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The game industry is widely perceived as young. And, in a sense, it is: The "old masters," developers like Garriott, Meier and Miyamoto, are still in their prime, still young; and the game development studios are chock full of fresh blood itching to make the Next Big Thing.
But the industry's relative youth is as much a curse as a blessing. While Shigeru Miyamoto is still making games, no rising star can claim to be the new Miyamoto. And no one can claim to be the successor to Sid Meier's turn-based strategy legacy while Sid Meier is still making really great turn-based strategy games. Compounding the problem is the ever-increasing cost and complexity of game development. Fewer and fewer publishers are willing to risk development capital on green crews and bright ideas, and production values have risen so high that something like Garriott's Akalabeth seems impossible today. As a result, the vast majority of the industry's young developers are still working at junior-level positions in their seniors' studios.
The vast majority - but not all. Like film and television, gaming has its wunderkinds, young stars that shatter expectations of accomplishment. I've assembled profiles of three of the best and brightest of these gamemakers, our industry's future game gods. One is an independent publisher, the second a revolutionary risk-taker, the third a graphical prodigy. Each is under 30 years old. Here, then, are three under-30 next generation gamemakers to watch.
The Independent: Thomas Arundel
Call him "The Last of the Bedroom Programmers" and you get a wry chuckle out of Thomas Arundel, director and co-founder of game development studio Introversion Software. "I'm actually the commercial director. I'm the entrepreneur. I handle all of the business aspects of Introversion," he explains.
And business has been good under the stewardship of the 27-year-old executive. "When we founded Introversion, we had £1,000 between three of us. A friend of mine [co-founder Chris Delay] had written Uplink in university, and that was our first product. After three months, we'd made £100,000. Our gross margin was 95%. Since then, all of our growth has been organic. We've never raised cash, never sold out."
Riding high on Uplink's success, Introversion began work on its second game, Darwinia. "That was supposed to take 18 months, but it took three years." The delay was nearly disastrous for the team, he notes. "We had to sell everything we owned on eBay and go without salary for 10 months. I moved back in with Mom and Dad. But we made it through."
The belt-tightening commitment paid off. Darwinia went on to win three Independent Game Festival Awards at San Jose earlier this year and has paved the way for the team's next projects. "It got us a lot of credibility. It's given us a comfortable salary for the past 18 months. And it's made us enough money to get us through to Defcon."
Defcon, a game of global thermonuclear war due out in September, is Introversion's next project. "After that's released, we're going to split the company into two divisions, a more creative side and an implementation side. Chris [Delay] will come out with the original IP, and Mark Morris and I will get it done. Our plan is to work as producers with third-party developers doing the nitty-gritty."
It's perhaps common to think of the small development studio as the recipient of work-for-hire, rather than as an outsourcer, but Arundel sees a different trend emerging. "I think this method we're adopting of developing unique IP independently and then outsourcing the nitty-gritty work is an emerging trend. People will look back and say that we were the first guys to adopt an independent producer-director-studio model, like in the film business. At E3, people talk a lot about trends in indie development, and they talk about trends in the film business. And this is it."