San Francisco in March and I can think of worse places to be. I am here for the Game Developers’ Conference and it is both bright and fresh weather wise. It’s been a busy couple of months since Christmas and it feels like I have just not stopped for breath. The games world is changing, whether it’s a major reboot or a radical pivot change or two, we know that all of our lives are going to be touched.
It’s AppyNation‘s first GDC and almost a year on from when we first started putting the whole concept together seriously. The bright and fresh weather over in San Francisco is a nice way of highlighting the brighter and fresher future for games designers, makers and players in my view.
There has been radical change in the ways that games are not only made but how and who sells them. Strikingly simple changes have happened, yet they seem to have caught the traditional (often referred to as AAA/boxed) business totally on the blindside. That shows you how blinkered some have been in the traditional space. Maybe too much profit can be a bad thing after all?
Firstly, the way games have been sold has now changed. No longer do game makers need to charm, bribe or even threaten global retailers into stocking their wares. Shops all over the world used to cater for 99% of all legitimate game sales. There was always a small mail order specialist market of course, but in the last 8 years digital distribution methods have simply grown beyond all expectations and show absolutely no sign of slowing down. I know this as back in 2004, our flight sim and train sims were just not wanted by retailers, yet we knew we had tens of thousands of fans who wrote to us to tell us that they loved the work of Just Flight and Just Trains. So we started selling our sims by mail order. From there we designed and built our own download tech and figured it all out. The rest is history.
This move to digital has had two very distinct effects.
First the price of games is falling as the access to more and more digitally connected players is increasing. This digital connectivity has definitely grown the market and there are now so many new and vibrant games companies around, that what used to be defined as the ‘games industry’ is well overdue a redefinition.
Second, as the race for the attention of the games player has become more fierce, the battle for resources if you will, has yielded some real world casualties. Some of the older school developers, publishers, distributors and retailers have been laid to waste. As the value chain is redefined, so the market just takes out those who add little or no value in the brave new world of digital entertainment. We are seeing established, world wide companies being put to the sword and for some this is not going to be pleasant. Without naming names, we all know a couple of high profile game making and selling companies that will be lucky to see the Summer.
So, the way games are sold has changed, and will continue to change. But also the way games are made is changing and becoming even more interactive and even more real-time and iterative. This effects not only those who make the games, the developers and the publishers, but fundamentally those who play the games.
Games are woven deep into our human DNA. We love competition, we love to win and sometimes to lose and believe it or not, we need rules to play by. We also love playing collaboratively with friends and we love to discuss and socialise around games. We also love to invest varying amounts of time into our games playing, maybe a few minutes here and there, maybe hours on end. Whatever we do, we love to play.
But we also love to interact. If things change along the way, great, if we can help engender that change, then even better. That’s why there has been an explosion in the number of games made and the change in the way they are made is here to stay.
Here at GDC the storm clouds have been gathering. Some have broken in recent weeks and months, but overall the air is fresh, the skies are blue and the prospects are all good.
AppyNation – the publisher set up by developers for developers – is set fair to be able to enjoy these new and exciting times. Times when one or two retail buyers or publishing execs stop you from putting your game ideas in front of a diverse audience in the hope that some of them will pay you for more.
All we need is this new digital stage, on which to entertain. The audience is out there in their millions if not billions and they have the appetite for fun, laughter and enjoyment. If we get it right, and win an occasional encore, then we will get the rewards we deserve. Let no single person stand between us and that destiny!