Garage Renaissance

It’s not that long ago that games industry folks were acknowledging (or in some cases, lamenting) the end of the age of the ‘garage’ games developer. The one-person (or occasionally two- or three-person) team who could put a game together, and sell it.

Back when I was younger almost all games fell into that category. Garage developers either self-published, or sold their games to publishers. Developers and publishers and retailers made money (or they didn’t).

Then games got more expensive to develop and required more manpower. Ten people. Twenty. A hundred. Two hundred. Thousands of dollars to develop a game became tens of thousands, became what is now often millions of dollars, and the developers’ relationship with publishers changed.

Developers usually didn’t have an easy time of it at any point. The garage-development days meant that few developers could succeed without a publisher, but dealing with a publisher was often a nightmare of contracts (and occasionally lawsuits). Some publishers were little better than crooks. We called those publishers “software pirates.”

In more recent times, you might think that things aren’t that much better for developers. Big teams and big budgets lead to risk-averse strategies from publishers, and the last decade’s worth of mostly bland games. I’m not saying that they’re all bland, but you likely know what I mean – there seems to be an increasing percentage of simply forgettable, predictable, samey titles.

Now things have shifted. Digital distribution and alternate sources of funding are bringing the garage games developer back again.

Mobile platforms can provide a potentially fertile ground, and Kickstarter and IndieGogo (and others) can bring in needed funds for development (or sometimes just Paypal donations suffice), along with Alpha-funding systems like Desura.

Is this actually a Renaissance for garage developers and game-players, though?

Well, yes, in the sense that the Renaissance wasn’t exactly an unalloyed success.

Sixty percent of the games released by garage developers this year for mobile devices will never break even, let alone show a profit. Many self-funded developers (regardless of that platform) are going to be in that boat.

Many crowdfunded games will fail to reach their funding targets, or having reached their funding targets, will fail to deliver the game.

Or worse… will deliver a game that just isn’t what a large number of the crowdfunders wanted.

These things are going to happen. A new model is being built out and it will take time to shake out, and adapt. Perhaps many new models.

Personally, I’m looking forward to it with interest.

I’m not expecting the new models to replace the current clunky system of games-software publishing, primarily dominated by just a few behemoths. Instead I expect these models to evolve alongside the big-publisher system, and each is inevitably going to steal ideas from the others (where it can).

Some models are going to fail. Some games are going to fail. Some developers are going to fail; and we gamers are going to swallow our bitter disappointments and move on to the next enjoyable title.

In other news, “Garage Renaissance” seems like a great name for an indie rock band.