Dénouement 2016 Part 1: It’s OVER!

By Shamus
on Dec 27, 2016
Filed under:
Video Games

And so another year gets all used up. Which means it’s time to look back on the videogame industry and try to extract some sort of signal from the raging noise.

Outside of videogames, this year sucked. It was ugly and stressful and stupid and I’m basically sick of the hate. I’ve got people I love all over the political spectrum, and so I spent about a year watching all the people I care about vilify each other on social media. Makes me glad I’m part of a hobby so dedicated to escapism.

Last year I noted that there were sort of two themes. On the indie side we had “Games about making games”, while on the AAA side we had bugs and glitches and terrible ports. Of course, the bugs and performance problems were mostly due to the fact that we were still early in the new console generation and so all the graphics engines were in the shake-out period.

A year later, we seem to be lingering in that shake-out period, plus we’re in the uncertainty of a half-step console generation, PLUS we’re in the early speculation phase of another full generation just around the corner. I have a feeling our engine technology is going to be a giant pile of chaos and dysfunction for the next couple of years.

To VR, or Not To VR?

Some technological problems still haven`t been solved. For example, nobody can make a VR setup that won`t make you look like a giant dork when you`re using it.

Some technological problems still haven`t been solved. For example, nobody can make a VR setup that won`t make you look like a giant dork when you`re using it.

VR seemed to be a huge influence on things this year. Everyone was announcing or releasing VR headsets or related technology. No, we didn’t get any really killer apps for VR. But I think VR is a big part of the reason everyone is abandoning this console generation in its crib and trying to make a new one. 60FPS gaming is now a big deal, VR might suddenly become a big deal, and the nascent consoles are just shy of the power required to do those two things.

I spent the whole year waiting for VR to piss or get off the pot. It needs to either come up with a really must-play experience (or several) to justify the brutal price tag, or it needs to get out of the way and stop distracting developers from making stuff the general public will actually want. The games so far have been just interesting enough to keep a small number of people engaged and talking about it, but not good enough to attract the masses.

You can argue that VR is supposed to be a niche product and we shouldn’t expect it to go mainstream. That’s a reasonable assumption. The problem is that niche markets do not mix well with high budgets. Japanese visual novels are a niche market, but they’re cheap to make and they run on anything. Imagine if consumers needed $700 of gaming hardware to be able to play a visual novel, and they required cutting-edge graphics engines and expensive 3D art assets to produce. If that were true, the genre couldn’t survive as a niche product.

The graphics demands put upward pressure on budgets. Meanwhile, the expensive hardware keeps the audience small, which means you can’t expect to make much, which means you can’t afford to spend much. No matter how excited the press or how novel the experience, if the money to be made selling VR game is less than the money it costs to make them, this genre will die.

The buying public are hedging their bets. Everyone is “curious” about VR, but the headsets haven’t taken off. The publishers are doing likewise. They keep making modest VR experiments, but nobody is investing in it on a huge scale. Everyone is keeping one foot in the door in case it takes off, but they’re putting most of their money on safer investments.

Nobody wants to cash out. Nobody wants to go all-in. This is actually a really mature and forward-thinking approach to new technology, but I don’t know how long we can remain balanced in this state.

The Great Indie Deluge

Any game in development long enough will end up with hats in it.- Arvind Yadav

Any game in development long enough will end up with hats in it.- Arvind Yadav

It’s almost a running joke at this point. I declared 2013 the year of the indies. But then indies were an even bigger deal the next year. In 2015, half of my year-end list was indies. Every year, indies seemed larger, more important, and more numerous than the year before.

It turns out that this was not my imagination. The total number of indie titles has been increasing. The proliferation of titles has been exponential. To give you a sense of how steep the curve is: About 40% of all Steam titles were added to the service in the last 12 months.

Last month I asked people what they were playing, and the responses reflected this more distributed approach to gaming. People are playing tentpole games. They’re playing indies. They’re playing mobile games. They’re playing retro titles. They’re playing through their 2013 Steam backlog.

My prediction is that this indie surge is a bubble that will pop in 2017. It’s the old economics adage: “Anything that can’t go on forever, won’t.” Many indies hoping to make a living by filling niche markets will probably leave the field when their efforts yield such a low return in an oversaturated market.

I’m speaking from experience. I released Good Robot this year. I collaborated with ~4 other people to make that happen. Yet even if those folks did all of their brilliant hard work for free and let me keep all the money, I still don’t think it would have made me enough income to justify the time I put into it. Sure, if I’d managed to make a better game I could have enjoyed more sales, but if we wanted to make enough money to pay the entire team enough to cover the opportunity cost of working on the game, we would have needed to be about an order of magnitude more popular. That’s a nice goal to shoot for, but if your options are:

1) Make a smash hit or…
2) Go broke.

…then your options are a lot like the various development houses at the turn of the century when they all started selling themselves to the big publishers because they couldn’t afford to make a non-hit.

My biggest disappointment of 2016 was seeing just how dang good Enter the Gungeon looked, a game in roughly the same genre that released at the same time as Good Robot.

My biggest disappointment of 2016 was seeing just how dang good Enter the Gungeon looked, a game in roughly the same genre that released at the same time as Good Robot.

When writing a blog is more profitable than programming, you know the market has gone sideways. I enjoyed making Good Robot, and I think I could make a much better game if I took another crack at it, but the risk / reward tradeoff looks fairly bleak. Even if I made a game that sold four times as much as Good Robot, I still don’t think it would be worth it from a financial sense.

Assuming my experience is typical, that means we will see a drop in output of indies over the next year as small-time developers quit the field or seek safer jobs with larger studios.

Meanwhile, the other problems will continue to get worse. Shady “developers” have been flooding the market with “asset flips”. That’s where you buy cheap pre-made assets, drop them into a pre-made template of a game, and put it up for sale on Steam as “Early Access”. The assets make for a passable trailer and the gameplay makes it look like the game is far along development. For just a few days of work you can make it seem like you’re building a real game. They you soak up the initial burst of sales, abandon the title, and start again. I have no idea how common this practice is, but if legitimate indies abandon Steam’s Greenlight program then the ratio of games to shovelware will only get worse.

This could lead to a nasty glut that would hurt the Steam marketplace. It would be a smaller-scale, more localized version of the 1983 videogame market crash. Consumers – unwilling to face the hassle and risk of a market with so much crap – will take their money elsewhere.

I don’t know if this “crash” will happen in 2017 or 2018, but some sort of drastic change has to take place sooner or later. The big question is how Valve will respond.

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A Hundred!20There are 120 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. Galad says:

    The indie market crashing bodes ill, at least for gamers like me that don’t care about half the genres in which triple AAA games are made, and the other half are increasingly more often problematic in one way or another (poor ports, recycled gameplay etc). I was looking into Mafia 3 these days and could only shake my head at what the reviews were saying

    Also, I may be biased, given my 400 hours in Nuclear Throne, and having only watched streams of Gungeon, but that game does NOT look Fun, unlike NT, which is too bad, since it’s much more polished. Polish is welcome and good, but can only get so far without fun. Still, different people want different things.

    Edit: now that I think about it for a moment, an indie crash may be inevitable for the simple reason that most people have a backlog to comb through, and if the backlog is large enough, compared to one’s threshold for its size, it would become increasingly difficult to justify buying more games, indie or otherwise..

    • Thomas says:

      The backlog argument is my favourite for why their might be a crash. What other industry manages to live on people paying so much money for products they don’t consume?

      It’s marketing driven madness and _surely_ at some point people are going to realise ‘wait I can just play games that are already out there and I probably already own’.

      Then again I suspect Valve is now making money from creating currencies and then deliberately triggering inflationary bubbles (but controlling them so they don’t pop – because hats have less real world interaction it’s harder to see when their price is inflated to absurdity). So maybe the marketers/sales designers are too smart to let people go like that.

