Wanna Be My Friendster?

Wanna Be My Friendster?
Attack of the Parasites

Allen Varney | 28 Feb 2006 07:00
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"What the current thinking is going to do, if it continues, is annihilate any nascent sense of community in this field. Ask yourself this: If you had a good original game idea right now, mocked up in a prototype form but not completed, how comfortable would you be posting it in the Indie Gamer forums? Would you suspect - rightly - that rather than getting constructive feedback and criticism, you'd instead be giving a bunch of people a head start in ripping you off?" Kapalka warned that the community could become "increasingly paranoid, cut-throat, and suspicious. You're right that there are lots of other industries where this is already the case... but is it really inevitable for such a young and promising field as casual games to follow suit?"

Paul Timson responded, "Maybe the smaller guys just saw an opportunity to get some income built up too, so they could continue making games at all. It is all very well and good wishing devs would create those strange/interesting indie games that you obviously look forward to, but like you, they have realized for the most part there is no market for them [...M]aybe PopCap could help those devs taking risks and trying new things by starting to publish them too! There's an idea."

The controversy continues to simmer. One Indie Games forum member has started a blog, 1 Good Game, specifically to call out and publicly shame cloners. It looks like the indie gaming community, if there ever was one, may go the way of "communities" like my soulless subdivision, Milwood.

Still, there is hope for individual creators. Thomas Warfield's Pretty Good Solitaire is a leading indie success story. In a 2004 blog entry, "The Portal Bubble," Warfield discusses the indies' fear that "the portals will become just like retail publishers. Royalty rates will continue to drop and eventually independent game companies will become totally dependent on the portals to survive [...] However, as long as game developers do not put themselves into a position of dependence on the portals, this simply cannot happen.

"[T]here is a fundamental difference between retail publishers and the online portals. Retail publishers (and their distributors) control access to the space in retail stores. [...] Online portals, on the other hand, only control space on their own websites. This space is not limited and it is not expensive to create your own website and compete with them. All they really have, when you come right down to it, is Internet traffic. [But] the portals only have traffic and customers as long as people are finding interesting games there."

Warfield articulates the portals' inevitable fate: "Things are going to look great and the market will look like it will expand forever, and then suddenly it won't. The weak companies will get hit first and a lot of the portals will fail. The market for these games will crash, and when it is finally over only those who have the best games and the best business strategy will survive. Those developers who are dependent on the portals alone for their income will find themselves in a world of hurt."

Allen Varney designed the PARANOIA paper-and-dice roleplaying game (2004 edition) and has contributed to computer games from Sony Online, Origin, Interplay, and Looking Glass.

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