PAX 2011: Publishers Are Followers, Not Innovators, Says Indie Dev

PAX 2011: Publishers Are Followers, Not Innovators, Says Indie Dev

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A developer who transitioned from AAA development to the independent scene laments publisher's refusal to take risks.

Chris Stockman has been around the block, man. (heh) He was the design director on the first Saints Row at Volition Games so he is well aware of the relationship between developer and publisher. Many of the stalwarts at Volition would love to continue the Freefall franchise they began in the late 90s, but the publisher THQ and Interplay own the IP and don't think the market would support a space combat sim. Stockman was so passionate about reinvigorating one of his favorite genres that he quit Volition and decided to strike out on his own. He doesn't understand why publishers won't take a chance on a genre that is crying out for a renaissance with all of the technology available to game designers now.

"Most publishers are not innovators," he said tome at PAX. "They are followers."

"No one has done a really successful space [combat] game. I think as soon as someone does, you will see the trail of people who will line up and do space games," said Stockman. "Once GTA was successful, how many open-world games came out after?"

Stockman hopes the game he's making at Seamless Entertainment - SOL: Exodus - is the title that accelerates the genre to lightspeed, but he's been up against publisher opposition from the start of development.

"The key is convincing people that this [genre] can sell. It's been like pulling fucking teeth," he said. "That's why we came to PAX, to show that there are still people interested in this game. There's still people who want to play [a game like SOL: Exodus. And you guys that don't want to take that risk, we hope that risk is mitigated by showing that fans of the genre are into it and they just want something good."

Seamless's SOL: Exodus may not be a home run but I respect that Stockman's company is at least swinging for the fences. Publishers take note: I am definitely one of the fans who has been clamoring for such a title and I'm sure there are people in the comments section who will say they'd love to play it or something like it, too.

Please, give SOL: Exodus and the space combat sim genre the shot it deserves.

Permalink

"Well fucking DUH!" says amateur gamer.

Publishers are businessmen. They are all about maximising profit. Is there anyone that still does not understand that concept?
Taking risks is usually a good way to lose money, they want the sure thing, not to bankrupt themselves opening the market so other publishers can learn from their mistakes and make a killing.

Space combat games? Yes please...

Then again, I'm patient enough to cope with the complexity of X3 (or realistic flight sims for that matter.) so maybe I'm not a good indication of the mainstream market.

But seriously though. Wing Commander was once king of the hill as far as games were concerned.
They would never have gotten away with having the biggest budgets of any games from that era otherwise.

So what exactly killed the space combat genre anyway?

Publishers are not followers, they're evil pieces of shit that suck on the life force of good developers and turn them into husks. Honestly, the gaming industry would be better off without publishers.

While he has a certain point, I find his example unfitting. The reason people were not making sandbox games before GTA broke out is that they hadn't thought of that. On the other hand, Rockstar, which was then known as DMA Design, made several games with a sandbox feel, including Body Harvest and Space Station: Silicon Valley. In fact, I've found no sandbox game has such a distant approach from GTA as their own Body Harvest.

Not saying that publishers don't do that - they sure do. It's just that it's not the case.

AndyFromMonday:
Publishers are not followers, they're evil pieces of shit that suck on the life force of good developers and turn them into husks. Honestly, the gaming industry would be better off without publishers.

There was an article a few days ago here by the makers of Amnesia about how they managed to get their game published. Go read it and see how fun it is to be a small dev trying to send out your game.

AndyFromMonday:
Publishers are not followers, they're evil pieces of shit that suck on the life force of good developers and turn them into husks. Honestly, the gaming industry would be better off without publishers.

What would you recommend then? Self-publishing? That's fareasier said than done, sir/madam.

You know what I wish here was more of? Platformers. I've been grinding away something crazy in Banjo-Tooie (fucking run-arounds) the last couple of days, and I personally miss the days of silly, lighthearted, whimsical platformers, with talking animals and being able to shoot fire underwater, and collecting completely useless items for currency and whatnot (okay... maybe not the last one).

I would say we need more fighters as usual, but the last few years have actually been rather kind to fighting game fans (with such awesomeness like Skullgirls and VF5:FS only a few yonks away), so I can't really complain.

I play EVE Online, and fondly remember days of the SNES Wing Commander and ps1's Colony Wars. When Battle Star Galactica went huge, I was waiting for the day that a space sim game would (I was sure) come out and rock my socks off with intrigue and space combat on small scale and massive scale.

Space Sims have also not been done to death yet. Another open world environment? Yawn. Open universe?! Good morning! :)

The Random One:

There was an article a few days ago here by the makers of Amnesia about how they managed to get their game published. Go read it and see how fun it is to be a small dev trying to send out your game.