      • Merlin says:

        The backlog argument is my favourite for why their might be a crash.

        If anything, I suspect that backlogs have gotten smaller in recent years. The shift towards indie games means that there’s also been a shift towards shorter games, so even if you have a larger number of games in your backlog, they’re likely much quicker to churn through.

        And on the purchasing side, Steam has been getting much more modest on discounts over the years; the days of spending $0.99 to get everything id Software has ever made are over.

        What other industry manages to live on people paying so much money for products they don’t consume?

        Netflix, for one. Why cancel my subscription while I’ve still got *checks* 291 DVDs in my queue?

        Admittedly, their model of selling a service rather than goods is what turns that weakness into a strength, but PS+ and XBOX Live have somewhat similar programs, don’t they?

        • Daimbert says:

          There are more options, though. Multiple systems and diverse niche games mean that there’s more available. Add in competition for your entertainment time — play games vs watch those entire series on Netflix that you’ve always meant to watch vs other things — and I can easily see people’s personal backlogs going up. Mine seems to, although work and laziness/distraction were the biggest causes of that.

          Speaking for myself, the size of the backlog doesn’t really matter that much if the new games look really, really good, interesting, or unique.

      • Albionic says:

        What other industry manages to live on people paying so much money for products they don’t consume?

        The Fashion industry. Don’t underestimate the amount of unworn (or barely worn) clothes/shoes on a woman’s closet (*). This is especially true for the higher end (more expensive) fashion.

        Some sectors (like shoes) routinely launch 8 collections per year.

        This is a common behaviour in industries that have “popular trends”. You purchase stuff not because you need it, but because everyone else is doing the same and you don’t want to be left out.

        (*) or a man’s closet, although I would guess more women overpurchase clothing than men.

    • Echo Tango says:

      I think if you find Enter The Gungeon or Nuclear Throne fun depends on what type of game you want. I’d describe Gungeon as a bullet-hell gun-ballet, and Throne as a reflex-testing get-in-the-monsters’-face extermination. Both are very good games, but (for example) I myself don’t play Throne, since 1) I’m an old-man 30-something whose reflexes are starting to drop off and 2) I’m usually interested in relaxing after work, so I prefer a game to fit that mood, and Gungeon has adorable cartoon monsters in it, instead of aggressive cartoon monsters.

    • Ninety-Three says:

      As someone who loved NT and hated Gungeon, I think Gungeon’s comparisons to NT are way off: It’s much closer to Isaac, both in pacing and overall combat.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I’d say it’s right in the middle of Binding of Isaac and Nuclear Throne, but IMO since they’re all overhead hard-as-nails shooters, that’s splitting hairs. Depends on how specific of a game experience you want. :)

        • Syal says:

          I think it’s much closer to Isaac; the characters all have the same moveset*, the pace is slower, you unlock more levels and weapons as you get farther*, you need consumables to uncover secret rooms. I think most of the Nuclear Throne comparison comes from Vlambeer promoting it as a really cool game. Mostly it’s related to Throne by the gun theme and the ammo scarcity.

          (BoI’s unlockables finally got their hooks in me, and I finally got the hang of it: I think I’m about ready to swing back to give Gungeon another shot.)

          *((disclosure; I have not gotten far enough to unlock anything that can actually prove or disprove this.))

          • Echo Tango says:

            While all of the characters do have the same moveset, I think the dodgeroll puts Gungeon farther from Isaac. i.e. You’re not just moving at a constant pace, which is like Fish in Throne rather than any of the characters in Isaac. Also, there’s no “transparent” (penetrate through obstacles) guns (as far as I know) in Gungeon (like in Throne), which is actually one of the main ways you can increase your damage and survivability in Isaac. Finally, you don’t start the game with a reliable knockback/stun in Isaac, and in that game you’re choosing to hurt yourself (for most of those items) whereas in Gungeon the knockback is either a free item you get on every level (blanks), or retribution/bonus for the armor you just lost. All in all, I’d say there’s more mechanics in Gungeon and they just feel good like in Throne, whereas in Isaac there’s less going on, and what is there feels a bit more detached and unreal. Arguably that works well for the theme of tortured-child/fantasy-escape they’ve got going on, but it still pushes the game closer to Throne for me.

            TLDR:
            I still think Gungeon is firmly midpoint between Isaac and Throne. :)

    • Falterfire says:

      I think part of what is needed to make indie games work is quality dedicated communities for different genres. For example: I’m a fan of turn based strategy games. I’ve played a bunch. I have Opinions about things I like to see and things I don’t think work.

      If there was a reasonably large dedicated forum to discussing such games, I could trade opinions with other TBS fans and we could collectively figure out which games were worth playing for which types of players and what the upsides and downsides were.

      The biggest problem I have with Steam is just finding the games in my preferred genres that are actually good. If Steam Curators as a thing had worked out better, maybe that would be what I want.

  2. Thomas says:

    My worry would be that there are so many people who want to be game developers and so many tools to facilitate them that it will never end. It’ll stop growing sure (maybe), but for everybody who learns the tough reality of the market, there will be 5 newbies wanting to break in.

    The film industry has lived off a consistent churn of people throwing their time away and going broke for a while now. The visual effects industry seems to run on people not being paid. The writing industry has people every year _paying_ publishers to get ‘published’.

    Game development takes more a) ‘tangible’ skill and b) time, so maybe it will fall apart. My money is on it continuing though, bleak as that is.

    • Bubble181 says:

      this, I think – at least for now. AAA developers *still* don’t have a problem finding fresh-out-of-college programmers and other computer professionals to work too hard for $toolittle – as the “old” people give up/move out, young talent moves in.
      Some programmers/writers/designers/etc think “founding our own company!” is the better way to try and break into the industry rather than “start low and work my way up through a big company”. As long as people find the funding (or the time and will to live on Ramen noodles), there’s going to be new start ups, and I think that’s good for the industry as a whole.

      On the other hand, the immense amount of it is probably going to flatten out a bit or decrease, as it gets harder to make something special enough to get noticed. Asset flips and Dungeon Maker games aren’t what people want to make, usually.

    • Falterfire says:

      I think you’re right on this one. As long as the dream exists and at least a few games make bank, people will pursue it. And so many of the indie games I see aren’t from small studios making a game every couple years – it’s the first game ever by the company, and probably the only game they’ll ever make if sales match expected indie sales.

      Small studios continually collapsing doesn’t matter if everybody is working on their first game and there’s not much connection of knowledge between teams.

  3. Riley Miller says:

    I don’t see an indie game crash happening as you describe. Mobile app marketplaces have even more severe discoverability problems than indie games and that market is still thriving. Certainly modern indie titles have to compete much more fiercely than they used to if they are to be successful but I do not think indie games are going away. Games are art and the financial return of art is always uncertain. There are lots of phenomenal indie games that are absolutely free and I’m a big fan of Rock Paper Shotgun and PC Gamer’s coverage of them.
    Gamasutra has lots of articles on the “indiepocalypse” but this one in particular was heartening.

    I think Good Robot is a good game but when your direct competition is the Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, and yes, Enter the Gungeon being good isn’t good enough.
    I love your blog and I hope you keep making games.

    • topazwolf says:

      I think one of Good Robot’s biggest problems was that Shamus didn’t develop it from the start to be a rougelike. So the final product was more of a genre blend than a pure genre game which hurt its ability to appeal to the niche audience of said genres.

      Also, playing the marketplace when there are so many games filling every possible niche is brutal. If Good Robot was released before the Binding of Isaac, it probably would have done fairly well.

      • Raglan says:

        I also think that shamus probably over sold good robot. Compared to some start up indies, he has a huge amount of interest (plus a media platform to sell it on)
        It also probably sold to people who werent interested in the game. I know i brought it thinking it didnt look like my sort of thing, but i wanted to pay back shamus for all the content ive read over the years.

