There is an antithesis to this, though, in the form of independent videogames. These are mostly free of constraints and don't require massive publishers or sections of development to be outsourced to anonymous and "cost effective" third parties. I pitched questions on outsourcing and crediting to prolific indie figure Greg Costikyan, of Manifesto Games. "Outsourcing is more often used for ports, [but] the waters are somewhat muddied in cases when a publisher who owns the right to a franchise or license goes to a third party with a clear idea of what they want developed. Even in such cases, however, the point should be that people make games, not corporations. Games, like film, are created in a collaborative fashion by many talents. (Except, of course, in the case of products that are [mostly] one-man operations, like, say, the original Roller Coaster Tycoon, or, at the indie fringe, Dan Marshall's Gibbage.) Thus, as with film, we need to develop a culture that understands the collaborative nature of the form. One of the things Manifesto will be doing at launch is, where we can discover the information, including with all listings the four talents I view as critical in development: lead designer, technical lead, art director and lead producer."

A good example of farming out franchises is Metroid Prime - it wasn't developed by Nintendo, but rather Texas-based Retro Studios. But speak to the uninitiated, and they'll happily proclaim it as one of Nintendo's best. Another example is Ecco the Dolphin - it's not a classic Sega game at all! It was developed by Novotrade International (now Appaloosa Interactive), a company founded in Hungary; clearly listed on the title screen, but again, it's surprising how many don't realize this. Finally, how many paid attention to Advance Wars on the GBA and noticed that it was developed by Intelligent Systems? How many also know that previously, Hudson Soft had been involved with making some iterations of Nintendo's Wars series, including the unreleased N64 version? Then, of course, there was the Gamecube version by U.K.-based Kuju Entertainment. This makes for around a dozen titles with at least four separate companies being involved! No wonder Joe Public has trouble keeping up.

Costikyan continued, "Surely the press has some responsibility in this matter? When you go to any random website, are they more likely to credit the developer or the publisher? Clearly, publishers have a common interest in not making 'stars' either of studios or individuals, since that gives them greater negotiating leverage; but it mystifies me why the game press doesn't try to get behind this more often. Attaching people to a story humanizes it and makes it more interesting, and for all the honors we heap on the likes of Wright or Meier or Miyamoto, there are plenty of interesting and articulate developers everywhere in the field. Mind you, PR reps certainly try to 'control the message' and avoid connecting journalists with actual people (other than publisher 'spokespersons'), but perhaps our journalists should make more of an effort to penetrate the crap and get to the reality? If nothing else, a developer is less likely to be guarded and keen on perpetuating the usual wafflespeak that passes for marketing in this industry, and is therefore likelier to make better copy." Speaking to someone who on a daily basis has to wade through the swamp that is PR liaising, Costikyan makes a rousing point.

Having outside companies work with established intellectual property creating (or porting) entire games is nothing new - TOSE was formed in 1979, and most of its work deals with other companies' IP. But the outsourcing of separate project sections is relatively new, starting around the time when CDs were introduced, and suddenly games were requiring additional, not to mention expensive, audio and animation.

I was fortunate enough to speak with the always affable Dale DeSharone. Quite the pioneer, he not only dealt with Nintendo franchises when developing the Link and Zelda games for Philips' CDi, but he also dabbled extensively with outsourcing in Eastern Europe. I asked him to explain the genesis of his Eastern connections, which formed in partnership with a Russian friend and colleague, Igor Razboff. "Igor and I got together and talked about what type of business we could start in St. Petersburg. I had seen numerous animated films coming out of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. So I thought, 'Well, we could probably do animation over there.'" At first, they simply brought half a dozen Russian animators over to Massachusetts in the U.S., put them up in an apartment and had them create the animated cinemas for the Link and Zelda games. This helped with the limited budget and worked so well, they expanded operations. "We formed Animation Magic. That was both U.S. and the studio in St. Petersburg, [which] grew to about 150 people. And we had not only animators, but engineers and 2-D game artists. We were also starting to get into 3-D animation. It worked out [to be] a pretty smooth process. Igor, of course, spoke Russian and would talk to them on the phone everyday. He and I would both travel over there once every two months. With that studio, we were working on Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clan. Which was almost finished and then never published. Almost all of that was done in St. Petersburg."

RELATED CONTENT
Comments on