This one’s just a public service announcement.
When the game releases, I’ll try to post a bit more on it and maybe talk shop about what I actually do at work, if you all are interested. A look behind the curtain, as it were.
This one’s just a public service announcement.
When the game releases, I’ll try to post a bit more on it and maybe talk shop about what I actually do at work, if you all are interested. A look behind the curtain, as it were.
Hi, I’m Tesh, and I’m a late adopter.
I am interested in the bleeding edge of technology and entertainment, especially as I’m trained to produce some of it, but I’m just cheap enough that I don’t bother trying to keep up as a consumer. I buy used cars. I buy books on sale and used books (getting old Battletech source books for less than $5 with shipping made me happy). I buy games well past their expensive heyday (the $30 I spent on the World of Warcraft Miniatures game and 18 other models for it were well worth the price, and my Magic the Gathering collection is all oldish and cheap, but still well worth playing). I haven’t purchased a game at full price since Frozen Synapse, but before that, it was Street Fighter 2 Turbo for the SNES back in 1993. (Paying $70 for it then pretty much burned me out forever on buying games when they are new.)
That’s why I love Steam sales like the recent Summer Sale event. For less than the cost of Batman Arkham City on day one, I was able to get several games… including Batman Arkham City. I just had to wait a while. (For the record, I got Warlock – Master of the Arcane, SOL: Exodus, Plants vs. Zombies, Lost Horizon [thanks, Andrew!], Future Wars, Demolition Inc., Dear Esther, HOARD, Swords and Soldiers HD, Wings of Prey, and Arkham City and its Harley’s Revenge DLC.) The Indie Bundles are also presently on sale again on Steam at the moment, just in case you missed one. I recommend this one and this one… but there are gems all over the place.
Similarly, I got Final Fantasy 11 and several of its expansions for $5 a while back, and RIFT’s Collector’s Edition, also for $5. I picked up the base World of Warcraft and its first two expansions for $30 last Christmas, and Cataclysm for another $20 a bit later. Notably, if I’d waited on that, I could have got those for even cheaper thanks to the Scroll of Resurrection promotion they ran a while back (which also came with a character promotion to level 80, itself worth a bit of money, really); if I’d picked up the base WoW for $5 as I’ve seen before, I could have gotten all the rest in that promotion. I kinda wish I’d waited on that, too. (I’m curious to see what the next ‘Scroll offers, actually. They set an interesting precedent. I’m looking forward to taking advantage of it.)
Just yesterday, Star Wars, The Old Republic went and surprised everyone who wasn’t paying attention by announcing an impending business model conversion, the pretty much inevitable “free to play” conversion. I’m pretty much certain to play it now, when I can make the time. They might even earn some money from me… though I’d have paid them more if they had listened to me almost 4 years ago.
I suppose this trend of mine could prove troublesome. I do have a nice flatbed scanner that doesn’t play nice with any Windows past XP (Memorex stopped making drivers for it), and my awesome Intuous 12″x12″ tablet that I picked up for $100 instead of the $1000+ it cost initially also doesn’t play nice with any computer that doesn’t have a serial port. (There’s a tangential rant in there about planned obsolescence, but I’ll save that for another day.) I might miss out on Collector’s Edition goodies, though those sometimes wind up on eBay later. I might wind up adopting a twentysomething who just can’t quite graduate from college, or a phone that doesn’t let me remote control the International Space Station. Still, I’m willing to take the risk. It’s been worth it so far.
It just takes a bit of time.
A little while back, Syl mused about how World of Warcraft has changed her in an article thisaway. Others chimed in like Victor, over here, and Rakuno over here. I figured I’d jump in, since I haven’t done enough navel-gazing lately. To dig into what MMOs have done to me, I need to go back to the 90s, before I did anything with them.
I work in the game industry. I play games. A lot of different games. MMOs are just a small slice of my game library and vocabulary (though they tend to consume a disproportionate amount of time), but they have had some significant effects on me over the last 6 years or so.