        • Bickerdyke says:

          I just bought Good Robot too, and not because the game itself sounded intresting. Partly to pay back Shamous, too, but there is a deeper connection.

          Shamus said

          When writing a blog is more profitable than programming, you know the market has gone sideways.

          So why have I bought it then? Cause I read so much about the development side of it! I also downloaded the procedural city screensaver and read through the source and bought Shamus’ novel. So you can’t say that blogging is more profitable than programming, as programming (or writing that novel) is an integral part of this blog.

          • Duoae says:

            Yeah, got to say, I bought Good Robot for the same reason. I played it a bit but it’s not really my thing. However, I immensely enjoyed reading about it and the development process (and the previous projects too). I know I also donate through patreon but I’ve bought pretty much all of Shamus’ side projects as well (AFAIK!).

    • Richard says:

      I don’t believe that the mobile app marketplace is thriving – the free or 99cent pricetag is killing it.

      I’m seeing a lot of companies that make $real_thing being convinced that they need an “App” for their $thing, paying a 3rd party to make said App and then ignoring it – “We have an App now, it’s done”.

      In most cases the app is terrible and basically unusable, but the $thing product manager didn’t really want it in the first place and so doesn’t care.

      The 3rd party made some money, but never really understood the purpose of said app, or outright cut corners because they only got the job by underbidding and can’t make money any other way.

      Among the companies who would only accept a good “App”, they’re slowing development/cutting features and many are very unsure whether to put any resources into mobile Apps at all.

      For mobile apps that are not supported by sales of $other_thing (games etc), it’s a very simple “make a hit or go bust”.
      Being in the Apple App Store costs $99/year.
      So at 99c (69c revenue) you’d need about 150 sales/year, or Ad-supported (~$2/1000 impressions) you’d need 50k ad impressions/year simply to exist.

      You didn’t earn anything at all yet!
      To earn the US median household income ($55k) from ad-supported apps, you would need 75k impressions/day.
      I would guess that’s something like 20-40k daily active users, depending on the type of app.

      • Riley Miller says:

        As much as I dislike the free to play business model (most of my apps are either add supported or premium) it seems like it is doing fine to me. F2P monetization is a really complicated topic. Whether an individual game ends up being successful typically depend on whales. A single whale will demolish the $99 fee. Recouping the up front investment of development is the real hurdle for any piece of software.

        I am not really talking about companies contracting third parties to build apps anyway. The company gets an app that works well enough (for a given value of “well enough”), the third party dev gets paid, the customer has a dollop of annoyance added to their life.

        When I say that mobile development is healthy that does not mean it does not have problems. Just that the problems are not serious enough to create a crash. The same applies to indie games.

      • MaxEd says:

        Company I work at, which made mobile games and apps, is going into troubles right about now. The chief problem is discoverability. It takes about 2$ to get a new user from placing ads on ad networks. ANY user, and that includes mostly those who will never pay you anything. Which means that your average paying user must shell out much more than 2$ (or watch a lot of ads) before he quits your game. Right now, this looks unsustainable. We simply can’t get Life-Time Value that would justify cost of bringing in new users.

        And make no mistake, nobody wants to promote you for free. Write to a thousand review sites, and mostly you get no response at all, or occasionally “we get too much requests, please pay us $$$ to review YOUR game, and not those other games”. Previously, the new apps & games got some free exposition from being listed in “new” section of app stores. Now? Both Google Play, Apple AppStore and Windows Store changed that to “new & noteworthy”, which means your game DON’T get there – unless you’re EA, or already managed to create a lot of buzz in some way (I really don’t know what it takes for an app to be noteworthy – there are no guidelines). The only platform that still exposes users to all new games is Steam (and it also have discovery queue and curators, which all give you a chance).

        Now, we also suck at marketing – I know that. I’ve been telling my bosses we should be more visibility by going to exhibitions, by having a good social media accounts etc., and nobody listened to me. We’re a very introverted company, and that’s NOT a path to success. So I guess you actually can escape “2$ for a new user” event horizon, even if you don’t gouge users for every cent with your monetization tactics. But it’s really super hard.

        Anyway, I hate mobile market and wish we’d move into PC development. Maybe hop on the VR train before it’s too late – despite what Shamus says, I think there is a good market for low- and mid-end titles there already, and we can provide good user experience for VR by just not making our games with Unity (we have a nicely performing custom open-source 3d engine) and having experience with optimization.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Your link is broken. :C

  4. MichaelGC says:

    Might need a break thingy as this is all on the front page.

    I don’t know if the immediate 2017 prospects for vitriol diminishment are super-encouraging, but it will get better eventually, and you’ll play your part in that by the example you represent and by the refuge you offer, here.

  5. GloatingSwine says:

    The practice of flipping half built no effort shit on Steam is common enough that Jim Sterling can have an entire career complaining about it.

    I suspect that a relatively large percentage of this year’s additions to Steam are sub-shovelware broken ass nonproduct “games”, from a combination of dedicated shitters like the unlamented Digital Homicide (didn’t they put up like 15 “games” in a year or something) and one off chancers.

    Valve’s dedication to doing no quality control makes Steam a really unattractive option to purchase games from. I avoid it if possible, even if it means paying more to somewhere like GOG.

    • Nimrandir says:

      I’d say at least a third of Sterling’s career is bagging on Konami, but mileage may vary.

      • MichaelGC says:

        Aye – although just to nitpick the word ‘career’: you’re both right that he currently gets plenty of content out of Steam & Konami, but those are quite recent developments in what has been a long career looking at videogames in one format or another.

    • Writiosity says:

      This is the problem, yeah. Something like probably 90% of all the stuff that appeared this year is utter trash and mostly incomplete asset flipped early access rubbish. 2+ years ago I could look at the Steam store during a sale and find a bunch of fun things to play. This year? I gave up and bought virtually nothing simply because I couldn’t be arsed to sit through the PAGES AND PAGES of trash to find anything even remotely decent.

      Got about a dozen games, mostly older AAA and stuff from the likes of Obsidian, on my wishlist, that’s my sole concession to even bothering now. It’s not worth the time or bother any more, and next year is likely to be even worse.

      • Veylon says:

        If Steam would extend their group system a bit, this wouldn’t be a problem. There’s a fanfiction site I visit that has groups to which stories can be attached in multiple folders within that group and each also has a dedicated forum. So if you are interested in a particular type of story, you join that group and you get notified when stories get added to it. And also each story lists which groups it is attached to it, so you can get a good feel for what type of story it is based on which groups are interested in it.

        Basically, it’s a system by which the users can create, share, and discuss custom curations. I find it surprising that I don’t see this anywhere else given how useful it would be.

  6. Joshua says:

    “I spent the whole year waiting for VR to piss or get off the pot. ”

    Isn’t that the theory behind why HL3 is delayed this long, because they’re waiting for the VR system to sell the next game?

    That’s a long time sitting on the pot.

  7. Christopher says:

    I’m hoping the way the indie game market survives is by offering games they don’t do much right now. There aren’t a lot of say, good 3d character action indie games. I don’t think there will ever be that many of them. Indie developers seem to chase trends(roguelikes, survival games) just as much as the AAA industry. But it would be very neat to have even a few, because even in this year that was so great for games, the closest thing to a good 3d character action game is Furi. And that wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

    The worst thing about VR for me at the moment is the way sites I visit cover it extensively. Without having tried VR myself, it all looks like shitty Wii/Move/Kinect party games all over again. Fun for maybe an hour, funny to look at people playing them for a little bit more. And listening to people talk about the experience of playing them is impossible to comprehend. Without having been there it’s about as interesting as them telling me about a dream they had.

