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Friday, October 08, 2004

Comments

Eric Lulie

Maybe the industry needs some kind of gaming bank for new studios; it would act more-or-less like v.c., except once the money you've borrowed from the bank is repaid, any legal or financial interest it has in you ends. (IIRC, v.c. traditionally tries to maintain valuable properties as long as possible; the v.c.'s interests can conflict with the studio's interests...)

The only other option for a new studio would seem to be making small to mid-sized games for other venues (like, Zone, GarageGames, Yahoo, etc.) until they've established enough cash reserves and a decent credit history, and then trying to get a loan from a bank to cover the development of the studio's "big" idea (although, that would limit how much you could actually do with any "big" ideas; it would also constrain R&D to ideas that will pan out vs. those that might...which kinda seems like the state the industry's in at present). That would seem to take a long time, though...

I agree, Scott, that there aren't that many studios that are (a) independent, and (b) can largely call their own shots. I don't know what I'd add to that list; maybe Obsidian, I don't know if they're officially tied to anyone yet.

Kaye

Gas Powered, Irrational, and up until a month ago, Monolith. It could even be argued that Monolith is still independent since WB isn't a publisher, and allows them a pretty free hand from what I've gathered.

John P

Krome Studios has around 130 staff, is still independent and designs original games of their choosing. We do a licensed property while doing an original IP.

What does this tell us about our industry? It tells us that making AAA games is bloody expensive!

Of course if you look at non-major independent studios you'll find some of them doing their own thing, and doing it well. Chronic Logic with Gish and Popcap with Bookworm, for example. Who knows, these guys may be major independent studios one day.

Anon

Blizzard is no more a free studio, they're being pushed by vivendi in order to release as soon as posible World Of Warcraft, and this can be the end of Blizzard...

Gabby Dizon

Hurrah to the old guard who have left to form new studios, such as Wideload Games and Flagship Studios. This seems to be the only way they can create totally new worlds.

Alan

There's still quite a few that are below the radar right now, as well, such as Double Fine.

Also, Digital Extremes is independent, correct?

It saddens me GREATLY to see great developers absorbed by large publishers. For instance, when Legend went down, I was not only depressed but infuriated. (Especially since I wanted to send me resume to them, one day... *sigh*)

Personally, I think options for independent developers are going to start opening, with the new distribution channels opening. Electronic distribution, in my opinion, may pave the way for independent artists in the game industry, as well. There are many ways to take advantage of these new channels and, if done properly, I think it could reinstate, if only temporarily, the atmosphere of the mid to early 90's.

This kind of intellectual property monopoly exists in almost every entertainment industry. Just look at the story behind George Lucas.

While the situation is dismal, I don't think anything is impossible and I sure as hell am not going to give up trying and talking about the things that I think will help this growing problem. :)

Alan

PS:

Why is it, when leaving comments here, I forget all the rules of grammar? ;)

Alan

Pss:
I just remembered an interesting article that kinda touches on this:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3630726.stm

"I believe that most independent developers will disappear, either through going bust or due to merger or acquisition."

PaG

The gaming industry is ripe for disruptive technology -- a game that shakes the tree. There are a lot of possible innovations, but publishers don't want to invest in them because they are satisfied with the status quo in which they hold all of the cards. Sometime, somewhere, somebody will come up with a game that everybody just has to have but nobody saw coming. A game that will redefine what games should be like, like Mario and Doom did in the past. It's not really a matter of if it's going to happen, but rather or when.

I don't think such a game will be developed nor distributed through the standard channels. I wouldn't be surprised if it opened the door to a new business model. In any case, it should rock the boat and change the industry fundamentally.

What will this distruptive technology be? I don't know -- if I knew I'd be working on it because whoever does it will be mightily succesful. I do have some ideas (like a game that creates a new genre that's really appealing to the mass market but which is sold online for just 10$), but I'm probably way off because such things are by definition hard to predict...

mike p.

It's easy to lament the lack of independence and original games in this industry, but I think it's a good thing in the sense that it will lead to greater innovation. After all, where would Half-Life, Baldur's Gate, Black & White, and Doom be without a comparative lack of innovation at the time?