My background is primarily in RPG games and tactical games. I’ve played RTS, FPS, driving, fighting, puzzle, and other games, but most of my gaming time before MMOs was with epic RPGs like Final Fantasies, Chrono Trigger, Star Ocean 2 and the like. Back in… 2002? or so, I remember seeing an advertisement in a magazine for the upcoming World of Warcraft. It wasn’t the first online game I’d heard of (Sierra’s The Realm gets that honor, I think, and I was aware of Ultima Online), but it looked really good, and I liked the Warcraft IP, having spent many fun hours with Warcraft and Warcraft 2. That was the draw, really, the ability to prowl through the jungles at ground level as a single character, rather than the third person nonentity I was in the Warcraft RTS games. In short, I was captivated by the idea of exploring the WORLD of Warcraft.
Of course, the blasted thing is an online game, and the only place I had internet access was at school or work. Those were the only places I had a computer capable of then-modern gaming as well. Yes, I spent a lot of time with classics like Master of Magic, Master of Orion 1&2, X-Com (the old, good one), Privateer and the like well past their heyday. I’ve always been a late adopter of games, really. It’s better on the wallet. Anyway, while WoW looked appealing, there was no way I was going to be able to play it, so I ever-so-slightly wistfully pushed it aside and ignored it.
In the meantime, I graduated from college in 2003, then got a full-time job that let me buy a then-powerful laptop that I fully intended to play games with. I still didn’t have an internet connection (and to this day, I still think the darn things are too expensive), but I had a computer that could finally play Morrowind. I was hooked, finally happy to be wandering through a fantasy world that was so much more interesting to me than my FPS experience in Wolfenstein (the old one) and Doom (also the old one). I got lost along the shores outside of the starting town, died a few times, and then downloaded a few hacks. I found I wasn’t all that interested in playing the right way, I just wanted to putter around in a fantasy world. Imagine that.
It was while I was working in that first post-graduation job that I ran into someone actually playing that World of Warcraft thing. He played during lunch, mining, mostly. I watched him maneuver his zombie-ish guy around some barren-looking canyons, mining some sort of rocky nodes. I think, looking back, that it was maybe in Thousand Needles, one of my favorite locations in the game before the Shattering. He showed me around a little, noting that his “real” character was an Orc Shaman. He offered me a ten-day buddy key to try out the game, and I graciously accepted.
I still didn’t have an internet connection.
So, I installed it on my office computer and played a little during lunch like he did. Yes, we played games at work. We were working in the game industry, and every one of us were gamers. One guy played Magic the Gathering Online for lunch, and sometimes we all played the actual card game for lunch. And it was good. The bosses didn’t play games as much as we did, but they didn’t mind us playing, even with company assets like the computers and internet connection, so long as we got all our hours in and got our work done.
Anyway, I had ten days to play, only during lunch, only at work. It was little more than a taste of the game, really. I fired up a Tauren Shaman and puttered around. I learned what the WoW notion of quests were, and I followed some breadcrumbs around the hill to a small Tauren town, then made my way up the road to Thunder Bluff, still my favorite capital city in the game. I learned Skinning and Leatherworking, charmed with the ability to make my own gear. It felt like my Tauren was a self-sufficient adventurer in a larger world. It was good.
The game’s reality lurked in the wings, though. I wanted some more backpack space since I kept winding up with lots of junk I picked up off of the critters I killed, but I couldn’t buy anything from the auction house and vendor bags were too expensive. I figured I’d use Leatherworking to make some kodo hide bags, since there were kodos just downhill. Silly me, I figured it should be easy. Just go kill and skin a few kodos (they are huge, and should have plenty of leather apiece) and then stitch together a bag or four.