    This part was pretty good, though.

    https://youtu.be/UUju_e0T8O8?t=7m21s

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I’m kinda hopeful for the indies. The problem of reaching the audience is overcome with digital distribution, visibility has been helped by opening up Steam and other platforms, there are many good tools available. Oversaturation is probably the biggest problem now and I hope that the inevitable crash will be a culling rather than actual destruction of the market. I know we’ll probably loose some good devs in the process but hopefully indies made enough of a break through to maintain niches that AAA industry is not willing to venture into.

  8. Hal says:

    As a player, 2016 was also all about investment/payoff, and unfortunately, gaming lost that battle. Badly. My wife gave birth to twins this year. We bought a house. I started a new job with a long commute. All awesome things for me, but it meant a lot of trade offs.

    In the last few years, my gaming time and dollars became scarce, so risking it on unknown quantities wasn’t much of an option. After I gave up WoW, it was mainly the occasional game I could play with my buddies, usually on XBox. Now that my gaming time has gone from minimal to almost zero, I’ve just been replaying my favorite stand by, and that only because it’s on a tablet, so I can pick it up and put it down as needed. (Seriously, Sentinels of the Multiverse has been a boon to my sanity this year.)

    When I hear that the market is becoming even more glutted with games, all it means to me is that, whenever I do come back to the hobby, I’m either going to have an embarrassment of riches to choose from or I’ll have no idea where to start.

    • Kathryn says:

      Yep. Our oldest had two surgeries, and our youngest was born (and is in the hospital with RSV right now. We have spent waaay too much time in hospital rooms this year), and my job is really demanding. I am looking forward to our lives slowing down a bit so I have time for hobbies again.

    • Writiosity says:

      No idea where to start seems more likely. Steam is an abject mess after this year, it’s damn near impossible to find anything now. Honestly, they need to add filter buttons to remove all early access games and anything that went through greenlight, least then we could strip out all the junk and just look through the finished games.

    • Jeysie says:

      Hey, another Sentinels of the Multiverse fan out yonder, yay!

  9. SKD says:

    VR, the elusive mistress. I have been waiting for VR for so long and now I wait for affordable VR. The closest I’ve seen so far is the OSVR headset by Razer.

    I occasionally check out the games made for VR to see if there is anything worth the investment but the only titles I’ve identified as worth the hassle so far aren’t made specifically for VR but are enhanced by it’s addition. Games like Euro/American Truck Simulator, War Thunder (a WWII vehicle combat simulator), and other vehicular simulators. The games made for VR strike me as a load of shovelware much like many of the titles made for Wii or Kinect.

    Earlier this year I stopped even looking at Early Access titles. With so many titles being nothing but money grabs where the ‘publishers’ have no intent to support or finish the title, the appellation has become nothing more than a warning not to buy the product. I can only think of a handful of titles which proceeded to full release.

    • Nick-B says:

      In my opinion, the biggest hurdle to VR entry is that these companies are insisting on making their own walled gardens for people to dedicate to. It’s bad enough when the first one (Rift) was announced and was costing multiple hundreds of bucks. Now I find a few other competitors that are walling games off behind THEIR hardware, so I either have to have multiple sets (and logins, and apps on computer, etc) for them all, or go all in for one manufacturer.

      And now, congratulations! The main reason I try to avoid consoles (walled gardens with exclusive content) has finally managed to come to PC. I’m going to go /wrists now.

      • SKD says:

        That is why I totally gave up on the Rift. Well, that and the fact that it is now owned by Facebook.

        To my understanding there is no limit on where you can use SteamVR or OSVR. If SteamVR requires Steam I don’t mind because I already use Steam heavily. If they only require an app… Most advanced peripherals (gaming keyboards, gaming mice, flight sticks, driving wheels) already require additional software to run or to use their full capabilities.

  10. Merlin says:

    My prediction is that this indie surge is a bubble that will pop in 2017. It’s the old economics adage: “Anything that can’t go on forever, won’t.” Many indies hoping to make a living by filling niche markets will probably leave the field when their efforts yield such a low return in an oversaturated market.

    I can’t argue that there’s always room for the industry to crash – video game development at any budget level is built on a business model that is completely certifiably insane – but I’m not sold on your reasoning. I get the sense that it’s been pretty well understood for a while that indie development is feast or famine; there were no new smoking guns this year. Even outside of video games, the iOS App Store is over 8 years old, with how many thousands of aspiring coders & companies crushed underfoot? I don’t like building this thesis on old news.

    The industry at any level is largely sustained by people churning out a game and then totally bailing. It’s not quite as obvious at the AAA level because we just see “Ubisoft releases new AssCreed” rather than seeing all of the turnover in the credits, but it’s prevalent everywhere. Lifers exist of course (just as there are stabler-looking A-tier indie shops like Klei, Telltale, etc.) but if there’s a pop, the likeliest reason in my eyes is that the supply of bright-eyed newbies dries up.

    I don’t think there’s any threat of that in terms of interest – nerds still like video games, news at 11 – but it is where actual economics come into the picture. For the sake of the no politics rule, let’s not debate the long-term implications of the worldwide trend towards nationalism and protectionist economies. But regardless of how that pans out in the end, it’s going to have major negative consequences in the short term as companies built on decades of globalism lurch to adapt.

    The question in my mind, then, is this: as job security drops, do we see more people making indies on the grounds that they’re already screwed and might as well shoot for the moon? Or do they instead seek out stabler sources of income than these ridiculous luxury goods we call our hobby? (And on the gripping hand: we’ve got increasingly mature dev tools that are increasingly affordable, so the overhead has likely never been lower.)

    I don’t claim to know the answer to any of that, and it’s made even more difficult to get a sense of because of the long (and variable) the turnaround time for games. But I do think that that’s where the crux of a bubble burst would come from.

  11. ben says:

    I think VR is here to stay, because it’s a perfect fit for cockpit simulation games (driving car, piloting plane, ect …). It a big niche that is used to expensive accessory and high requirements for computer. VR will never make it big on this niche alone (and I don’t know if it ever will), but it will be enough to sustain it for a long time.

  12. Jokerman says:

    I thought (and still think) that VR will fail… not because it’s not really fun to experience, but that price for the ability to blindly jump in is to much for most people to even try it, people not trying it… means devs won’t well… develop.

    Feels like this has all happened before with other peripherals and consoles, the time might be right for VR to be fun and interesting to play, but the time isn’t right to do that and still be affordable for the masses.

    • Thomas says:

      I’m expecting (and a little surprised it hasn’t happened yet) for Sony to roll out free demo hardware to all the major retailers. From my understanding VR converts people even from very brief usage.

      Perhaps the problem is convincing shops to give up floor space for it. Or maybe its because Sony is still currently selling as many headsets as it can manufacture (which I believe it currently is doing, but maybe not for much longer)

      • Zak McKracken says:

        They may be holding off on that until such time as they know they’ll have enough and suitable content too keep all those casual converts happy. There’s nothing worse than distributing free trial headsets to retailers, maybe increasing sales tenfold (still not terrific, but tenn times as good as right now!), only to have the internet flow over with comments from those “casual converts” about how the set-up is difficult, there’s only a handful of games, and most of them are not quite aimed at someone who just wants to have quick fun. -> more or less by necessity (because everyone’s just figuring this out as we go), the current market seems to be mostly aimed at very interested people who don’t mind taking part in anexperiment, who maywant to hack the thing themselves and develop stuff at some point, and are happy to accept a slightly rougher ride than some person who expects “vidya games but more real”. The early adopters are the people who will give you feedback you require to make the thing into what you eventually may sell to the masses (or not if it turns out that some things just won’t work).

        The whole VR thing is not new per se but in terms of gaming it is a huge leap from what both consumers and developers know and love, so the “beta” phase necessarily has to be much longer than for a new game that tries a new genre, or a new console which may be x percent faster and bigger but is still built on existing standard components and doing the same stuff, only better.

