[Note: This article was originally written in 2012]
I love seeing the evolution of our industry. Video games were once associated with Mario and children, then Doom and violent crazies (and children), until most recently, Call of Duty and deadbeat boyfriends (who behave like children). 2012’s been a fascinating year because we’ve been able to glimpse the beginnings of yet another step in our medium’s growth, one characterized by a change in the way we handle publishing and an audience that’s much more broad than once thought. It was a year in which adventure games broke their Kickstarter goals, indie games found new storefronts to call home, and triple-A games dared to take chances — this is what made it special for me.
The reasons behind this shift in consumer perspective are equally enthralling, and can be traced back to Kickstarter. While crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter and Rockethub have been around for a while, it wasn’t until this year that they really caught the public’s eye, primarily thanks to the massive success of Double Fine Adventure‘s campaign. We’ve seen projects ranging from FTL to Ouya given a chance at life thanks to the power of Kickstarter, and when we look at the nature of crowdfunding it only makes sense that it’s picked up so much momentum.
Crowdfunding is essentially a type of publishing, except with consumers taking the place of third party companies. Developers get to appeal and interact directly with the people who will be playing their game, cutting out the middleman and providing a better experience to whom it matters most. This radical approach to publishing allows our industry to support many games which couldn’t exist without some form of funding.
Of course, publishing isn’t just about development costs. How you market your game and the type of distribution channels it hits is also important. Once a game’s been funded and developed it needs a place to go, and thankfully there are many options available. GOG has opened up its catalog to games of all shapes and sizes, Green Man Gaming allows digital trade ins and Desura hosts tons of obscure titles and mods. These services aren’t all exactly new, but they nonetheless have been essential to indie games. Yet in 2012 we’ve seen a new service arise which seems set to further change the landscape: Steam Greenlight.
Steam’s been a pretty good haven for indie games with their large user base and promotional aid, but many games struggled with getting on the digital storefront. The newly implemented Greenlight service changes that, taking a cue from crowdfunding and allowing consumers to directly affect which games become available for purchase. This community based approach to the selection process gives smaller developers a chance to compete with bigger games while also acting as a sort of quality fail-safe.
Even firms that utilize the traditional publishing setup are benefiting by approaching their partnerships differently. For instance, there’s Valve, Telltale and Bethesda. They allow their developers creative freedom and work with them to make sure a game succeeds, bucking the trend of adhering to a checklist of what sells. As good as a game may be, it is still important for publishers to be fully invested in helping a game reach commercial success. We’ve seen publishers take exactly these kinds of risks this year, only for gamers all of creeds to embrace these changes. When people are playing Journey, Dishonored and Farcry 3 just as much as Battlefield, you can’t say that gambles never pay off.
These changes are just as important as crowdfunding or community selection. They balance out the differences between triple-A games and indie ones, bringing the two a little closer. Publishers this year have allowed games to explore diverse new themes on a larger scale by allowing these risks and believing in their audience.
2012, to me, is a year of partnership and trust. It’s a year in which publishers, consumers, and developers have all come to understand each other a little better. I would like to believe the games we’ve seen this year are the outcome of that. Archaic DRM, online passes, and tacked on features might still plague our industry, but 2012 has shown us a step in the right direction. The idea that a game needs multiplayer or guns to sell well is fading and good games are being made for their own sake. It makes me feel proud. I hope the trends we’ve seen this year continue to grow in the future, as we enter a new age of diverse and unique games.
Special thanks to Saotome for authoring this article.
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