…the last three days of my trial were spent trying to make those stupid bags. I had to skin several dozen critters to qualify for skinning kodos. I had to kill dozens of kodos just to get one scrap of kodo leather. I needed six such pieces to make one bag. I stuck with it because it was my “endgame” goal for the time I had. I never actually did finish even a single bag.
It was stupid.
That, in a microcosm, is the WoW experience, I think. Fascination with the world and its potential, ownership of your own little avatar in that world, seeing new sights and new monsters… then running face first into the soul-crushing time sinks that the game uses to suck people into that next sweet month of subscription money. I learned enough about the game to know I still loved the idea of the World of Warcraft, but that the game itself got in the way. Even if I had internet access at home at that time, I still wouldn’t have bothered with the game because of the absurd subscription business plan… and to be honest, I did want to keep playing, but I was already getting burned out a bit, just because of the stupid grindy pacing of the crafting system. It was probably good that I didn’t keep going at that point, since I was still on the edge of still liking the game for what it could be, and could go on pretending that it was exactly what I hoped it was.
Soon after that, I found Puzzle Pirates, and it was like I had found a home I never knew I was missing, and I didn’t have to pay a sub for it. It’s still my MMO home. I was hooked there by the gameplay, not so much the sense of the world, though I did love “memming” the ocean solo, still scratching that Explorer itch. It helped that I was pretty good at the game (skill is more important there than time investment), and that I got my own ship without reaching some arbitrary “endgame”. I didn’t much mind that I was missing out on the WoW craze. I had something that fit me better, and really, it still does, seven years later. In fact, last night I finally won my first Swordfighting tournament. Sometimes it’s the small goals that make the most fun. It is also the only MMO that my wife has played with me for more than a half hour. She gave Guild Wars a good try, but it just didn’t stick.
It wasn’t until… 2008 or so, when the ten-day passes were obsolete and anyone could just sign up for a ten day trial, that I tried the game again. I played another ten day trial, this time with my home desktop and internet connection (albeit a cheap one, which made the game laggy… which didn’t help). The game still looked nice, and it was fun to make a new character, hoping for good times. This time I did a little more research on the game and fired up a Druid. I’ve loved Druids ever since. I have a soft spot for Hunters and Shaman still, but I’m a Druid player at heart. I had fun, learned Bear form, messed around a bit shifting between forms as necessary… then my time ran out. I still mostly liked the game, but still wasn’t going to pay to keep playing. I was mad enough that I had to pay $50/month for the internet connection.
The wider world of MMO gaming had been opened to me, though. I tried a bunch, from Dungeons and Dragons Online to Guild Wars to Lord of the Rings Online to Atlantica Online to Star Trek Online to Allods Online to Wizard 101 to Neosteam to Free Realms to City of Heroes to DC Universe Online to my latest experiment, Pirates of the Burning Sea, and others in between that I’m not remembering at the moment. I (quickly) grew tired of the DIKU grind, always chasing levels and loot. I decided that playing with others can sometimes be OK, but that I’m still a soloist at heart. I studied game design, business models and the game industry. I found some MMO blogs as I studied the silly things and their communities, and eventually started a blog of my own. This is why this blog still has a backbone of MMO analysis, but it’s not devoted to any one game or even stuck solely on games at all. I came to this blogging world because of MMOs.
I may not be a MMO groupie, but I still find value in the sociality involved with the games and blogging in general.
So that’s what MMOs have done for me. They have introduced me to bloggers I consider friends, they have increased my knowledge of the game industry and game design, and given me well over 6000 screenshots that I can use for inspiration (I’m an artist, after all). My knowledge of games, my chosen career, has been enhanced by the wider world of the internet and how games work in that shared social space, whether or not they are designed for it.
My life is richer, not necessarily for having played MMOs, but for what they have led me to.
…but I still hate subscriptions.
Posted in Administrative, Game Design, tagged Ancients of Ooga, Band of Bugs, bundle, Cloning Clyde, game industry, indie, Indie Royale, keflings, NinjaBee, Outpost Kaloki, Wahoo on March 23, 2012 | 4 Comments »
I had no idea this was in the works. Sneaky ninjas.