I would have no problem with developers if they'd just stop that whole "fuck innovation" thing they've been pushing on developers since for fucking ever. The moment more sequels get released than original IP's you know everything's gone to shit.

What a lovely industry that serves our hobby where all the money is arrayed against anything but the bland and the stale.

PS: Fuck year, space war games.

OOH! A game where I get to control a spaceship, and blast the hell out of my enemies with BIG MASSIVE CANNON AND LASERS?!?!?! COUNT ME IN! I don't care if I'm flying a fighter or a battleship, I would love to see the space sim genre return to the mainstream.

It would make a great change from these so called gritty realistic brown shooters. Seriously. I'm over the 'mainstream' FPS. And it would be nice to see the publishers take a note from the book publishing industry, in that unless they buy the rights through a contract they don't own the rights to the IP they publish, rather they promote and make the copies of the book, and take a cut of the profits with most of the profits going to the author to create more books to sell. Video game publishers just want to own everything and expect money to somehow fall into their wallets.

This is probably the reason facebook and app type games are becoming so popular. THEY ARE ORIGINAL AND NOT A COPY OF SUCCESSFUL FORMULA/IP #347!!!

2012 looks to be the year of the indie/small developer bringing out all the games the general populace wants to see. I for one, am very happy about this!

Space sim flight game... my personal wet dream.

I'm really, REALLY hoping that that will be Bungie's next big project. The rumor is an MMO type game but just exactly in what genre that MMO might be is complete speculation.

It could make sense. The "Long Night of Solace" mission for Reach was a test of the waters to see how people reacted to space combat (personally I thought it was the most bad-ass part of Reach). Add in full skirmishes with capitol ships and all... I haven't gotten a good fix of space flight combat since SW: Battlefront 2. Bungie's always struck a new standard and threw open the doors with each of their new IP's. Hell they did it multiple times during the Halo series.

Greg Tito:
Many of the stalwarts at Volition would love to continue the Freefall franchise they began in the late 90s

Freefall, huh?

You must mean Freespace... seeing as Freespace 2 is still considered one of the best space combat sims around (and with their last act as an independent studio Volition released the FS2 source code, allowing the game to continue growing).

OT: Publishers have always been a bit risk adverse, but looking at the budgets of so-called AAA titles (sorry, but 'AAA' is too ill defined for me to take seriously) today, racking up tens of millions of dollars, is it any wonder that publishers have become ever more risk adverse? Sinking that sort of money into a project leads them to demand from developers the broadest appeal to maximise potential sales.

AndyFromMonday:
Publishers are not followers, they're evil pieces of shit that suck on the life force of good developers and turn them into husks. Honestly, the gaming industry would be better off without publishers.

Not really since then game studios would rarely be able to create more then one game before going bankrupt. If a small gaming studio has a single flop they are out of business. That means they would be even less likely to try something new. The only reason they complain about not being able to is because its not their money they are wasting.

You know what I say. FUCK piece of shit developers like this asshole in the article that bitch and moan because they know absolutely fuck all about business.

CrystalShadow:
So what exactly killed the space combat genre anyway?

There are a few theories... and the one I think hits closest to the mark is that space combat sims, having always been something of a niche genre, stopped hitting the increasingly higher sales targets that go hand in hand with ever increasing production budgets. Publishers lost faith in the ability to turn a profit from the genre. Once they lost faith there was no money for devs to make the games.

Lots of people have ideas as to why space combat sims stopped selling well... although 'well' was a shifting concept (see above). Some people point to shifts in technology. Others point to it being a PC dominated genre that suffered when PC stopped being the premier gaming machine. Others still point to a lack of sci fi based around similar themes. I blame the fall of Communism... no real reason, I just do.

Greg Tito:

"No one has done a really successful space [combat] game. I think as soon as someone does, you will see the trail of people who will line up and do space games," said Stockman. "Once GTA was successful, how many open-world games came out after?"

Is it gonna be covered when the games failure proves that the publishers were right and he was wrong?

AndyFromMonday:

The Random One:

There was an article a few days ago here by the makers of Amnesia about how they managed to get their game published. Go read it and see how fun it is to be a small dev trying to send out your game.

I would have no problem with developers if they'd just stop that whole "fuck innovation" thing they've been pushing on developers since for fucking ever. The moment more sequels get released than original IP's you know everything's gone to shit.

Yes, why can't we have more games like Brink and Mindjack? I mean, you must personally think those games are the holy grails of gaming, and things like Deus Ex Human Revolution and Portal 2 are shit compared to them, because otherwise what you're saying is just empty extremism you copied from some jackoff who can't think in anything other than bizarre absolutes.

