But Is There Enough Good Product Out There?
If you focus utterly on what might be called "true indie" product, the answer is probably not. If you look at the games at IGF each year, there are definitely some gems - but most are student projects, or incomplete, and in general nothing you'd be willing to spend actual money on. Astonishing, first-rate, unconventional titles like Darwinia or Rag Doll Kung Fu exist - but not enough of them.
But there's another side. Because PC games don't sell as well as console, the retailers have been dropping PC product they consider niche. Thus, a whole slew of game styles that still have passionate fans either do not get retail exposure any more, or don't get much. We're talking about games that are unlikely to generate six figures in unit sales - but can unquestionably hit five. Computer wargames, graphic adventures, 4X, and the like. World at War, Galactic Civilizations, Dominions II - if you haven't heard of these games, you owe it to yourself to check them out.
So what you need to do is aggregate the games from developer and smaller publishers who are already finding themselves squeezed out of the conventional market - along with quirky indie product - as well as such things as European graphic adventures that just don't see a US release any more. I think you could launch with over a 100 decent titles. And once you build a pathway to market, and developers see how they might be able to succeed with indie product, the floodgates will open.
Or to put it another way, we need to aggregate...
The Old Farts and the Young Turks
There comes a time in the commoditization of any creative industry when the Old Farts, the people who pioneered it, look up in dismay and say, "This is not what I had in mind." Talk to say, Chris Crawford, Bob Bates, Hal Barwood, Julian Gollop, or Noah Falstein, and I think you'll get that in spades.
And there comes a time in any creative industry when the Young Turks, the people getting into the field who have learned what the score really is, look up and say, "Screw this! There has to be a better way." Talk to say, Jason Rubin or Eric Zimmerman or Chris Delay, and you'll hear that story, too.
Typically, the older generation is dead before the revolutionaries show up. The games industry today stands at an unusual moment; the Old Farts are still around, and the Young Turks are arriving.
We have, in short, a unique opportunity to combine the experience and cynicism of the older generation with the rage and energy of the new, and to create from that union something that will shake Redwood Shores down to its 10Qs.
The game industry is broken. It's up to us to fix it. From now on, we must all strive resolutely to bring about the overthrow of the existing order.
We have a world to win.
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.