As strange as this sounds, I'll lament the day when a behemoth like EA masters and encourages innovation among its internal and external studios. In such a scenario, the game designers and implementers would likely receive far less compensation for their innovation than they might otherwise at a small start-up.

Though an innovation defecit is perhaps bad for the consumers, it also ensures that the occasional amazing game is that much brighter, and increases the likelihood that the designers will be appropriately compensated for the risk they've endured.

I don't even think the "major independent studios" are the ideal in terms of developing "original games," though in principle I suppose they are able to choose what they work on. Regardless, every one of the companies you named have chosen to develop sequels. This particular lack of innovation among major independent studios will perhaps lead to internal splintering, as it did with Bungie, Blizzard, and others. Though it might cause much sadness, I would welcome the disintegration of companies like id, Valve, and 3Drealms as I'm a bit tired of Doom, Duke, and Quake. Change isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Talon

I tend to think that originality has long since packed up and moved out the industry overall. Not to say games aren't still great (2004 alone has been host to dozens of great ones), but at this point in time at least, I don't think there's much more genres can really do. Even in games that appear original to an extent (eg: Katamari Damacy ... second time I've used this as an example, I know), still follow a basic set of gameplay styles. Original stories can be developed, and to that end extensions on ideas, but I think that perhaps the limitations of technology is causing originality in its "true form" (which in itself isn't set in stone) to be non-existant.

Not to say that advancements in technology alone can solve the problem, as a big issue is publishers dominating developers (eg: the onslaught of licensed crap), but what more can really be done that's truely original in any of the genres? I know it's subjective really, but that's how I see it.

Tadhg

The key to reclaiming originality (IMO) is to refocus on what originality actually means. There are too many studios who are content to focus on redeveloping their technology as a means to innovation, but NOT the style, character and so on of existing game types. I am firmly of the belief that this is not a problem that technology can solve, nor one that focussing on so-called innovative gameplay will fix either.

It's a cultural problem, at heart, a resistance to developing ideas in different ways to the old iterative model. There is plenty of scope left in videogames for producing interesting and challenging ideas, but it is the method of working and the creative process that has increasingly shown itself to be dysfunctional, and producing ever more uninteresting games in the process.

Kalev Tait

There seems to be a fantasy attached to working for an independent developer that by doing so, the individual employee gets more control over what they work on. I don't think this necesarily follows.

What is the difference between a large independent developer and an internal studio? In both cases, the individual employee still has to answer to someone else. The amount of control that the individual has over what they work on is more dependent on the internal structure of the company rather than on whether or not the company is able to publish its own titles.

If you really want complete freedom of what you work on, then small (and self funded) independent developers are the way to go.

-Kalev

Scott Miller

-- " I would welcome the disintegration of companies like id, Valve, and 3Drealms as I'm a bit tired of Doom, Duke, and Quake."

Id is now working on an original project, and although we're known for Duke, we also helped bring Max Payne to the market, and we're currently working on an unannounced original game, too.

Valve was able to take their time on Half-Life 2 and so far the review scores I've seen for it suggest it may be one of the best games ever made. There's no way a publisher pays for an FPS to be developed this long -- this sort of commitment can only come from a true independent.

BTW, I'm not suggesting that original, innovative games can only come from independents, as I do not believe that at all. I'm simply pointing out that their are few independents left, while ten years ago I could have listed 50 - 70 without too much thinking.

Oh, and I forgot to list Remedy in my original list.

Gabby Dizon

Sid Meier seems to be able to do the games that he wants over at Firaxis. Although he hasn't done anything very new in a while (though I am a big fan).

Brad Renfro

Everyone agrees that independents are decreasing but is it also the case that press is just given to a few high-profile ones? When a studio is bought out, a bunch of press releases go out, creating the impression that the few indies left are all biting the dust. Also, the names people have mentioned are just from the PC scene.

