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  • The State of Game Development: Part 2

    - Brandon Sheffield

  • Crowdfunding

    It's hard to overestimate the value of crowdfunding for the western game market, for small and large developers alike. In the last year, crowdfunding has really taken off, and not only on the obvious sites like Kickstarter, but also through companies releasing paid betas in order to fund completion of their game - Minecraft is a classic example of this, but others have done it as well, like Mechwarrior Online, which had a "founders program" that allowed players to pay money in advance of the game, with the promise of exclusive items once the game launched.

    Kickstarter is a huge driver though, and it's really picked up just in the last year. As of April 2011, games had received 1 million in funding total, across all projects. Now large projects from well known developers regularly exceed that. Project Eternity, from the mid-sized developer Obsidion, has nearly 4 million, for example. But small games are also getting funded for just $25,000 at times, which is literally kickstarting the careers of a number of new, young developers.

    One of the big problems with Kickstarter was that it was only available for U.S.-based projects, or at least those which used US currency. But just recently, Kickstarter launched in the UK, which seems incredibly important, as that country has had a lot of talent bleed over the years. The region has also traditionally had different taste from North American audiences, but publishers were unwilling to fund these titles. Now they have a new chance.

    Most importantly, Kickstarter lets games come out that publishers would never fund. It's a great way to sidestep the traditional money hierarchy and let your customers truly tell you what they want. I feel this could change the traditional publishing model pretty significantly in the near future.

    Other stuff!

    These are a bunch of trends that didn't fit anywhere else. I could go on forever, but I'll try to limit myself here.

    Windows 8. The developer reaction to Windows 8 has not been extremely positive. It's a much more closed platform than we've seen from Microsoft in some time, and developers really do not like closed platforms. That's part of why they develop for the PC, after all! A recent article on Gamasutra noted two interesting things -- one is that Skyrim, what many consider the PC game of 2011, would not have been allowed on Windows 8 because of its adult content. One of the biggest games of the year would've been unable to release on PC (at least as it was).

    The author also noted that Steam would be impossible on Windows 8 out of the box, because Windows 8 doesn't allow re-selling of other content outside of its store. (Microsoft may have to make some provision for that). As an aside, by "on Windows 8" I mean in its Metro desktop, but that basically *is* the Windows 8 interface.

    Psychology and economics in game design. Psychology is being applied to game design much more than ever. One example is game designer Ara Shrinian's discussion of User Interface as it relates to psychology, particularly what the perception of an object or piece of interface could do, versus what it actually does, using ideas from industrial design to show how many of these problems have already been solved. Another great example is Jason Vandenberge of Ubisoft's discussion of the 5-factor model of psychology into the domain of play. Vandenberge has written about this extensively in Game Developer magazine, and I encourage you to seek out his articles.

    Meanwhile, on the economics side, you've got Eve Online, which employs economists to study and make improvements to their ever-changing world economy. This sort of thing will probably get even more important as free-to-play economies take over the game sphere.

    A new world of lawsuits. Lately in the social game sphere especially, there has been a lot of talk about games being too similar, and even lifting code from each other. In what I am pretty sure is an unprecedented case, Triple Town developer Spry Fox sued the maker of a similar game called Yeti Town, which had been found to copy Triple Town's mechanics too closely. Amazingly, when Triple Town won the lawsuit, they were also granted the Yeti Town IP, rights, and code. So if you didn't know it already, IP law is serious business.

    The next steps

    Hopefully, this has given you some idea of the state of Western game development, from tools, to salaries, to trends. There is so much more going on in games that I couldn't cover here, and with the pace of the industry, as soon as anyone writes something like this, it's going to immediately go out of date. It's up to you, the readers, to go out there and forge the new trends in this industry. Get out there and do it!


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