The Indie Royale guys have a new bundle up of NinjaBee games, four with a fifth if you beat the minimum price. I’ve worked on four of these, though, admittedly, only on a phone port for Outpost Kaloki, not the original game. Cloning Clyde was done before I joined the Wahoo/NinjaBee team, as was the original Outpost Kaloki.
Still, I did a few bits of the art for Ancients of Ooga, a fair bit of art for Band of Bugs, and a lot of art for A Kingdom for Keflings. (Oh, and we’re working on more DLC for the sequel, A World of Keflings, as a result of this contest from a little while ago.)
So yeah, go check it out, y’all! It’s hard to beat the price on these. Am I shilling for my company? Yes, yes I am. They are good games, too, and ones I’d recommend as great indie titles anyway. I have a soft spot for Band of Bugs especially, tactical game nerd that I am.
Oh, and speaking of ninjas and hidden secret things, I’ll come back to that “hidden” photo from last post. There’s an art point I want to make with it, but I’ll let it sit for the weekend.
A couple of thoughts on subs and F2P business and MMOs, today guest starring Tobold, Spinks and Raph Koster.
Tobold’s I Would be Happier with Free2Play
Spinks’ WoW Thought for the Day
Raph Koster’s F2P vs. Subs
…and yet, I have a 60-day time card that I’ve had for almost a year and a half and a handful of 30-day time codes from the WoW VISA card I use for big purchases and emergencies. I have the time codes (and one unscratched card), ready to use, already paid for, but the flubbernuggin’ time-limited monetization scheme still doesn’t feel like good value to me. I don’t want to use those codes since I have too much going on to devote sufficient time to playing to get good value out of them. Similarly, I have a Steam code for 30 days each of FFXI and RIFT, but I haven’t activated either of them. They are paid for, ready to go, but I hate the idea of locking myself into a monogamous game experience just so I can squeeze the most out of it as I can before the time stops ticking.
I hate gaming on the clock.
…and on the other hand, I’ll happily sink a little time into the newly F2P Star Trek Online every morning sending my Duty Officers off on missions and maybe run a story arc mission in the evening. The cost of activation is really low, so I go play when I feel like it. I’m considering spending $15 or so to get a new ship that I would then be able to use whenever I darn well please for as long as the servers are live. That’s value I’ll pay for. That’s how I approach Wizard 101, too; I bought Crowns to unlock areas that I’ll get to someday, and in the meantime, I’ll play when I feel like it. I’ve spent money on Puzzle Pirates for the same reason; I bought a ship that I can sail around and pirate with, but I don’t have to keep paying just to play on the occasions when I make the time for it. I’d readily pay for a single purchase SWTOR.
Would that translate to WoW? In my case, absolutely. I’d log in and do a few quests here and there, and toss them money to unlock a dungeon or the ability to make a Dwarf Druid or make my own guild comprised entirely of my own characters without the need to recruit other players or some sort of service that lets me bypass some of the extremely poorly paced crafting curve. I’m definitely not averse to giving Blizzard money, I just want to pay for things that offer me good value. WoW is still a fun game to play, even with all its warts and weirdness. As it stands, though, I can’t exactly send them a financial message about the parts that I care about, which is one of the weaknesses of the subscription model.
…I can, however, offer to sell my time codes. Anyone? Maybe trade for some titles on my Steam Wish List? Oh, and I still have some coupons and COGS and World of Goo if anyone wants them. Nobody took me up on the snowflake contest, so I’ll just throw them to the winds. (Another interesting take on value, perhaps…)
My generous employer, Wahoo Studios/NinjaBee, gave each of us an OnLive miniconsole for Christmas and a coupon for a game. They are one of those rare workplaces that actually wants its employees to play games… albeit not actually at work (QA crew excepted, of course) for sensible reasons.