Awexsome:
I haven't gotten a good fix of space flight combat since SW: Battlefront 2.

I yearn for the joy of high speed murder in the cold vacuum of space nearly everyday... On a less psychotic note, I can't agree with you more. I like a good FPS as much as the next guy, but space combat is great, because lets face it, Its In SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE!

How it could be considered a risk is beyond me. They must have had some idiot accountant who tallied up the profits across all genres and found that Space sims brought in the least, he then announced a general order to have them stop being made, without realizing to compare the number of titles against the profits. How derp derp would that be if it were true?

I can respect this guy's opinion, I know publishers are suppose to make money they're business men. Yet at the very same time gutless pussies that are scared to lose 1 fuck dollar. They already have million upon millions of dollars most of it they aren't gonna spend. If they want more cash they're gonna have to start taking risks instead of waiting around for something to come out that's been done well and copy the IP to death. Also It'll be nice if they stop treating the customers like thieves, while giving the real trouble makers like pirates, cheaters and farmers a free pass.

BTW, we're talking about actually flying a space craft in this game right? The reason I ask is because the utter lack of content in the genre has made me almost incapable of comprehending its glory.

When I think about the reasons for why this genre has been abandoned, I usually see 1st person shooters as being a significant cause, especially Call of Duty. I remembered a time when having vehicle sections in a game was about as distinguishing as saying that it came in a box. When CoD4:MW came along, it was pretty much always infantry combat and the few sections not on foot were on rails. I suppose space sims had already fallen by that point, but the heightened interest in shooters just shoved more dirt onto it's grave.

Jabberwock King:
How it could be considered a risk is beyond me. They must have had some idiot accountant who tallied up the profits across all genres and found that Space sims brought in the least, he then announced a general order to have them stop being made, without realizing to compare the number of titles against the profits. How derp derp would that be if it were true?

Why would a publisher fund the development of a space combat sim (SCS) when they could fund the development of a FPS that, on genre averages (for back when you could by SCS), sell 5-10 times more units for the same cost?

I wonder if this guy knows that Starhawk's already been announced and is built around space combat. Good thing a small indie studio like Sony was able to self publish it.

OutrageousEmu:
I wonder if this guy knows that Starhawk's already been announced and is built around space combat. Good thing a small indie studio like Sony was able to self publish it.

Starhawk (2012) is a PS3 exclusive and it's not build around space combat.
The gameplay is similar to Warhawk. A new system called "Build n' Battle" lets players build structures such as bunkers, defenses, and armories in the midst of battle, giving the game a real-time strategy (RTS) feel while remaining a third-person shooter. The game also includes flying mechs.
Flying mechs that all flying you get.
It will be planetary combat only.

Back to the topic.
I personally miss the Freelancer and despite it's years I still take it out one a year and play it for couple of days because its good. And I miss the experience.

I'm absolutely ready for a space shooter or even a space MMO that isn't just a screen saver. I've wanted a StarControl MMO for years. :) This generation of consoles was supposed to give us all the things we wished for back when we were still blowing into our cartridges just to get the game to work. Instead, we get easy on the eyes yet dumbed down or stripped games that make PS2/Xbox game play look godly.

AndyFromMonday:
Publishers are not followers, they're evil pieces of shit that suck on the life force of good developers and turn them into husks. Honestly, the gaming industry would be better off without publishers.

Church. The developers have the money so stories about dirty publishers and corrupt practices rarely get covered by gaming sites and magazines (they bow down to the advertising dollars in most cases). So the truth about the industry is kept under wraps for the most part. Quality of games and innovation are also hurt by the maximizing of profits. In the end, we're the ones getting screwed when we buy unfinished games or unsupported titles. I don't see how anyone can defend publishers that are right at this second coming up with more ways to squeeze every last cent out of us with concepts like CoD monthly subscriptions and "pro" codes that devalue our games the minute we install them. They're also the same guys behind privacy invasion agreements like Origins, bullshit DRMs, and annoying always online crap.

Freefall? It's called FREESPACE! Man oh man

Good God, yes, get the space shooter sim back. Then maybe LucasArts will bring back the Rogue Squadron series...

Or X-WIng and TIE-fighter could work as well. :P

EDIT: When I first saw the article, I thought, "Where's Yahtzee's 'Fun Space Game: The Game'"?

Please do proper fact checking next time. Freespace not freefall

1+ to this, EA has pretty much seeped it into the Bioware developers that they have to make games hugely casual and the Bioware developers say they are trying to find a balance between casual and old school Rpg but so far they haven't proven that. DA 2 was a bit mediocre...

