Dungeons & Dollars

Dungeons & Dollars
Death to the Games Industry, Part I

Greg Costikyan | 30 Aug 2005 12:00
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And we need to keep exploring it, or we're going to get stale.

All creative media get stale, at times; it's happening to mainstream film right now. But film, music and comics have something the game industry doesn't have: They have parallel distribution channels for independently created product. They have a path to market for quirky, oddball, innovative, creative work. And that path to market not only allows creative people to support themselves in a modest way - it also provides a way for the larger conventional market to discover new talent, and new genres. It provides a lower cost way to experiment - and that very experimentation reinvigorates the larger field.

The nightmare scenario for gaming is that we become like comics in the 60s and 70s - a niche, repetitive field limited to a handful of genres with no real opportunity for growth. It might even be starting to happen: Video game sales in Japan have been declining for years, and even in the US, publishers are struggling to match their 2004 revenues this year.

We Have to Blow This Up
For the sake of the industry, for the sake of gamers who want to experience something new and cool, for the sake of developers who want to do more than the same-old same-old, for the sake of our souls, we have to get out of this trap. If we don't, as developers, all we will be doing for the rest of eternity is making nicer road textures and better-lit car models for games with the same basic gameplay as Pole Position. Spector is right. We must blow up this business model, or we are all doomed.

What do we want? What would be ideal?

A market that serves creative vision instead of suppressing it. An audience that prizes gameplay over glitz. A business that allows niche product to be commercially successful - not necessarily or even ideally on the same scale as the conventional market, but on a much more modest one: profitability with sales of a few tens of thousands of units, not millions.

And, of course - creator control of intellectual property, because creators deserve to own their own work.

Read Death to the Games Industry, Part II in the next issue of The Escapist.

Greg Costikyan has designed more than 30 commercially published games in various genres and platforms. He has written about the game industry for publications including the New York Times, Salon, and Game Developer magazine. At present, he works for Nokia Research Center's Multimedia Technologies lab as a games researcher.

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