I’m on record as being… unimpressed with the concept of OnLive. I stand by my earlier reticence and my own preferences against online gaming in general. (Yes, I play online games still. They aren’t devoid of value, the pros just have to outweigh the cons.) Still, one should never sniff a gift fish, so it was time to dive in and see how well this OnLive thing works out.
Turns out… well… partially fudge, partially onion, and the two don’t exactly mix. (Apologies to the fudge-covered onion lovers out there.)
I got Dirt3 with my gift coupon. It’s a solid, fun rally racing game, but about the only other one on the service that I even partially cared about. OK, Bastion is on there, and I will get that someday, but I prefer to get it on the XBox, ditto with the LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean. The library of games they offer isn’t very big at the moment, but I imagine it will get bigger. Since I don’t buy or play M-rated games, that naturally cut me off from a quarter or so of what they offer, too, but that’s a limitation on my end, not theirs.
…but what about the performance? How does it play?
Well… it’s geared to make the play more important than the visuals. As in, if the lagmonster strikes and you lose some speed on your internet connection, the visuals degrade instead of the play response, at least, as much as possible. You’ll see artifacting that you’d see in a JPG still frame or MPEG videos; blocky, blurry, smudgy visuals. This will be flatly intolerable for some players, but I actually didn’t mind it as much as I thought I would. This is partially because of how I play and the two games I have.
Y’see, Batman’s Arkham City is a grungy, dystopic place, beautiful in its decay in a terrible sort of way, not unlike the photos of Detroit’s urban decay that I noted a while back. It’s great to just look at… but a lot of the gameplay of Arkham City is about moving from place to place and beating up thugs. A fair chunk of it is played in “Detective Vision” as well. As such, when I want to take a look at the scenery, I just stop and look. The system doesn’t need as much processing or communication power when you’re stationary in the world, so the visuals improve when you stop to look around… which is a nice confluence of circumstances. When I’m fighting, the important part is seeing the motion and UI cues for counters, and those are perfectly serviceable, even if the overall visuals degrade a bit. When I’m soaring around town looking for stuff, I’m sure I’m missing some details, but for the most part, the sense of motion is key, and that translates pretty well unless there’s a very strong and/or protracted lagspike.
Dirt3 has similar quirks. As in, the bulk of the play is in the middle third of the screen, and there’s a speed blur effect around the perimeter anyway. It’s all about control, and as long as that stays tight, the game plays really well. On the longer Rally races, you have a couple of assists in driving anyway, like automatic gearshifting, a radio caller to tell you what turns are coming up, and a ghostly green “optimal race line” overlaid on the track to follow. Of course, these are optional, and I’m playing in Easy mode, so I’m not sure how well a purist hardcore gearhead (I use that term affectionately, not derogatorily) would like it. For me, though, it plays about as smooth as slightly sugary butter, which is a key component of fudge, so I’m happy with it. When I’ve missed a turn or botched a move, it always feels like my fault, not the game lagging on me. (I’m still not really good at dirt track racing, and the Gymkhana thing, heavy on the drifting and precision control, is very cool, but beyond me at the moment. It’s like trying to steer a cinder block on ice with turbo-powered hamster wheels.)
So… color me at least partially impressed with what the OnLive people have been able to do with the tech. I do still think that the high speed internet requirement will make it a niche product, but with luck, as the tech gets better, it will be more useful to more people. It’s not a perfect system, but it really is playable, which is more than I expected initially.
And hey, I’m playing a sweet driving game, Dirt3, and the so-far-phenomenal Arkham City, and I’ve only spent $1, not counting the computer or internet costs (I’m not using the miniconsole, though, without a HDTV… maybe I’ll come back and review that someday). I can’t complain much about that, either. Yes, there’s still that blasted internet tether, but for the price, I’m pretty happy.
