"Iwata-san has the heart of a gamer”and my question is, what poor bastard™s chest did he carve it from, and how often do they perform human sacrifices at Nintendo HQ?"
-- Greg Castikyan
Greg Costikyan recently posted a transcript of a rant he gave at a GDC roundtable talk on the topic of game production. The panel were speaking about how the cost of game production has risen to the stage where it is actually prohibitory for publishers to fund developers that aren't working on licensed or recognisable IP. In it, Greg talks about how J Allard's GDC keynote filled him with dread - the idea of welcoming in an era of HD video games with massive production costs, increased workload for developers and no additional profit for anyone but the games publishers?
He's right to be afraid.
But there seems to be a bit of hope, from an unlikely source.
No, hear me out.
Although it's never going to take over the world, we've reached the stage where people have had enough of creating silly games based around hitting/pissing on/killing celebrities and have begun exploring the medium's creative possibilities. And although they're just short, 5-minute bursts of gaming, they've been creating a bit of a buzz on among the internet community.
This was the first truly addictive flash game I can think of. Although it's almost 4 years old at this stage, it's still a lot of fun to play. Simple premise - fly your helicopter, don't crash. I doubt a lot of people would pay a lot of money for this, but just think how many hours were lost to this game in offices around the world.
Beautifully introduced by Metafilter as "If Rube Goldberg and Terry Gilliam made flash games, they might go like this", Treasure Box showed that Flash games didn't have to just simple affairs. Although there isn't actually much gameplay in this to keep people entertained, there's enough eccentric beauty to keep people fascinated.
Skills to pay the bills
Okay, so we've got some good flash games out there, so what? Well, some bright sparks out there have figured out a way to make money out of very good flash games and because of this, we're seeing the beginnings of a resurgence in the shareware games scene.
Gish is a platform game where you control a ball of tar. Using Newtonian physics (and some physics-cheating constructs), you guide your ball of tar through various obstacles to reach the end of the level. Because of its unique and superbly crafted nature, it has won all sorts of praise. But here's the rub - the developers of this game are actually making money from it because of its shareware nature (play the basic levels online, pay $20 for the full game). I don't know how much, but I'm sure it's nothing to be sneezed at.
Codename Gordon (site down right now)
What started out as a flash 'tribute' to Half Life 2 (or a way to stave off the boredom until the game was actually released, depending on who you ask) is now available for purchase through Steam. Codename Gordon: Half Life 2D is a beautiful thing - embracing the limitations of flash gaming and turning them into a feature.
Like Codename Gordon, Alien Hominid started off as a way for a group of friends to create a simple game and hopefully sell it. It started off as one of a hundred games on popular flash site Newgrounds (play the original) is now being released on the Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube. And what's more, it hasn't been significantly changed during the transition - it still retains the same look and play mechanics.
Of course, none of these are ever likely to compete with the likes of Resident Evil 4 or Gran Turismo 4 in the battle for the hearts and minds of the casual gamer, but they do go some way to showing that there is a distribution channel for these simple flash games and, providing your game is good enough, that money can be made from them.
How much money? Well, that remains to be seen. Certainly not enough to retire and live the rest of your life with cocaine and champagne enemas. But enough to keep your games sustainable?
Like these flash games? Want to get some more examples? Do yourself a favour and check out gotoAndPlay.it
Ren Reynolds posts a rebuttal to the GDC roundtable. His conclusions are similar to mine - for all of those who are bemoaning the death of innovation in games, there are other options.