    • Sven says:

      The Microsoft Store at my local mall has had a demo setup with the HTC Vive for ages. That’s where I got to experience it (and I probably would’ve bought one if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t really have space in my house for a decent roomscale setup). So, these kinds of things do exist.

      People may also experience things like the Samsung Gear VR first, and decide to move up to a more expensive headset based on that.

      PSVR will also help a lot, since it’s more the cost of the PC you need than the cost of the headset itself (even if they aren’t cheap either) that makes VR prohibitive. A console will be easier to deal with for most people, and also cheaper.

  13. Decius says:

    There’s a market now for professional video game reviewers. Someone that indie developers give their game to along with $400 (peanuts in the business world but rough in Ramenland), and the reviewer spends eight hours examining the game and an hour or two writing up an honest assessment /”for the studio. Being a work for hire, the studio now owns the review and can either throw it out, give it to their team for improvement, or give it to marketing to extract quips and/or get included in media featuring the name/reputation of the reviewer .

    Obviously someone getting paid $30/hour to review games is going to have to have developed a great reputation among consumers as able to provide useful reviews for them, despite literally being paid by the studio to write that review. It used to be that people working for print media corporations filled that role, but the incentives to inflate the reviews of games from studios that advertised creates the fatal appearance of impropriety (regardless of whether it was happening, customers lost trust in the reviews), and having a flat fee scale could help make the bias both clear and equal, improving their appearance of impartiality.

    The first person to be able to get paid for that is going to have to be someone who gets a large following based on their entertainingly informative writing already, enough so that a positive review results in detectable sales effects.

    • CraigM says:

      Interesting that you bring this up, as I know someone who does precisely this. Tom Chick, who has been around a long time and has a well established critical sense, makes part of his income doing in house professional reviews for studios. This means, however, that he ethically will not review a game he has worked on in this manner.

      But, as he is a critically sharp, articulate, and trusted reviewer (though he does get accused of contrarianism, and since he uses the full rating scale often rates lower than ‘mainstream’ publications) studios like Square Enix have hired him, often at multiple times in the development of a game.

      So that’s kind of the difference. You posit that the writer would have to have the trust of a built in audience to do this. I posit that Tom’s way is the better, and more ethical, one. That is refuse to make a public review of a game that he has received payment for an internal review.

      To get the gig, however, requires that you be a critic worth listening to, one who can write constructive and informative critiques. Most people writing in the big video game sites and publications simply are too uncritical, saccharine, and unaware of broader artistic and cultural lenses. Sure, there are good ones, ones with a literary understanding beyond the pablum, but they are rare. Basically your review can not be the sort of soft PR ego stroking that seems to dominate the reviews of mainstream and AAA gaimng.

      • Kylroy says:

        “Basically your review can not be the sort of soft PR ego stroking that seems to dominate the reviews of mainstream and AAA gaimng.”

        Nor can it be the parade of negativity and nitpicking that dominates a lot of lower-level games criticism. Ironic that the main consumers of high quality game criticism may end up being game companies themselves.

      • Decius says:

        Why don’t companies that get good reviews from him publish them? Why don’t I as a consumer know who he is and that his reviews are gold standard?

        • Zak McKracken says:

          Just a guess: Even the very positive reviews will contain some negative aspects which the company will probably rather not have in the open. Also, I’d expect that those companies will commission the review some time before release so they have time to react to it. The reviews will therefore always be not about the final product.

          And third: If the good reviews get published and the bad ones don’t, there’s an incentinve on the critic to write good ones. There’d also be an incentive to write for a different audience than the company making the game. A game review for the public needs to have a diferent form than one written for the developers. If the developer wants to learn from the review to make the product better before release, there’s no sense in paying the guy to write for a “lay” audience. And you could not commision a public review of the final product conditional on the “internal” review being positive because that will again incentivise the critic to say nice things even when the game’s broken. Also, you won’t need to because if the game is good, then so will be the non-commisiond reviews.

          To make the review process fair, it is required (though often not suficient) that the reviewer is paid by the audience, i.e. the people who want to know whether to buy a game or not. Ideally, that would happen after they read it, buy/don’t buy the game and then decide whether the advice was correct — which is of course impossible in the case of not buying, and that’s why we have the current model of buying a magazine/visiting an ad-infested gaming website/paying someone on Patreon, developing a feeling of whether their advice is useful, then deciding whether to continue supporting the source of the review.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      One more thing (beyond the fact that a studio paying for a public review of their game makes themselves and the reviewer look bad): Small Indie developers may not have the money to pay anyone working on the game, so they will be extra reluctant to pay someone for reviews.

      I think it needs to happen the ther way round: Consumers interested in knowing which games to buy will need to either do the hard work themselves or pay someone to do it. Steam tries to aggregate some information about games but ultimately they want to make people buy stuff and to suck data out of them, so they’re not the best source for “impartial” reviews (as opposed to technical information about a game, or statistics, to some extent). So really, the current model where prospective consumers pay a third party to review games is actually the right way round. The market does not seem to be set up to handle the very large number of indie games. It’d be cool if beyond long-form or even short-form reviews there was some way for one review outlet (be that a wiki, a website, a magazine….) to ingest all the games in the genres relevant to that outlet and pre-sort them in such a way that someone with any specific interest can quickly narrow down the list of game reviews to look out for, and review outlets can narrow down the list of games that need reviewing. Basically, making the choice of which games to review based on some formal and somewhat quick-to-evaluate criteria rather than “someone I trust told me I should review it” or “I saw the pitch and it looked interesting”. Something that would somewhat reduce the dependency of a developer on their own marketing to get noticed.

  14. MrGuy says:

    Meta.

    2016 seems to be the year when we all just pretty much accepted that “buying a game” means “buying a game ON STEAM.”

    I know some people love or hate Steam, and GoG is still around. But even Shamus here is basically lapsing into the shorthand that the market for games = Stean. I’m not trying to call Shamus out on that – I’ve basically accepted I’ll be buying all my mainstream games on Steam from here on out. So I’m realizing I’m thinking the same way.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Part of the reason for me personally, is that I always have Steam running on my computer, but GOG is website-only right now. There’s GOG Galaxy, but 1) that’s in beta and 2) they don’t have a linux client (still!). If I was always logged into everything in my browser that would be OK, but I feel that’s still a big security hole, so my browser is set to erase all cookies, history, etc upon exit. That sucks for GOG, but I have no way of white-listing specific websites to allow the cookies to stay around, and Steam has its own program outside of my browser.

      EDIT:
      Heck, even ignoring the logged-in/security aspect, I might just not think to go to GOG’s website! What I really need, is one website I can have bookmarked, that I can use to search Steam, GOG, Humble Bundle, etc, and tell me which platforms are selling that game for what price. Then I don’t need to remember to check all the multifarious sellers of games. :)

        • Echo Tango says:

          Jokes aside, this is more similar to Metacrawler[1] or PC Parts Picker, or maybe just mangling Google’s search hard enough. I tried Google, but it looks like you might need to search them for each site, pick out results that look good (possibly following the links to crawl/scrape those pages), and then spit out your final result(s). So, do-able as a script or even a website, but I haven’t looked into the terms and conditions of using Steam’s/GOG’s/etc’s websites are, and I assume they wouldn’t want you crawling them, even moreso if you’re trying to profit.

          [1] Get off my lawn, you whipper-snappers!

          • Zak McKracken says:

            Well, there are price-comparison websites all over the place, so the same thing shouldbe doable for games in fact, there are a couple of site who will do this for games as well as other stuff, but they don’t include GOG or Steam.

            …that’s for prices, but for usage statistics and sales numbers, I don’t think that many places would willingly part with that data. Steam has it because there must be a few nerds behind it who think that this is cool, and it seems to be something that their customers like, including having steam log data about themselves. GOG is very much on the side of people who don’t want that stuff logged, so they’d be harder to get “rich” data out of.