After a just quick skim I found a few more independent studios and I'm sure there are many more not on this list. They're not all "major studios" and it's arguable how much freedom they have but they're at least alive and independent. Bizarre Creations, Big Huge Games, The Collective, Creative Assembly, Cryptic Studios, Crytek, Cyan Worlds, Day 1 Studios, Digital Illusions, Edge of Reality, Elixir Studios, Evolution Studios, Factor 5, Firaxis, Free Radical, Funcom, Furious Games, Guerilla Games, High Voltage, Human Head, Inevitable, Iron Lore, Irrational, Kuju, Microids, Pandemic, Pivotal Games, Planet Moon, Radical, Ritual, Starbreeze, Stormfront, Team17, TimeGate, Totally Games, Turbine, Vis Entertainment, Warthog, Zombie.

Scott Miller

Good list, Brad. But many of them, while independent, cannot make the games they want to make, they must take projects from their publishing partners.

In 1997 or thereabouts, we had the following fairly strong independents, all doing original games, just in the Dallas area: 3DR, Id, Ion Storm, Ritual, Rogue, Terminal Reality, Rebel Boat Rocker, and Ensemble. Five hours down the road in Austin there were at least as many.

Dallas, though, was known as a breeding ground for upstarts, with people branching off from both us and Id. And, perhaps not coincidentally, we're the only two left who can still call our our shots. Terminal Reality and Ritual are still here, but they do not make IP they own -- they've become contractors. Ensemble is part of Microsoft, and the other studios are gone.

J.

Austin's also been a breeding ground for upstart companies for years, but with Origin emptied and Acclaim gone Chapter 7, it's going to be iffy for a while. Midway just bought out Inevitable Entertainment (founded by ex-Acclaim Austin staff) and Breakaway Games recently opened a satellite studio headed by Mike McShaffrey.

As for the rest of Austin, Ion Storm's office got halved recently (they were going to work on yet more sequels to both Deus Ex and Thief, but Eidos took a huge hit on Hitman: Contracts and there's still talk of a buyout,) Retro just finished Metroid Prime 2, Digital Anvil is still making stuff for Microsoft and Aspyr is struggling to get a foothold in the GBA publishing market.

There's also the cell phone game production studios like Pulse Interactive and Knockabout Games (headed by ex-Maxis South lead Kevin Gliner) and the ever-faithful hired guns like Edge of Reality, Critical Mass Interactive and Fizz Factor (blame them for the PC port of Spider-Man 2.)

Then there's MMOG development. NCSoft Austin is making Tabula Rasa and publishing City of Heroes and Auto Assault, SOE Austin is making Star Wars Galaxies and whatever secret project Gordon Walton is working on, and Wolfpack/Ubisoft is making Shadowbane.

There are still dark horses here and there. Skylab (headed by a few ex-GODGames people) has some secret project, Radioactive Labs might have something going, and so might SuperHappyFunFun. Can't really comment about what I don't know, though.

Grand Fromage

Aren't Obsidian Entertainment and Troika pretty independent?

J.

Troika, yeah. Obsidian is just getting started, and they'll be playing follow-the-leader with Bioware for at least a while. But they were good at it when they were Black Isle.

Also Floodgate Entertainment, headed by Paul Neurath who used to run Looking Glass. They made the two NWN expansion packs. They might have a future on their own at some point.

Lately, though, while I'm still interested in seeing great games being made, I'm less concerned about where they come from. Way I see it, they're about as likely to come from big publishers these days at least. Both indie developers and big studios seem to attract the same frequency of good people and great ideas, as well as bonehead do-nothings who can't keep the rent paid and the paychecks on time.

Chris Stockman

Remedy

Talon

As long as the names are being thrown around, does anyone else tend to think the industry might be over saturated with developers? I've been thinking about this one for awhile now, as 2004 in particular has seen the formation of quite a few start-ups and so on. Many of them have some great ideas and all, and certainly are innovative in most cases, but ... well I guess I am suggesting you can have TOO MUCH talent. heh

Dan MacDonald

I realize this isn't exactly the way this was intended, but in the end aren't we all slaves to the market? We have to create what people want to play...

Jim Vessella

Insomniac Games is still an independent studio and chooses their games, I would put them right up there with Bioware as one of the top five developers, and easily one of the top three independent developers.