I actually wish MMOs would take a page from the OnLive pipeline, too. I don’t mind if the visuals compress a little bit as long as the play stays at peak. I know, the tech is different, but I can’t help but wish that there were a similar on-the-fly tradeoff in MMOs to allow play to stay sharp, even if the data transfer rate isn’t constantly snappy.
… in a late-breaking bit of news, apparently OnLive works on tablets and smartphones. At least, some of them. That’s an interesting extension of the technology, though I’m not sure I’d want to play Arkham City with touch controls. Dirt3 might work fine, and our A Kingdom for Keflings PC port was designed for single click use (so it should translate to touch nicely) but not every game can be converted well to the touch interface. (Random plug for a pair of great articles that enumerates many reasons I don’t like touch tech… A Brief Rant and Jobs’ Legacy)
Not much commentary from me on this, but I wanted to point out a couple of articles for those of you who try to look at the game development industry as a viable career choice.
Both great articles, both worth thinking about, mostly as someone interested in the field, but also as gamers who want to understand the industry a bit more. It’s a fun and even occasionally worthwhile thing we do, making games, but it’s not all fun and games. It’s work. Fun work sometimes, but work.
There’s also the “ea_spouse” kerfluffle from a while back that’s worth noting. Business does funny things to people sometimes. Perhaps in a world of fluffy bunnies and free money, we’d have different games. In the meantime, there are some curious factoids out there. There’s also this article on crunch that I quite like: Crunch is Avoidable
My Zomblobs! is a game designed in shells. There are layers to the design, allowing for a “bird’s eye” game experience with little micromanaging, all the way down to a Civilization-like world conquering game with a Tactical RPG layer, between them plenty of opportunities to min-max your way into gaming geek happiness.
I’ve thought on more than one occasion that it could also be developed that way. As in, develop the outer shell as a functional game and iterate down through the shells until it’s ready to weld to the TRPG (which could also function on its own) as a complete package. Some of those iterations can stand on their own as playable games, perhaps even marketable ones.
This does spread out the work and allow for monetization to keep a project going, and even allows for design changes if it’s found that one of the iterations or directions isn’t playing well. It also runs the risk of oversaturating the IP, making releases too disparate (in theme and/or release date) and therefore too easily ignored, getting lost in a crowd of shovelware (or becoming shovelware), dev team turnover, and code bloat. There’s also the risk that all the shells may not play nice together if they have to bend to accommodate separate releases.
Still, there’s something appealing about the notion of breaking up a larger project into smaller bites to make it more manageable. I’m not really sold on either approach at the moment, but it is still interesting looking at options. The iPhone market and even XBox Live have allowed for smaller games to have decent viability in recent years, and I instinctively want to leverage that to make something bigger. It’s a business sense that I haven’t honed very well, to be honest, but one that I can’t quite ignore. I’d love to focus purely on designing the game and doing art for it, but the sad reality is that money makes the world go ’round, and if I want to turn the time I’ve spent on this into money (which really would be nice), I need to look at the business side of things.
On the other hand, since this is a one-man show at present, and I don’t have much programming ability or money to hire some, well… this may well all be academic anyway. Sure, I’d like to learn the programming someday, but there are only so many hours in the day.
Still… dream big or go home, right?
At any rate, since I’m thinking of shells, here’s a rough concept of the outermost shell of Zomblobs!, the 3D globe Ataxx-variant I’m dubbing the Cytoglobe:
It’s a game that could stand alone as a smart phone game (or XBox Live or PC, whatever… though smart phone mobility and connectivity opens up a few new design options), and it could host a variety of variations, from multiplayer rule variants to a full map editor. Ataxx-style play isn’t really all that mentally taxing, but it’s still fun, and I think a global geodesic version could be a nice spin on the idea. (There’s also a fun tactile appeal of playing this on a touch screen… or even with Kinect controls. Sort of a “megalomaniac conquering the globe” feel, as it were.)
