“God help you if you need publisher funding to do a PC game. Or any game for that matter. As far as the industry is concerned, it’s evolve or die. No two ways about it. So, we’re evolving because death is clearly not an option.”
So says legendary flame warrior and staunchly independent developer Derek Smart, in an interview with Gamasutra. But what does he mean exactly? And why does anyone care?
First, a bit of history. In case you’ve never heard of him, Derek Smart is a bit of a fixture in the game forum community at large. The “greater” forum community, if you will. Not necessarily for the value he adds to the various debates into which he enters, but rather, for the opposite reason. Derek himself has gone on record admitting that will often simply look for forums where his name has been mentioned and enter into the conversation with the sole purpose of disrupting it and creating the equivalent of a barroom brawl. This has happened so often, in fact, that the running internet gag is that one need only write his name three times in a row, like Bloody Mary, and he will appear to entertain you with his vitriolic ire. I, for one, know for a fact that this works. I’ve done it myself.
Most of Derek’s ire has, in the past, appeared to be directed at those who dislike his games, of which, sadly, there are many. In spite of a relatively loyal following, his space games have not had an overwhelming success breaking into the mainstream. This is mainly because, as Derek mentions to Gamasutra, he does not work well with publishers. He’s been operating independently on and off since the mid ’90s, after a very public clash with Take Two, publisher of his game Battlecruiser 3000AD, a space sim which was to be broad in scope and was heavily advertised and hyped, mainly by Smart, in a manner akin to that of Romero claiming he would make you his bitch. The game can not be called entirely a success, in spite of some estimates that it made quite a lot of money for Take Two, and, one assumes, Derek Smart. It was, like a lot of games, shipped unfinished, and patches addressing many of the games showstopper bugs were slow to arrive.
His next game, Battlecruiser Milennium, a sequel Battlecruiser 3000AD, was distributed by his own company, 3000AD, in a unique deal with EB Games, not unlike the old-school method of dropping off baggies of floppies at the desk of the local game store. The game was a modest success, and, according to Smart, made him a millionaire, yet with the follow up, Universal Combat, Smart appeared to backslide a bit, starting with making changes to the game at the behest of publisher Dreamcatcher, and ending with a knock down, drag out feud, resulting in a lawsuit, not in any way unlike his previous troubles at Take Two, and a buggy, mostly unplayable game. Again, not unlike his first attempt.
And that, my friends, is the state of the Derek Smart enterprise. Three mostly similar games, two failed litigious relationships with publishers and a mountain of forum attacks against his potential target audience. One has to wonder if it is the industry that is keeping Derek down, or Derek himself. One also has to wonder why, when Derek Smart speaks about the state of the industry, an industry with which he appears perpetually, doggedly at war, anyone actually cares.
I agree that we’ve got a number of problems in this industry, but I do not agree that most of them are the fault of those trying to do serious business with serious developers. Rather, of those who try, fail, get bitter and are then handed a microphone and allowed to speak on behalf of game makers everywhere. Personally, I’d rather hear about the state of the industry from people who are actually a part of it, not, like Smart, on the outside looking in.