governmental organisation that supports the development of design prototypes, originally intended for furniture. And last but not least, we found governmental support from a fund intended for multimedia installations and video art, at least after we personally convinced them of the artistic quality of our game (initially they had simply refused to sponsor computer games).
There are grants to be found. At least for games with more than average artistic ambitions. But you have to be a little creative to see where you can apply for them and make a good case for your project. The next grant we are going to apply for is one originally intended for animation films, e.g. These grants are never large enough to fund complete development. But they sure can help you get started.

Ben Bradley

Scott,

How do you, as a designer/developer, select the games that you play? I'm a student and I definitely don't have the spare time to play all the games I want to, and I'd assume developers have far less oppurtunity. Do you have any particular methods for making that time count?

R. Hurter

Hi,

How has graphical enhancement slowed other areas of gameplay? Has gameplay in your opinion been retarted (or how much) due to constant need for graphical innovation or products often selling #1 graphics and #2 gameplay.
Also how does this affect sales figures for a product that's not as glitzy as another, or the life of an indie who cannot compete on the same graphical level as a professional studio?

[p.s. great blog]

Alex

Does Pac Man end? How many acts are there? Is it the same for Pac Man and MS Pac Man? Im really curious.

Please Respond to the following address, alcooper@fredericksburgacademy.org

Scott Miller

Pac Man never ends. I co-authored a book in 1982 on how to master 30 or so arcade games back then, and my writing parter, George Broussard (now my partner at 3D Realms) could play Pac Man as long as he wanted on one quarter. He had figured out certain patterns at he would just repeat them for each screen (and these patterns were printed in our book). Other Pac Man experts around the country also had their own patterns, and some were also published in books. Ms. Pac Man, which, btw, was an unauthorized mod of Pac Man made by two guys in their garage, and later sold to Midway, was the same, in that it did not have an ending.

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