Just a little bit of history repeating itself

The past few days have been spent holed away transforming my single page game design, into a four page pitch for the Abtertay fund and most recently into a Powerpoint for a large studio. What’s been a revelation to me is that  at no point has anyone said the core idea is naff, in fact pretty much the opposite. So far, it’s gone away to three senior industry professionals who have all returned really positive encouragement; including a large publisher. Producing the Powerpoint has been the hardest part so far as it is a six page treatment of the idea, the mechanics & the architecture.

Like most written exercises, the hardest part comes in knowing what to leave out. Constrained by only 6 pages and knowing the end result is going to get passed to a studio exec who will probably conclude ‘no or go’ in about 20 seconds, the exercise is quite tough – and hugely exciting at the same time. There’s a nice little piece in Develop here about just this: http://www.develop-online.net/news/35631/HOW-TO-Successfully-pitch-your-dream-game

At this point you’re probably wondering what this has to do with the above picture of The Shatner. During the process of deciding upon a game idea, design and structure I’ve been thinking that to some degree I am being a little conservative (I’m capable of going “far out” with an idea but am actively disciplining myself not too) and that the current game landscape reminds me very much of the early to mid 1980’s which was awash with incredibly idiosyncratic and original game ideas. From Minter’s Camel obsessed shootemups to games about collecting trash (Google Trashman) it was a fantastically fertile time for the both the buyer and developers of games. But the transition from a cottage industry to a business was not without casualties. Some will lament this, the birth of the licensed tie-in, the death of the auteur, etc

Fast forward 30 years and the power of the hardware has followed Moore’s law predicted curve but idea wise we’re right back where we started: we’ve Giraffes in Space to games about growing Sweetcorn! We’ve another window of left field indie development open which is great but I wonder for how long. Personally, I don’t think the concepts have advanced as much as the hardware, they’re just better executed because we’ve more general knowledge as things are less proprietary thanks to the Internet, open source movements, game engine SDKs and of course the fact that the game industry is a very special community founded on sharing knowledge, much like the web app community.

My journey so far has brought me in contact with a fair few independent developers working on terrifically original and innovative ideas but there’s an alarming repetition to the lack of business and marketing focus during the development. Almost as if to be concerned with this aspect somehow prevents them from being seen by peers as a true indie – the artist in poverty syndrome. Personally, I think that’s bogus. It’s almost like the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy is seen as an acceptable business and marketing strategy. The problem with this approach is that it appears to work; albeit for an improbably small amount of ideas but they get the lion share of the press.

Maybe they’re right and maybe I’m focused too much on making sure I make some money from the process and that’s making me too conservative . We’ll see ;o)

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