Talon

In some cases, I agree. But on the other hand, if slaves was an entirely accurate description, I hardly think any innovation would have happened in the past. Games would be nothing but the same old licensed grap. not to say we're not getting to that point, but I think there's a big chance it'll turn around. 2004 alone has proven that the industry's still great :)

Robert Howarth

Mythic, Turbine, Gearbox and Digital Extremes (DE's already been mentioned but worth repeating).

Kalev Tait

Turbine doesn't count.


They're publishing their own games now.

Maciej Sinilo

Elixir Studios. They're not exactly independent I think, but they're not afraid of making original titles (Revolution, Evil Genius).

Justin keverne

I know Irrational Games have been mentioned before but they are a good example of a company that have finished or are working on a number of titles for an external Publisher (Tribes Vengeance and SWAT 4 for Vivendi Universal), as well as making games that they want to make, Freedom Force 2 (Published by Electronic Arts) and the recently announced Bioshock are good examples.

Sadly they do seem to struggle to get Publishers for some of their own products, such as The Lost.

Scott Miller

Wow, this morning several game sites have reported on our unannounced game I mentioned in a comment above as if it's breaking news. I've mentioned this unannounced game since the beginning of this blog, and even going back to early last year on various public sites and forums. But the way it works is that when one site picks up a story like this, then all of the sites feel obliged to report on it, otherwise they look like they've been scooped. So it balloons into something MUCH larger than it really is.

There's no news here at all though, except for old news.

XxSATANxX

Scott:

Lot's of folks are out there.

Crytek
NovaLogic
Illusion Softworks
etc.

Yea just a suggestion here but maybe you might consider actually finishing a game before you start talking about anything else?

Are you really suprised that everyone took the
oppurtunity to jump on your butt?

have you seen the duke nukem3d mod for Doom 3?

Instead of turkey puncher in the opening level it's Duke Nukem 3D positively brillant.

Scot Lemay

Um, I believe crytek is owned/funded by ubisoft now.

Scot Lemay

Also this is a place for people to dicuss things about game design itself. Not a place for you to come here to try to flame someone who created a blog where developers and publishers could speak their mind freely on subjects (or about eachother) without fear of reprecussion. If you want to flame go elsewhere please.

Karan Dixit

Yeah, I saw Crytek a couple of time but I think they've been engulfed by Ubisoft. Another developer I can think of is the newly founded TellTale games, hopefully they can bring back the old school PC adventure gaming genre. I have a quick question, how exactly would you define independant? The ability to make your own IPs and fund them yourself or just to just be able to make your own games and be backed by a publisher as is the case of Troika. I think it's kind of sad, but inevitable, that this is happening.

Karan Dixit

And I'd also like to thank 3DRealms for staying independant all these years. :) Thanks Mr. Miller.

Joseph

Hey Scott, When DNF will be released ? ;)

Robert Howarth

>>Turbine doesn't count.

They're publishing their own games now<<

That's a perk, in my opinion. Imagine being able to develop any game you wanted, and publish it. The ultimate form of being in control of your own destiny.

Anon

Afaik Crytek is not owned by Ubisoft.

XxSATANxX

Yo Scott L:

It's a place.............

Uhm It's the Internet and by posting a public blog you invite folks to comment.

Expect a few visits from outside the club today
as Mr. Miller did in fact talk about "another game" which in itself has become news.

The comment I made wwas not a flame.

WHERE'S THE [BLEEPIN' -- ed.] GAME!!

Now that's a flame but I was mature and tried not to do that. But then ya had to provoke me.

Now we return to the nice peacful discussion
of game design.

Hey anybody got a Sims 2 skin of Duke yet?

J.

Someone mentioned TellTale, it's worth pointing out that the original team for Grim Fandango left LucasArts a while back (as Telltale just did) to form Double Fine Productions. They're supposed to release Psychonauts next year.