            I bet many piublishers will publish sales data, but that will be in various formats, so it woul’d be actual work to compile that. I’m actually almosty certain that some market analysts somewhere do this, and some publication may also publish the data, but I don’t read a lot of those so I wouldn’t know. In conclusion, it makes a lot of sense for Shamus to just use whatever data he can get his hands on, that’s Steam’s.

            I would indeed like to know what Steam’s market share is these days, especially compared to GOG.

      • WWWebb says:

        The website you’re looking for is https://isthereanydeal.com If you give it a wishlist, it will email you when the games you want go on sale.

        It can even import your current collections from steam and (using a GreaseMonkey script) GoG and Humble.

  15. Daimbert says:

    I’m not sure if this will fit better on this post or on a later one, but I just did my gaming summary for 2016 — it’ll come out at the end of January, because I’ve been off for a while and so had time to catch up on the blog — and on reading this post I asked myself: Out of the games I finished this year, which of them did I ACTUALLY ENJOY.

    It turns out the answer was: Huniepop. Seriously.

    (The other contenders were: Inquisition, Conception II, Knights of the Fallen Empire, and XBlaze: Code Embryo).

    That’s … not a good sign, although I did somewhat enjoy playing some of the games that I just played. But most of those were retro games anyway …

  16. Matt Downie says:

    There are a lot of people writing novels, and hardly any of them make a living out of it, but somehow this situation has continued for decades (centuries?) without any noticeable crash. I can see indie game development going the same way. People make games because they want to, not because it’s a reliable business plan.

    • stratigo says:

      effort verse reward. It’s much easier to write a book then make a game.

      • ben says:

        I hope you’re not serious. it’s two very different but very difficult task.

        • MichaelGC says:

          I think the relevant skills are much harder to acquire when it comes to making a game, and thus the costs (including time costs) are thusly much more formidable. I could write a book without any further training; I’d have no chance of making a game without years of preparatory work.

          • Matt Downie says:

            For people who already have the skills, it’s quicker to make a (small) game than to write a novel.

            Speed game-making events include Ludum Dare where you have to write a complete game in 48 hours. That’s quite popular.

            The nearest novel-writing event I can think of is Nanowrimo where you have to write a complete novel in a month. (I’m sure there are others with tighter time limits.)

            Indie games also lend themselves better to sharing the workload across multiple people. Hey, artist buddy, I made this game and I think it’s got potential – any chance you could replace some of my placeholder art with some of your own?

            Obviously, there are higher budget indie games that require more investment, and these carry more of a risk. But in a world where people are trying to remake Oblivion in Skyrim for no financial reward, I don’t see this crashing completely either.

            • MichaelGC says:

              Right, but the question I was addressing was whether it’s generally easier to write a book or make a game, and I maintain that for a book, the skills are much easier to acquire, as is the necessary equipment. Plus I can write a book in 30-second increments if necessary, while gamemaker person is still booting up their laptop.

              For some people there may be no difference, and the game might even be easier, but that doesn’t address the general case.

              • Matt Downie says:

                ‘Easy’ is one of those ambiguous words.

                I’ve seen a debate that went: “You young students have it easy with your coursework-based assessment. I had to memorise everything for exams. You can just look up whatever you want and get help with the difficult stuff.”
                “Easy? Have you any idea how long that coursework took? I barely slept!”

                One person was using easy to mean, “doesn’t require a great level of skill” and the other was using it to mean, “doesn’t require a lot of time and effort”.

            • NotSteve says:

              The thing about writing is that there is a market for short stories, and I don’t think there’s any equivalent for games. It might take a month to write a novel, but you probably could write a short story in a weekend. I’m not sure there’s an equivalent market for games.

              • Matt Downie says:

                I don’t think there’s much of a market for short stories either these days.

                There’s a market for short games, but writing a short game isn’t that much quicker than writing a long one.

        • Writiosity says:

          Yeah, that comment was likely written by someone who hasn’t done either. As someone who DOES write novels, lol at people thinking it’s easy. It ain’t.

          • Shamus says:

            As someone who’s done both:

            It’s a bit of a difficult comparison. Neither one is easy, but I’d say game development is harder than writing a novel.

            You need a lot more training before you can make a game. You also need a lot of diverse skills.

            Then again, if you’re using prefab templates and copying existing stuff (like making Bejeweled clones) then you can probably ship a game easier than publishing a novel.

            Then again, my novel Witch Watch made significantly more than my videogame, and that’s before you take into account that a team had to share the Good Robot proceeds.

            If my only concern was financial, I’d write another novel. If I was independently wealthy and free to spend my time however I wanted, I’d make another game.

            • Daimbert says:

              Writing a novel, it seems to me, is more accessible; you need to be able to write and need some software and maybe some specialized software, but you don’t need to know a particular programming language, set of programming tools, or anything else to make it work.

              That being said, development kits like RPG Maker, RAGS, Twine, Inform, etc can handle a lot of the back end work. But you aren’t likely to get rich off of games made in those systems, whereas it is possible for a book to simply take off. Then again, simple games that focus on gameplay are easier to do than novels where everything has to work together to make sense, and you need reasonable plotting and characters.

            • Decius says:

              Witch Watch game- get Phil Foglio to do the concept art and Telltale Games’ engine.

            • Writiosity says:

              I’ve done plenty of modding as a one-man team in the past, so yeah, I know what goes into the process (had to learn 3D modelling, texture work, scripting, etc.). But it’s also true that those skills, once learnt, will keep you going with minimal upkeep. Writing is more like learning a new language, you’re always learning until the day you die, and being a GOOD writer is a lot of work.

              I guess I’d say that games take more up front work to learn all the tools and so on, whereas writing is more immediately accessible. But good writing takes a lot of time and effort to achieve (I’ve looked back at my old stuff and cringed plenty, it’s barely even recognisable as my work compared to me now), whereas games feel like more of a steady thing once you have the initial knowledge down.

              So yeah, they’re not really what you’d call comparable, it’s the old apples to oranges thing.

            • Galad says:

              Naive followup question: Why not write a novel or two, then with whatever proceeds you hopefully have from that, be independently wealthy and free for an year or two and create a new game? I’ve no idea if the math would work out, probably not, but either way you’d still have blog material.

          • MichaelGC says:

            Easier, rather than easy. No one suggested the latter.

          • JAB says:

            Writing a good novel isn’t easy. But there are a lot more people out there that think they have the ability, than actually do.

            I regularly check out a couple of “here are some free ebooks on amazon” websites, and download stuff that seems somewhat interesting. I’ve found one scifi book that was good enough to reread, and lots that I read a few pages and delete. I’m trying to figure out “Ok, Why is this book so painful to read,” but usually I can’t explain why.

            I’ve got one friend who is trying to be an author, and I’m afraid to buy her book off of amazon, because I’m worried it’s going to be absolute trash.

    • MarsLineman says:

      Fully agree. Especially as technology for making games continues to become more accessible (Unity, etc)

  17. Phantos says:

    I can’t speak for indie devs, but to me, making an indie game has always seemed like more of a personal venture for expression rather than a serious job opportunity.

    Something to do because you MUST, consequences be damned.

    But I do wonder how many people will even have the opportunity to spend that much and get so little in return…

    • Sleeping Dragon says:

      I don’t think that’s really fair, it’s like saying that any other creative endevaour is not a serious job opportunity unless you make it big or get swallowed by some industry giant. Any creative field will have people who do it for fun in their free time, as a creative outlet, or because they feel they have something important to say. And sure, a lot of people who want to make this into a career won’t make it, but there is plenty of creative professionals who, while not making it big, aim to and are able to make a living (of varying degree of modesty) out of their effort.