Publishers at the moment are shit-scared of ANY kind of risk, they are like a bunch of twitchy deer all looking at the other one to out a toe in the water. Its not that there is little innovation with the big studios its that there is practically NONE. They see the cloning of what has gone before as a 'sure thing' for profits. If its made money bofre it has to make money again right? Problem is some of the biggest pay-offs have come from new ideas and they are losing out on capturing gamer's imaginations.

What is the real cause of this? Bugdets. Games, especiall AAA games, cost too much to make to take any risk with it. You end up with the company shitting its self that it might not be able to return its investment and so everything is done 'safe'.

You see that in every other sector businesses that innovate and strike out on a limb are often those in the best position to out-grow their competitors. Without taking any risks you really risk losing out on the rewards.

I'd love to see the return of the space-fighting sim, and in a big way too. I tried EVE, and the scope of it is enticing, but there's just too much grinding to do, and the combat, at least at the early levels, just isn't worth the effort. It would be nice not to be forced to pay a monthly sum for the privelage as well, the swines >:(

Also...

Greg Tito:
Chris Stockman has been around the block, man. (heh)

Terrible. Absolutely terrible. You should be ashamed of yourself Greg.

I just want to dismiss this notion about production budgets and games -

Most of what you see in terms of expense is not applicable to all game genres. The production budgets are on the rise due to two main factors:

1) Increased overhead due to the current development model enforced by most publishers.
2) Increased art direction/action costs (more art, more models, motion capture, more voice acting, more design, licensed music, big name actors, etc)

In the first case, the actual model of development has a lot of inherent costs associated with it. For an analogy, you could say "It doesn't take 100 people to make a car, but it takes 100 people to staff the factory that would make that one car."

In the second case, these production values are really mutable across genres. For instance, in a space sim game, you probably don't need dozens of voice actors, or motion capture actors, or studio/video equipment animating the models with the mo-cap and doing the lip dubs, etc. Also you just don't need as many art assets either, or as much character design, etc.

A space sim would actually be really cheap to make relative to a large sandbox game or story driven game. Most of the work would actually be procedural or physics based (and handled by programmers instead of an army of artists and actors).

So yeah... production costs have gone up because of the way game companies are doing their work these days and the genres they are choosing to invest in.

Cheshire the Cat:

Publishers are businessmen. They are all about maximising profit. Is there anyone that still does not understand that concept?

Taking Risks and explorint new terrain is called invention. The process of turning an invention into profit is called INNOVATION .

An Innovator has a HUGE deal of time to reap the benefits of his risk before the early followers can imitate his model and compete with him which far outweighs the initial risk.

In any technology oriented field, innovation is the one and only way for a company to pull ahead and compete with declining margins due to competitors from the east who will undercut your price without any problems. Sadly, innovation has become a buzzword for any kind of cleverness over the last years, burrying the true meaning of the word under a metric ton of meaningless PR Bullshyte.

The gaming industry is focusing way too much on marketing and has become too big for its own good. The reason why these companies are so shy to take risks is that their stakeholders demand steady profit. Since most companies can't innovate as well as they can imitate they can't convince their stakeholders that innovation would be benefitial to the company as a whole. The techinques for innovation minimize the risks and guarantee some degree of sucess, depending on commitment, so saying that they couldn't do it because they have too much to lose is plain and simply wrong.

As long as the industry is not under any pressure to turn out innovative products, they won't. The industry has sucessfully domesticated their customers into buying whatever they ship right now.
Take a look at the typical movie-tie-in game. Just a quick cash grab without too much hassle. Cover based dirt simulators aka "modern shooters" - copy, paste change the bad guys name for bonus.
As long as the market buys the same game time and time again, the innovators will always be on the sidelines of the show - the small companies that give us a Bastion or a Magicka every now and again.

As far as I am concerned, I only see arenanet as a truly innovative company on a larger scale in the industry at the moment.
Petroglyph also seems to go the right direction, but I'll wait and see how their "end of nations" turns out before coming to a verdict on their businessmodel.

I agree with the article, a new space-flight sim would be fun. I'd really like to see a Privateer remake, but since EA owns everything that was Origin I doubt that's going to ever happen.

I think I demoed this game. If it's the same space sim we're talking about, I fucking hated this game. Why? Slow, boring and Inverted controls and no option to fix them.

I'd be interested! Until then, I keep checking to see if anyone's on the Eternal Silence servers. Now if Bioware would make a space combat sim in the Mass Effect universe... OMG!

 

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