In Transition

As you may have read, the Scottish Affairs Committee visited Scotland yesterday to investigate the games industry. Despite some of the coverage bordering on the hysterical, I don’t believe the Scottish games industry is in crisis. I don’t believe there are any “panicked” companies about to up sticks and move wholesale to another country.

The Scottish games industry is in transition.

Companies have been trying to move away from the “traditional” model of the industry, where a publisher funds the development of a game. This is a Good Thing. Companies like Cobra and Digital Goldfish have had success on iPhone with their own and licensed titles, Tag and Dynamo have recently received commissions from Channel 4 for public service games.

As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, not everything tried has been successful. Denki took a different funding model for Quarrel, but the lack of a distribution route for a unique experience was an insurmountable obstacle. And Realtime Worlds took on a couple of projects of massive scope and scale, that haven’t panned out the way anyone would have liked (understatement).

Aside from that, this year Ruffian launched Crackdown 2, Proper released a Final Fight reboot for Capcom and the downloadable content for Crackdown 2, Cohort have a Move launch title, Firebrand have the best selling Wii racing game behind Mario Kart, and Digital Goldfish were just included in the Guardian’s Tech 100 list for the second year running. Dare to be Digital and ProtoPlay were once again huge successes. Amongst the universities, Abertay are managing a £5m prototyping fund, Glasgow Caledonian continue to do great research and host the Scottish Game Jam, and West of Scotland are also conducting useful research. Ready Up and SquareGo are terrific online games magazines. There are a number of companies doing great work and having success in niche markets and/or “unglamorous” platforms – who knows what paths they will take in the future.

But let’s be clear – we’ve stumbled this year for one critical reason. We’re failing to make money.

Perhaps some of you reading that think I’m being crass in saying that. I’ve paraphrased Walt Disney on this before and I’m sure I’ll do it again in the future:

We don’t make games to make money; we make money so we can make more games.

That’s all there is to it; but right now we are lacking it. It’s obviously the key to creating a sustainable games industry, which is part of what is needed to have a strong Scottish sector.

The Scottish games industry is in transition, and it’s not something that can be solved overnight.

The public sector, government and media are going to have to adjust their expectations, though, because the new measures of success are not going to be job creation and new company registrations. The new measures will be based on wealth creation, rights ownership and social contribution.

The public sector can certainly provide support, whether through project funding, skills development, improving the country’s infrastructure or perhaps even tax breaks. The mainstream press could try being cheerleaders for the industry, though they’ll need the industry to talk to them in order to do that.

But this transition was started by the industry itself, and I believe it will be completed by the industry itself. It won’t happen overnight, it won’t happen without a few more stumbles, and it sure as hell won’t be easy, but the ambition is there. The belief is there.

The New Way

Under the new way of doing things, you’re a chief executive of an artist’s business with multiple revenue streams that go across multiple countries.

—Brian Message, Radiohead’s manager — The music industry’s new business model

Simply replace any references to the music industry with the games industry.

PopCap on Games You Happen to Play on Facebook

(aka what others might, on occasion, refer to as ‘social games’)

Nice write-up on a talk Jason Kapalka from PopCap gave at GDC Europe, centred around their experience of Bejeweled Blitz.

Key points:

  • Those contests they run around the games don’t make any difference to player numbers.
  • Bejeweled 2 just on iPhone has sold over 4,000,000 copies.
  • Resetting the high-score table (of which there is only one) once a week is better than once every two weeks.
  • Most games on Facebook are “kind of evil”, since they’re trying “any way to trick you into posting something on your wall that’s not really even of interest to you, let alone your friends.”

A Game Is a Game Is a Game

Kieron Gillen, interviewed by Blitz1Up:

I’ve touched on some of that up-thread in that we see it all part of the same fabric. The Facebook games are the same thing as the hyper-indie-art game are the same thing as whatever costs 400 trillion pounds. It’s all games and we want to help encourage people to think of it as such.

Sounds like a familiar refrain ;–) Anyway, it’s a great read, but this is the line that jumped out:

The games press is very good at [telling you more about things you already know about and are interested in] and awful at [telling you about things you know nothing about whatsoever].

This was brought home earlier this evening where it seemed like everyone was talking about Bioshock Infinite. That’s all fine and well if you like that kind of thing, but I don’t like that kind of thing.

I’ve discussed with people before about how games doesn’t seem to have it’s Pitchfork or Stereogum, and I know games have all those platform fragmentation issues going on, but unfortunately that’s how most review sites are split. Problem is I have 10 platforms for playing games in line of sight from me right now, and I’m totally open to suggestion on which to play at any given time.

I want a site that can recommend me a game from the Xbox Indie channel in the same breath as one for my iPhone at the same time as one for Facebook mere moments after telling me to check out a DS game and oh you should download this thing for your PC too.

Maybe it exists and I just haven’t found it yet [NB Please tell me if you have found such a place]. Or maybe it doesn’t and you’ll have to go build it for me. Thanks in advance.

Regarding Lonelysandwich


Adam had spoiled me on the idea that sweating the details at the right points does more than just incrementally improve the quality of the product; it actually means creating a substantially different and better artifact. It means you’re trying, and it shows.

Read More

5 Things I’m Thinking Right Now

Following on from Alice and Kim and Dan, here are the five things I’m thinking right now:

  1. The funding models for games are all there; the problem comes at the other end with actually getting something out there. Clearly this is partially about the platforms and forced scarcity, but as another example there’s no equivalent of the film festival circuit. And even if there was, the publishers are so scared of taking a risk on anything they’re never going to find the games equivalent of Blair Witch Project (insert your favourite low-budget/huge-earning here).
  2. To anyone who thinks that Android is somehow “better” for developers, you’ve clearly blanked out/weren’t around for the first ten years of mobile games development.
  3. There’s so much for the games industry to learn from the TV, film, radio, music or restaurant industries that it hurts my brain. If you think otherwise, I say you’re looking in the wrong places.
  4. Nintendo do so many things so, so well, that it makes the things they do badly that much more annoying.
  5. To paraphrase Greg Costikyan from a GDC rant a few years back, THE WORLD IS NOT A GIANT FUNNEL DESIGNED TO POUR MONEY INTO YOUR WALLET. Get over it.

You’ll notice none of those things involve food, but that’s more of an underlying constant thought rather than a specific one.

Produce and Invest

Rapidly improving design permeates every branch of manufacture … To keep abreast with foreign nations… we must ourselves produce and invest.

—John Muir, Lord Provost of Glasgow, 1890