  18. Ardyvee says:

    While I agree with your assessment regarding the financial viability to make indie video games unless you are one of the few that make a smash hit, I expect to see a segment of the market to shift towards patronage instead of straight up selling their game. Not unlike what Rutskarn was doing for his patreon.

    After all, streamers have been relying on the generosity of their audiences who are willing to continuously contribute money, some who give much more than the monthly subscription. Video game critics have also used this (Jim Sterling being one of the most notable cases that I know of), and there is at least one high-profile precedent in video games (Dwarf Fortress). Perhaps there are more that I do not know of. Some webcomics also use a combination of patronage, ads and kickstarter (for print editions, for example).

    Regardless, I think there is a space for an audience to support creators making indie games. It won’t stop the churn of hopeful newcomers trying to make a big hit, nor will it stop the churn currently going on in the industry, but it should hopefully provide some more stability for the indie scene.

  19. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The problem is that niche markets do not mix well with high budgets.

    Yes they do.There are whole industries that are predicated precisely on this.Tailored suits,expensive cars,expensive foods,expensive paintings,…So why not expensive games as well?

    • Shamus says:

      You’re suggesting that there’s a market of super-rich guys who will pay $1,000 for a VR game?

      I suppose it’s possible, but I would not take that bet.

      Thinking about this more, I think what VR really needs is a killer app in the form of porn. According to folklore, both VHS and Blu-Ray rose because they were embraced by porn. I have no idea if porn actually makes sense in VR. It sounds awkward and uncomfortable to me, but this is not my area of expertise. I have heard rumors that people are experimenting with it.

      In any case, if VR porn took off it might create the stable install base of VR hardware for more conventional entertainment to work with.

      • MichaelGC says:

        A quick search suggest people are indeed working on it, but I have no VR equipment so that’s as far as I’m going to be looking into it. And now that sounds vaguely naughty.

        Hold on – as does that; this is a minefield – Campster and Josh both have VR setups, don’t they? Perhaps we should ask them for a survey of the current state of the art…

      • Echo Tango says:

        It’s definitely already here.[1] Couple that with the teledildonics[2] research, and you’ve got the tech needed for this experience. The question remains however, if the cost of the gadgets involved is worth the increase in experience fidelity over just, you know, watching porn on the device they already own and are already using to surf the ‘net.

        [1] Pretty-much SFW links; You see some bikinis in the videos / pictures accompanying those articles.
        [2] This one too.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Add streaming services to the VHS and Blu-Ray.

      • Matt Downie says:

        I believe there are two general types of VR porn. Type one is basically a 3D point-of-view movie that requires you to keep your head still to maintain the illusion. Type two is pure CGI (which probably carries the risk of ‘uncanny valley’ effects).

        I don’t think either of them is going to appeal much to the mass market at present tech levels.

      • Decius says:

        $10k for a site liscense, and I’d still have to set up a front of house for the VR center. Another $20k in capital, $40k for the space, and with a few employees call it $300k a year to have a VR arcade.

        I bet people would pay $20+ an hour to rent a good VR game. That means we would need to sell 20k+ hours to cover unexpected costs and profits. 50 weeks means 400 hours per week that we need to sell. 10 machines and a fairly busy weekend- maybe 200 hours sold, plus some on weekdays?

        It’s within the realm of needing to do more math, maybe have more than 10 up for rent and less than 4 FTE employees.

        Killer app for that would be something that won’t draw offense when live gameplay is being played out into the mall, so the shoot guy genre is out. Has to take advantage of the VR, and develop regular players.

      • Writiosity says:

        The real killer app (beyond porn) seems like it’ll probably be virtual tickets for things like live events (wrestling matches, sports games, bands, that type of thing). $50 or whatever to have a 360 degree view of the whole event from the comfort of your own home is likely to be highly desirable in a lot of instances, not least of which for anyone with health issues and the like.

      • Steve C says:

        You’re suggesting that there’s a market of super-rich guys who will pay $1,000 for a VR game?

        Yup. The military.

        The goal is the big bucks payday from the killer commercial app that everyone loves. The Super Mario Bros in everyone’s living room. Before then there is the military. (Not necessarily just the US military either.) Up to recently, military budgets have been the ones buying VR and therefore paying the costs of development. They want it bad enough that they’ve been paying for it for the past 20+ yrs. If there was a viable $1000 per unit VR that did what they wanted, they’d jump at it.

    • MichaelGC says:

      Hmm – do those things always involve high production budgets, or just high prices? There’s often a giant markup when it comes to luxury items. Famous painter person might get the very best kind of paints or whatnot, but they’re not going to be spending so much on brushes as to directly require a pricetag in the millions.

      There are often higher production budgets, sure, but I think those’ll tend to be just one component of the high price of a fancy suit or a Ferrari or whatnot.

      PS Europe clearly can’t sleep this evening! :D

      • Falcon02 says:

        In many of those cases you’re paying more for the labor to have it customized.

        For example a Toyota vehicle comes off an Assembly line designed for maximum efficiency to output one or a few nearly identical models. Sure maybe 100 people directly build the car, but those 100 people are able to output 200 cars a day collectively*

        Bentley car is a custom ordered custom made item. They generally don’t build the car until they have the order in with the specifics the customer wants (built in Mini-fridge?, custom lighting? Gold trim?). This means each car is a more unique item and requires more individual work on it. It’s not set up like an assembly line, it goes from “station to station,” but it’s not optimized for efficiency and more so for quality/customization. So instead for 100 people they’re only able to output 5-10 cars a day.*

        I’m sure there’s still heavy price mark-ups for being a “luxury” brand, but the base expense is still higher. And paying people’s “base salary” of the people making it or general operating costs is not a mark-up… as they say time is money…

        * – These are random numbers to illustrate the point, I don’t know the actual person to number of cars per day ratio.

        To more extensively illustrate this point I’d like to mention economies of scale. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economies_of_scale

        Products are expensive per unit, if you’re only building a few, but cheaper if you build a lot. This applies to physical products like tools, cars and aircraft but is also applicable to software to a lesser extent.
        For example if 10 people, paid $50,000 per year, make a game/program over 1 year (total labor cost $500,000) they will need to sell 10,000 copies at $50 to just to pay their salaries. This is an over simplification, as there’s a lot more that goes into a game costs that people’s salaries.

        However, if their product is for a niche market where they can only expect to sell 500 copies, each copy will need to cost $1,000. This is why a lot of specialty software for businesses get so expensive… there’s a much smaller market for their product, and the users that do exist are willing to pay extra for it.

        • Falcon02 says:

          For an example of High Priced Software…

          A 1-year subscription (I hate this trend) of AutoCAD (Engineering Design Software) costs $1,400

          Matlab (a useful and powerful math program) Standard costs $2,150. Though they do have a “Home version” for personal use for $150, and student version for $99.

          I think the main point I’m trying to make is items that are considerably higher priced in a larger market (such as software) sometimes have a reason for being more expensive besides a simple desire to “up the price” so the rich can show off.

          Though I can’t deny that people don’t buy expensive things just to show off that they could afford it… It’s just more nuanced than that…

          • krellen says:

            At my workplace, some of my users have advanced, customer-tailored scientific instrumenting/simulation software that costs $10k to buy-in and might sell 1,000 copies globally. But the only other option these people would have is to write the software themselves and as they aren’t software engineers, that’s too much of a time investment to make sense (anything more than a month or two for these people wouldn’t be worth it, from just a simple cost-analysis basis).

            (These packages also tend to have per-year licensing costs of 10-20% of the purchase price, with updates and bug fixes and tweaks as required by customers included, which is how their business model works. Again, still worth it from a cost-analysis basis.)

    • ehlijen says:

      Those goods tend to all be designed to be shown off, to be fashionable. In terms on electronic consumer goods, that’s giant plasma screens and home theatre setups. I’m not sure VR headsets designed to be worn by one person, who is then left unable to observe the reactions of those around, are going to be able to join those niches.

