The Revolutionaries

The Revolutionaries
Gaming at the Margins, Part 3

Warren Spector | 4 Apr 2006 12:02
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Foreign Competition
There's always been healthy competition between North American and Japanese developers. The Final Fantasy series could never have been made in the U.S. and it's unlikely Doom could have come from a Japanese studio.

But now, we're seeing games like Serious Sam coming from Eastern European teams a quarter the size of many American teams. We see terrific studios like Io and others creating games with universal appeal, and typically doing it for less money than U.S. developers with no noticeable difference in quality.

And if you haven't checked out what's happening in Asia outside of Japan, it looks as if there's going to be an explosion in creativity - and competition from that quarter as well.

Outsourcing
As costs increase, in any business, everyone starts looking around for way to economize. Clearly, the easiest way to reduce costs is to pay people less. Can't do that locally, without losing resources to competitors - and other industries - willing and able to pay more.

What happens next is utterly predictable: Jobs are increasingly "off-shored." It's happening in games as it's happening in most industries. Unless you're a major player with a major cash-cow hit, competing in the triple-A game space requires teams far bigger than you can build internally.

Sure, I know of studios throwing 100-plus people at projects. I tried a bargain basement version of that approach at Ion Storm - with over 90 people working on Thief: Deadly Shadows. And looking at the demands of next-gen hardware, it looks as if teams of 100, 150-plus people will become increasingly common.

At Junction Point Studios, a start-up working on its first project, I simply can't afford that. And, frankly, I wouldn't want to deal with the management and team/studio culture issues associated with teams that big, even if we could afford it. To compete, we have to look to Asia and Eastern Europe to supplement our internal asset generation capabilities.

Am I putting American developers - artists, mostly - out of work? I guess so, and I hate it, but I don't see any other choice, any other way, to compete in the triple-A game space.

The Choice
How do North American developers remain competitive in the global marketplace? That may end up being the most critical question we face, thanks to a perfect storm of business and creative elements.

  • Should we ignore the problems we cause for local talent by off shoring jobs? It's just business, right?
  • Should we make games that appeal largely, if not exclusively, to local audiences, ignoring the huge potential audience beyond our borders? We're making plenty of money...
  • Should we ignore the competition from foreign studios whose capabilities more and more frequently match those of bigger, more established studios in the traditional game development powerhouses of the U.S., Japan and Western Europe? "They'll" never be able to compete with us, creatively.

To be honest, I love the idea that there are game development "garage bands" out there who can beat the pants off us. If they can make games with strong sales appeal at lower cost than we can, more power to 'em.

And if there are folks in Asia and Eastern Europe who can provide art resources at low enough cost to allow independent developers to compete with the internal publisher teams, we should take advantage of that all day long. (Though, to be honest, I'll be hoping for the day when those folks realize they're being underpaid and start demanding higher wages, which will level the playing field again.)

The Outcome(s)
It's hard for me to see a downside to internationalization. Smaller, cheaper, more agile developers competing with bigger, more established players can only make the medium stronger. And, frankly, short of cutting a lot of peoples' salaries, there doesn't seem to be much we can do about studios in parts of the world where they can pay people less than we do.

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