Sunday, July 16, 2006

The dichotomy of publication

You can say anything you want about the gap between big-budget games and "indie" games, but the fact is, it's about to get worse. Not because of a lack of avenues for indie games, but an increasing and less-populated gap between big-budget publication and underground hits.

You might be optimistic about the future of indie games; I don't blame you. The PC has long had the internet as a viable distribution on the cheap, and it's coming to all the next-gen systems. The XBox 360 has exploded the possibility for games with a high fun-to-kilobyte ratio to be sold at a reasonable price.

But, what about the moderate games? What about those games which are hit or miss, the non-blockbusters that are still decent and come in a box? The people have spoken: Americans have more money than they do time. They only have time to play either a quick fix or the best of the best. The middle-range might be dying soon, and I'm still undecided on if it's a good thing for the art.

Console prices are way up for the sake of graphics, meaning that there's fewer consoles per home. To sell a game well, it has to be ported on both the 360 and the PS3 (Wii is forging a new niche market and so I expect the same game-isolation as before between Nintendo and other systems). The indie games have low production cost and can be distributed via the interwebs. The big games can port across platforms. The middle-range doesn't have the budget. They'll scale back to indie level or go big into debt to get on both consoles.

One might argue that this is an inevitable step near the end of the cycle that separates big-time publication from indie; you can claim it's more or less what happened in music, movies, magazines/newspapers, books, etc., but I don't know if it's necessarily something we should accept. In some cases this has worked out great, as movie sets are expensive. In others, such as music, it's killed creativity and it's harder than ever to find quality music. Since more people are trying to make it in music than there's a market for it, companies only sign 1 band per "sound", and you miss a lot of good similar stuff. But, there's an entire post in that, and I still haven't gotten to my strategy game thoughts.

I'll leave you with this idea: Art, all art, anywhere, everywhere, is science. It is the most empirical of sciences, true, but science is all around it and in it. Science as we normally think of it is very rational and has a more visible pay-off, but just look at say, the last 300 years of music, and then tell me that we aren't approaching a better understanding of ourselves. Art's a roundabout science, to be sure, but in little ways it pays off... And I have a hunch that someday, long after I'm dead, it'll pay off in a few big ways.

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