    • Daimbert says:

      But for that to work you need those things to be visible and be seen as status symbols. Either that or they have to be seen as being of massively greater quality. VR’s not likely to hit either of those in the near future.

      • Zaxares says:

        Exactly. All of those prestige items mentioned above are less about “truly enjoying the experience” and more about “showing off to your peers/lessers”. Since VR is still very much a personal experience kind of thing, it’d be useful really only as a showpiece that you display to friends or acquaintances. That’s not really the kind of business model that most companies can survive on.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        There are a few luxury items that arent meant to be seen by others.$500 underwear,for example.Also,as TotalBiscuit often says,vr is great for nervous fliers,so I can see someone who owns a jet getting a vr headset to use when they fly.

        • Daimbert says:

          “Status symbol” does not necessarily mean “directly visible”. If someone is going to pay $500 for underwear, then there are only two reasons to do so. One is that they will be able to brag to others that they own it, even if they have to brag about that directly. The other is that the product is massively superior to the cheaper models. I’m gonna guess that with that example it’s the former that’s the main draw there, the idea of clothing yourself entirely in things that your money and status can grant you and others can’t. VR is likely to be seen as a bit too nerdy to really get that. Now, the Google glasses, on the other hand, might have hit that, presenting an air that you needed to be connected all the time (albeit arguably making you look absolutely goofy while doing it).

          VR for nervous private jet owners is so niche as to be not really worth considering, especially since most nervous fliers at that income level already have many ways to deal with those nerves, and it isn’t clear that it would make them LESS nervous, since they would be cut off from what was going on around them.

    • Matt Downie says:

      Arguably the VR industry is already running on this basis. Rich guys at Valve and Facebook want to play VR so they throw a ton of money into it. They’d probably do this even if they knew they weren’t likely to get their money back.

      On the other hand, a big-budget VR game would be like a big-budget movie. I can’t imagine you could make a profit by making a superhero film that costs $1,000 to see and then finding a hundred thousand rich guys willing to spend that much. Or one that costs a million dollars to see and then finding a hundred super-rich patrons.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well there have been movies that were made for the whims of dictators before.So I can see a vr game made specifically for Kim Jong Un.Though I can also see him ordering the execution of the developers because he vomited due to vr sickness.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    1) Make a smash hit or…
    2) Go broke.

    And thats a problem.Because the third option,”make an ok game that will make modest money,then repeat” is valid.Ive just seen a video about exactly this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmwbYl6f11c

    • Benjamin Hilton says:

      In fairness, the majority of those 11 years were before the deluge of indie shovelware of the past year or so. it does kinda change the landscape.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      That’s pretty much what I hope a lot more developers should be able to achieve in an ideal world. The thing is that many are simply going for broke, and it also kinda makes sense, because sometimes it’s better to try a thing and move on if it fails because you may have another career waiting, or because you’re just not the person for the kind of job described in the talk you linked.

      Then again, I think it is fundamentally unfair not just for gamedevs but also for most kinds of artists (musicians, painters, actors) and athletes (if they’re in a discipline that makes any money atall): There’s a huge number of people who dabble init, some of them really good, then there’s a much smaller number who are serious competiion, who have put in and kep putting in a significant part of their lives, and most of those people’s performance is way beyond what any “regular” person can hope to achieve. However, of those people, only very few perform to the standard required to even be considered for higher-level competition. Of those, a miniroty is able sustain themselves from their art,at least for some time. Of those, every once in a while, an individual manages, usually through sheer luck, to get noticed and move into that group of people whose names are known to people who care about the discipline, and that just gives them a chance to make enough to actually stay in the field and make it their profession, granted they do well compared to the rest of that elite and and are lucky enough not to make no grave mistakes for at least some time … and of those, only a small percentage achieves actual fame, and usually incredible financial benefits.

      Now, this varies of course depending on the discipline. A runner is not dependent on being “discovered”, and an actor’s talents are not quite as measurable as an athlete’s but more or less it’s all a huge lottery where you buy the ticket by spending 90% of your spare time perfecting the skills you need to perform, and the same seems to hold for game development. Now, I know that this is not in any one person’s or organisation’s hand and therefore not really possible to change but it bothers me to no end. It’s also not good for consumers because you end up with a few stars who are probably not bad but also expensive, and very few. There’s a much more diverse offering out there which most simply don’t notice because so few people achieve visibility.

      I’d really love if there were a lot more projects like Jake Birkett’s of people making a decent living off decent games.
      I did buy Defense of the Titans through that Humble Bundle, by the way — I was just not very happy with it, unfortunately:(

      • Jonathan says:

        Many of the same things can be said for other professions, including commissioned business to business sales. There’s a yuuuuge difference between being one of the top 30-40% in the industry (me, I think; data is scarce) and being in the top 10-20%.

    • Steve C says:

      That is a great video.

  21. Zak McKracken says:

    Concerning the prediction of an indie-game market bubble burst: Whether and when it happens is a question not just of the number of developers and the number of games which reviewers and consumers can keep up with (those could change, depending on reviewing methods), but also the costs associated with making an indie game, and what we want to count as a “full game” here.

    1: How many of Steam’s listed a games are actually just very quickly put-together experiments which were made on a weekend by an individual? The costs to make those are so small that they would not be affected by any crash (and indeed should probably be counted out of the market, even if one or two may gain some popularity).

    2: How are the costs to develop more serious games (which may take months and several people to develop) evolving? I’m not involved myself, so I’m relying on rumours when I say that I think they’re still coming down. This would be something that will allow an increased number of “semi-serious” indie-games to exist — ones where the developers are aware from the start that they’re not likey to make lots of money. The cheaper the cost of taking part, the more people will still join this lottery, even if their chances are getting worse.

    I’m thinking that the drive of “big” developers to increase their budgets to infinity must have left a niche or three in the market, for developers with mid-sized to small budgets. From small social/mobile game developers to companies like Hare-brained Schemes or Double Fine, there’s a bunch of opportunities in the market outside of the big houses, and it would seem to me like many of those are not struggling. I think if and when the predicted crash happens, it will likely be at the second-to lowest tier. People (like poor Shamus) without much investment capital or history of releasing financially successful games, who just hold their breath for a year or two to make the thing they love. People, actually, whom I’d like to see failing least of all. But then the existence of mid-level gaming companies suggests that the distribution of chances inthe field is now a little less one-sided than it was. Or maybe that’s just survivorship bias? At least it seems you do not have to work for a giant these days to make a living off game development. That’s something.

  22. Jonathan says:

    Games I bought and/or played substantially this year:

    Civ4 (with BTS expansion)
    Factorio
    Good Robot
    King of Dragon Pass (via GOG)
    Tales of Maj’Eyal
    World of Tanks (only until baby#2 arrived)

    I’ve put in plenty of time on Play-By-Post D&D 3.5 also.

    Leaving out the D&D, that’s one free MMO, one free older game, one older AAA strategy game, one very old strategy game (1999), and two “indie” games.

  23. Diego says:

    “I’ve got people I love all over the political spectrum”

    For some reason I read spectrum as scrotum.
    ….
    Political scrotum. Heh. On the one hand, that makes no sense, but on the other it works perfectly with my view of politics in general.

  24. wswordsmen says:

    I want someone to make a good asset flip game just to show it can be done. It will never happen, because the time and effort it would take to find all the right parts that can be easily put together to make that game is much greater than just making it from scratch. Just like how beating a game with 1 hand on a normal controller can probably be done but is actually harder than using 2 hands.

    VR is likely to prove a distraction. And we are currently in the overvalued phase of indie games cycle. Good news is there is absolutely no reason to believe that quality indie games will stop coming. There will just be fewer of them.

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