The Schafer approach
A new era of gaming distribution without publishers? When Tim Schafer started collecting money from people around the world for his (and Ron Gilbert’s) adventure game (currently only known as Double Fine Adventure, it sure set off something not seen before: people investing in a product not even the creator had any idea what it was going to be.
Without a doubt Schafer’s way of presenting himself in front of a camera helped as well as having a back catalogue of innovative titles like Psychonauts and classics like Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle. helped promote the whole thing:
When so many hours and money are spent by publishers to create hype around a game which might be less than good (Duke Nukem Forever I haven’t played, Haunted I have) and when usually only concept art is shown or some selected game scenes which don’t really represent the rest of the game’s quality, the user or consumer starts to question why he should actually bother.
I myself haven’t really waited for a game with lots of expectations in a long time and I have actually grown a bit tired of marketing people talking about features or story elements one hasn’t seen for oneself. So it’s refreshing to finally have people discussing their own game without someone telling them how to present it. It’s all up to the developer to decide how much he or she wants to show to his audience.
Money power to the original IP producers
„Adventure games comeback“ talk aside, what’s more interesting is how many other developers started using this business model, and apparently most succeed in getting money from everywhere for games which weren’t even in development (except in the individual designers’ heads). Free from constraints of publishers’ intrusive hands („It won’t sell if it doesn’t include this or that; it won’t sell at all because people only want this type of game.“), it gives developers an unprecedented power over their IP. Not only that, but being backed up with money, indie development suddenly seems to be less of a danger to get into monetary difficulties for a longer period of time. It offers developers the opportunity to hone their skills and don’t rush things.
Decision power to the masses?
Still there are some problems: naturally people investing in something want to have some kind of control, so being in touch with the community seems to be vital. But as seen with the Extended Ending Cut DLC of Mass Effect 3 , developers should be careful if they don’t want to lose their original idea, their integrity and don’t want to end up having a game which tries to be everything to everyone and only becomes a muddled mess.
Kickstarter projects from the past
The danger of over-saturation aside (something the App-Store also faces with so many developers jumping on the band waggon), the Kickstarter project is one of the most exciting ideas which could happen (not only) to games. It’s of course easy to get lost among many, many titles on offer, so here’s just a short round-up of interesting games which already made quite an impact in the games industry and are most likely projects one should keep on his or her radar:
Broken Sword – The Serpent’s Curse
(Developer/Publisher: Revolution Software, Kickstarter)
After many years of silence, Charles Cecil is back to continue his best-loved and well-known adventure-games series about the Knights Templar.
Moebius and Pinkerton Road (or other Jane Jensen projects)
(Developer/Publisher: Pinkerton Road, Kickstarter)
Not only helping Gabriel Knight creator Jensen develop one specific gameMoebius, but also supporting her whole self-publishing company Pinkerton Road, an as-yet-unknown mystery game should be in the making. Let’s hope it will be more polished than the (both in storytelling and game design) disappointing Gray Matter. Even if Jensen lost her touch with that game and her abilities as a “serious” novelist are questionable, it’s recommendable to have her back in the games industry.
Greenlight: An alternative for upstarters and Kickstarters
Another platform for upcoming indie developers is the long-established digital distributor Steam. With a new idea called Greenlight, users (read: who are registered on Steam) can vote for a specific game by saying they like it or not. The more votes a game gets and the higher up it goes on the scale, the more it gets promoted by Steam and appears in the Top-10-list.
This is of course an interesting way for people to push certain developers/games without actually paying any money. But it also has a downside to it: Already published games can also be voted for, and it becomes quite difficult (like in the App-Store) not to get lost and rather be heard as a small indie developer.
So here are just two of many, many games which could need your help in getting recognized:
(Developer/Publisher: Senscape, Greenlight)
Developed by Agustin Cordes who made a name of himself with first-person-adventure game Scratches, this horror adventure sure looks and sounds scary, in a good way. The setting (Hanwell Mental Institute) makes for a chilling experience, but unlike other recent survival-horror games which have a more action-oriented approach, this could be just the thing to scare the beejesus out of you. The (at the moment) exclusive Dagon-engine looks pretty good for a first-person-adventure which usually has a rather wooden and unrealistic freeze-image-look.
If you like subtle horror, make sure to give a vote to Agustin and his team.
(Developer/Publisher: CBE Software, Greenlight)
Developed (among others) by Jan Kavan who did the interesting J.U.L.I.A. sci-fi adventure game, this is a quirky puzzler with cute visuals and nice music. With the good-old Dungeon Keeper perspective, the player has to move his minions (read: vampires) to the exit by rotating certain walkways and make sure they find the exit without touching light or be destroyed by other nasty traps. Collecting treasure on the way helps to get a better score and achievements.
Technically nice for both ears and eyes, this might not be the most innovative puzzle game you’ve ever played, but it sure is the “vampiriest game you’ve ever played” (quote from title screen). And who knows what Jan Kavan and his team have in store when the game gets greenlighted and the money starts rolling with sales. Another great adventure game maybe? As it is, Vampires is a nice distraction from the typical point-and-click adventures and action-games which should be perfect for mobile gaming as well.
Right now there’s even a small skill-based contest going on when playing the demo. All one has to do is complete the game, get all the achievements and send a screenshot to the developer. The first three will get a signed J.U.L.I.A. box and a DRM-free downloadable version of Vampires! (PC, Mac). The other 10 will (only) get the full game.
For more info and the demo, go to their website