And Scott, the breaking news this week is that you found time to write on this blog again. Surely you're used to news sites hanging on your every word by now. :)

Alan Dennis

"That's a perk, in my opinion. Imagine being able to develop any game you wanted, and publish it. The ultimate form of being in control of your own destiny." -- Robert Howarth

I agree. It would be an extreme perk. That's where George Lucas went with his movies, rather quickly. I think this is something that I would love to do, if I were to be developing my own games.

I hate to sound like a broken record but... Electronic distribution. How cool would it be if that took off? Publishing/Distribution would be much simpler, much more profitable and more available to private developers, depending on what distribution methods arise. Sure, there's a ton of hurdles to get over, but it may prove greatly viable in the next few years. I am crossing my fingers and hoping, at least...

necroyeti

just to clarify: Crytek now has a "strategic partnership" with good ol' EA (*). Dunno the difference between a plain publishing deal and this partnership, but I guess it has something to do with EA's obsession to control their developers. Let's if DICE and Crytek will be still around in 5 years.

(*) or EOA, how I like to call them ;)

ZXC

Bugbear, Creators of Rally Trophy http://www.bugbear.fi/

Alex L.

Even though, there is still plenty of great independent talent, deals with publishers may be against their liking. I know if Double Fine didn't have the PC and PS2 versions of Psychonauts to deal with, the game would have gone gold by now. Also, with Oddworld Inhabitants' game Stranger, now titled Oddworld: Stranger, that game should have also gone gold by now, I haven't seen any actual clarification of the PS2 version being cancelled from EA, I have a feeling that a PS2 version was something that OWI definitely didn't want to do, which resulted in the delay of that game so that both versions could ship on time, I have a feeling OWI wanted to distance the game from the Oddworld series, but EA wanted to piggyback of a successful franchise, forcing them to rename the game Oddworld: Stranger. I respect Take 2 a lot for letting Remedy develop Max Payne 3 quietly without any limitations from them, I doubt we'll hear anything about the title until at least E3 '05. A few weeks ago I discovered a title in the developement at UK developer The Code Monkeys called Jump, which judging from the screenshots the idea for the game is that you jump from rooftop to rooftop, sadly, that looks more original than most of the crap on the market. I'm shocked no one has mentioned Argonaut yet, they are like a monster independent developer, they have like what, 5 wwholly owned subsidiaries like Just Add Monsters, whose current project I can't wait to see. I completely forgot about Real Time Worlds, founded by DMA Design(Rockstar North) founder David Jones, and he individually handpicked everyone there, I expect to be impressed by whatever they are up to. Swingin' Ape is still independent, right? A good list of independent developers.

Chris Remo

What about inXile, founded by Brian Fargo? Their first project, a remake of The Bard's Tale, just went gold and they're self-publishing.

tobe

Treasure are still independent.

Julien van Ingen

Scott,

I'm not sure if you meant freedom to create ANY game they (the devs) like or ANY game in the genre that made the famous, so to speak.

If it's the latter I think there might be more that you think. I can imagine Valve having total freedom making a FPS but I don't know if they would get the same amount of freedom if they would decide to make a Soccer game for a console like Fifa from EA.

I can imagine (although I'm obviousely not sure since I donot work there) that Bethesda (Elder Scrolls/Morrowind) gets total freedom to make 1st person fantasy RPG's or Polyphonic (Gran Turismo)gets total freedom to make a racing simulator. I can probably name a dozen more that get to do whatever they want within "their" genre so I presume this is not what you mean??

Scott Miller

Julien, what I mean is that their are very few developers who have the financial means and clout to developer any game they choose, and find a publisher who'll release the game.

That said, once a developer has made a name for itself in a particular genre, it's wise for that developer to stay with what it knows best, and not suddenly do a game that it has no experience in doing. Being typecast is a good thing, IMO, as it gives you a lot of clout in the area that you've demonstrated success.

In our case, we'll likely always restrict ourselves to action 3D shooter games, though we believe there's a lot of original ground left to be explored.

There's been a LOT of studios listed above in people's comments, but I think a great many cannot create any original game they choose, even if within the genre they've shown proficiency. Unless they can self-fund the first two thirds of their project, most studios need approval from a publisher before starting any project, as the publisher is footing the bill.

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