Of course, from there it’s possible to drill down into discrete blobs with hit points instead of instant-capture, species-specific boons and weaknesses, location-specific special effects (with real world GPS twists, perhaps), progression mechanics (sometimes mistakenly called “RPG elements”), resource management, research trees and even stories. The full Zomblobs! game would then only be a hop skip and a jump away, pulling all the elements together in a tighter fashion and welding them to the tactical game.
There’s a lot I want to do here, and there are good reasons to limit the scope of any single project. Absent an organized plan of production, things can get hairy fast. I’m still not sure what I’ll even be able to do… but it’s good to at least make sure I look ahead. Forewarned is forearmed, and all that rot.
Would you buy a game that’s effectively a “slice” of a larger game? Would you just expect it to be a sort of neo-shareware, offered for free, and the other layers monetized underneath for those who care to dig deeper? Would you like a suite of games that work like cogs in a larger machine, or would you just want the larger machine? Could you wait for new pieces?
…are any of you bored programmers with an itch to work on this?
…would a publicly readable wiki on the design be something worth making available?
…would Battle for Wesnoth eat my lunch anyway?
…EDITED to add the following great link to The Rampant Coyote’s recent article on “Feature Creep”… a highly relevant article as I sort out exactly what I want to do here.
World of Warcraft finally steals the WarHammer Online “perpetual limited free trial” hook.
It’s still probably a smart move. It will be interesting to see what effects it has.
As for me and my house? I’ll have a new baby Druid to play with when the itch strikes, and I don’t have to plunk down a sub for the privilege of picking up the game whenever I darn well please for a bit of sightseeing. Oh, and I can patch the blasted thing without feeling like I’m wasting a couple of days of a month’s sub or firing up a new dummy trial.
Do What You Want, OKGO
Why are so many gamers content to just do as they are told? Who exactly is to blame for not exploring the world of an MMO? (Which is, after all, still a game, not a pure world simulator, for better or worse.) Why, in one of the most potentially interactive entertainment mediums, are games so constrained or controlled, and so many “consumers” still so passive?
Outside of the games themselves, why do players offer critique, punditry or backseat driving without seeking to understand before demanding to be understood? I guess it’s always just easier to blame the other guy.
Why do devs cater to player trends? Might I suggest that at least some of them still want to make money? That may be a tough question: make a game specifically to make money, or make the game you want to make and try to market it?
There’s a place for products that are built from a singular vision and that are uncompromising in how they approach it, counting on their labor of love to find the right audience instead of opening the tent doors to all the camels. I suspect everyone has their pet product that might fit this mold. I hope we never lose that corner of the game industry. (Though it is changing thanks to budgets and tools.)
…but it’s still an ecosystem of niches, not a way to survive the mainstream. There’s gold in them thar hills, but it’s risky business. The less risky mainstream might stumble onto a gem here and there, but by its nature, it’s more about keeping that shareholder cash flowing, and that means you can’t rock the boat much.
Oh, and challenge is still a variable, completely dependent on the perception of the player. Too many players (and devs) don’t understand that. There is no golden equation that collapses the player skill distribution curve into the Perfect Game. Even player-driven variables (difficulty settings, for one) can’t possibly cover all possible players.
…and let others do the same. In a market that is ever more digitally distributed, there’s room for the mid-size games with modest scope and other assorted indie products (including hardware, apparently, which is fascinating). The niches can work… but it may not always be easy. They can’t try to be AAA games (barely interactive movies), they have to embrace the niche and, well… do their own thing.
As one author noted…
Not every game is one of those RPG things, but games from Puerto Rico (an interesting example as there are no dice rolls and very little mechanical randomization; the most important random elements are the other players) to Chess to Rook to StarCraft rely on player choice. Players need to make choices (not just solve problems), and devs need to let them… even if that means letting them choose not to play their game because it’s too different. We all need to be confident in our choices and not worry so much about catering to anyone else. I think we get better games and better gamers that way.