Big publishers’ AAA focus is good for Indie game devs

There are essentially two broad classes of games that sell. There are the so-called ‘AAA’ titles, which might be big financial hits or big financial flops, and there are ‘ordinary’ titles – games with a lower production value, but significantly less financial risk involved. In times past, those ordinary titles have been the mainstay of the games industry, sometimes incurring modest losses, but more often providing the steady income that offsets the big flops in a publisher’s ‘AAA’ stable.

With big publishers increasingly focusing on those ‘AAA’ titles and shying away from those mainstay games, money is left on the table. Money that Indie devs are well-suited to pick up.

Indie developers have traditionally been a bit of a gold-rush economy. Some would strike it big. Others would pan for years and never really go anywhere. As big publishers increasingly abandon the mainstay games market – and with the advent of easy and reliable digital delivery systems – Indie devs are able to more reliably move into the vacated portions of the market and take a share with less risk and less uncertainty.

There’s still something of a gold-rush feel to things – the sudden success of Mojang Specification’s Minecraft comes immediately to mind – but it is far easier now for the ‘garage’ developer to fund, develop and succeed in games development, than it has been in many years. Perhaps more so than ever before.

If the trend continues, half of the big publishers today may become all but extinct in the next decade, while small, self-publishing developers continue to burgeon and blossom.

5 thoughts on “Big publishers’ AAA focus is good for Indie game devs”

  1. To be honest, it has never seemed like publishers were ever a problem for indie game devs.

    If anything, a shrinking industry means a smaller player base overall.

    Partly why I have a great dislike for console systems, which are closed gardens and take away innovation and effort that could have been expended upon making the normal PC even more awesome.
    (At least Razer is trying to change the convention for hardware interfaces with their Hydra for instance)

    If there is a quality game, people *will* jump on it regardless of any other games’ existence.

    God damn, I mean like, even Dwarf Fortress is hanging on rather well despite it having the most obnoxious interface ever.
    (Speaking in a relative manner, it’s good for what it is made for, abstracting away an extremely intricate world simulation)

    It’s like how the big communities (Fashion, Roleplay, Combat, Pets, Sailing, Aircraft, Others…) in SL don’t really steal users from eachother, but rather they take new players in from outside SL / newcomers.

  2. To some degree, this echoes the emergence of ebook self-publishing, except that there really can be a significant difference in production cost.

    Over the last decade or so, ebooks have gone from something that a few big publishers were nervously testing to something that’s routine, and something that anyone can do.

    But finding the good stuff seems to have become harder.

    The big publishers can still promote a product beyond all belief, and that does have an effect. And at times it still seems that a 5-star review for a game correlates with the number of advertising pages bought by the publisher.

    Ah well, back to NaNoWriMo…

  3. People have always been able to write games and get them out there. The problem for a long time, I think, was a knee jerk reaction on the part of the mainstream game buyer. Games that didn’t have a big name, a whole team, and actual financing couldn’t possibly be worth their time.

    It is interesting how it used to be different a while ago. Back in the 70s and 80’s it wasn’t uncommon for game developers to be working out of their living rooms trying to make the next Pacman, Galaga, or interactive fiction game, hoping to have it picked up by a publisher and sold to all those owners of 64K machines, or even getting some decent cash on their own by releasing it shareware on BBSs.

    Perhaps these people sort of dropped out of the average game buyer’s consciousness, because by the late-90s the only visible people making games were the larger players. Consoles from Sega, Sony, and in particular Nintendo began to take up a lot of mind space. Now the Internet has become so very pervasive, giving independent developers easier access to a large audience, and gamers now include an older audience who remembers those older, smaller games that often came in bite sized levels. It’s like we’ve woken up and remembered, “Oh yeah! People who don’t actually work for a company can write games too!”

  4. I think there is something to be said for an individual artists work versus that of a big team.

    Not sure whether that makes money or not but it for sure advances the medium.

  5. Something not available to game designers in the 1980’s was complete game engine SDK’s, such as http://www.crydev.net/ (where the engine is free up front, in return for a percentage of sales). There are a number of others like Unity, and Unreal. They make it possible for a single person or small team to design a game without having to do all the basic programming from scratch. It lowers the barrier to start.

    Second Life will fall into the “complete development kit” category also, with a bit more work.

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