The smaller man and the larger man

30Sep11
Like that other post but better.
One day several years ago I sat in a meeting with my boss and two guys. I’m not sure who out of the visitors was larger and who was smaller, they were both fat. They had come to preach that day to us about the promised land, the carrier deck. They told us all about this thing, which it turns out was the barren wasteland that used to be the app store equivalent for mobile gaming. This was before the iPhone and the app store. A horrible time. If you can remember how mobile operators’ downloadable game ‘storefronts’ used to be, well I do too so let’s try and forget them again.

Mobile gaming was like this for ages

So anyway these fat guys are talking and talking about this thing and ‘the money’ and hinting and grunting as though they’re letting us in on this huge secret which boiled down to “If you get on the carrier deck, you make money”. I don’t remember them mentioning games, they almost certainly did not care about games at all except purely from a ‘will this make me money’ perspective. These people though, thanks to the grubby nature of things at the time, had or claimed to have some strong influence on what made it onto the ‘carrier deck’ and what would grab the gold. Then there was another meeting where a lot of people who probably had ‘executive’ in their job title were talking about WAP gaming and the only person who understood the actual games being discussed was obviously embarrassed by them when asked to explain them. These were the bad old days and then everything changed. Like Jurassic Park, nature found a way. Games didn’t die. Mobile gaming in the past couple of years has gone from being basically a scam to an embarrassment of riches. Games didn’t die.

Games didn’t die!

Now we have a new set of fat guys, except they’re not fat, they’re ruthlessly efficient young smart people who are tapping into an untapped market and pumping cash out of other people’s pockets and into theirs. A lot of them probably don’t even really like or care about games.

Some of them don't even care about games

And you have ‘real game makers’ getting all worried and some of them are putting things into their games that they don’t really want to thinking that’s what they should do. Then there’s a wave of altogether too sensitive game makers who are doing it for the art or some other higher purpose. Definitely not money though, according to some recent figures. These game makers are or tend to be whiny horrible high pitched complaining idiots who think that social gaming is going to kill gaming. Thanks to a six thousand page essay cum stream of consciousness slash fan fiction, these terribly annoying people have a new messiah for the day, a man famous online for winning first and second place in somethingawful’s ‘The Five Worst Gaming Articles of 2005’.

During this horrifically bloated article, Rogers paints a bleak scene featuring a larger and a smaller man and asks ‘who killed videogames’, clumsily concluding that it’s all the fault of videogames themselves. There’s another theory however, and I say theory but I mean theory like evolution is a theory, i.e. deal with it: Videogames aren’t dead. They aren’t going to die and despite the gross financial incompetence displayed by the traditional games industry, videogames are in awesome shape.

Extra Pandas cost 25 credits each

In social/casual/mobile gaming right now, it appears that a huge amount of the money being made right now is going to a very small percentage of game makers. There also seems to be a huge chasm between game makers that are astute in a business sense and the ones in it for the ‘love of gaming’. There’s also an overwhelming amount of posturing and drawing lines in the sand for some imaginary battle with the men in suits that is never going to happen.What will happen is that the less whiny indies will tread tentatively (as they already have been, take a bow Nimblebit’s twin brothers and the ever affable Andrew John Smith of Spilt Milk Studios and perhaps some others) into this brave new world where money and monetisation and revenue and such terms don’t send them into a teeth baring, foot stomping cacophony. This will happen because the brave ones at the front of the group will go into the wild, some will return victorious with money but also their humble indie credibility still in tact. The rest of the group will then amble forward into a new world where they might actually make enough money off their wacky indie 2D platformers (this one is only in black and red, monochrome is old news) to be able to buy massively expensive clothes from hip boutiques which have ironic holes in to replace their genuine moth bitten cardigans.The lesson in this ironically (not ironically) overly long post is that all sorts of crazy shit happens when a new opportunity for making money appears in any industry. It doesn’t mean the death of anything but rather the birth of a whole bunch of new stuff. Just as there may not seem much point in a billion people mindlessly planting pickled onion farms over and over again on Facebook, there is even less value in a genuinely wonderful, captivating, emotional, beautiful, original game which will never be played by anyone because the creator has named it in Cyrillic and it can only be purchased during a waning crescent moon ‘for art’s sake’.

This guy doesn't give a shit about games

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One Response to “The smaller man and the larger man”

  1. Nice post!

    Buttttt I think:

    “Just as there may not seem much point in a billion people mindlessly planting pickled onion farms over and over again on Facebook, there is even less value in a genuinely wonderful, captivating, emotional, beautiful, original game which will never be played by anyone because the creator has named it in Cyrillic and it can only be purchased during a waning crescent moon ‘for art’s sake’.”

    Is a poor comparison. Maybe the artiest of art-game makers don’t actually care about revenues and engagement, and are actually subscribing to the classic impoverished artist myth? A piece of art (especially one made explicitly as art) doesn’t increase its value by being purchased, nor does it even need to be played by huge amounts of people. It just needs to exist, y’know?

    It’s not like the Mona Lisa’s value as an artistic exercise is related to how many people have seen it – its fame and value as a product to be sold is, perhaps, but that’s a separate value system to artistic merit.

    So as I said before, let them whine and see if they can devise artistically-motivated games that transcend the confines of the current Social Gaming design paradigms.

    Personally, the only thing I hate about the Zynga-era concept is that IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT BUILDING SHIT. I hate building stuff and long for a social game that’s about exploration or teamwork or other hybridised methods of play, such as a game that exists on Facebook as some collaborative thing where I can do solo stuff on my phone that contributes to the collaboration, like making an RPG questing party stronger with soloing on my phone, or contributing to a turn-based space battle sim on Facebook by doing trading and exploration stuff on my own.


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