GDC 2007: "We're the Real Developers"

GDC: "We're the Real Developers"

UPDATE: The developers contacted us over the weekend, asking us to fix a few minor errors in the original story. These were due to miscommunication, and in no way alter what i believe is the heart of this story. I willingly complied, without reservation. - RP

I spent a few minutes talking to Eric Peterson of Vicious Cycle, game developers and (incidentally) middleware creators.

Perhaps better known for their PSP title, Dead Head Fred, Vicious has also developed a number of licensed titles (Flushed Away) and, through their children's software division, a number of kid-oriented games, as well as some well-known children's franchises (Dora the Explorer).

"We're the real developers," said Peterson, calling out companies with buckets of IP and 36 month development cycles. Developers who, through government subsidies and other "advantages" don't have to work quite so hard. Peterson says these guys are living in fantasy land. "[Reviewers] poo poo my Dora games," he says, by way of contrast, "but we've made hundreds of thousands of kids happy. The parents and kids love it."

"Somebody has to make those games," he says, referring to licensed titles, like his million copy-selling Flushed Away ("A million is a million."). "And we help make that process easier."

Peterson's company sells their development tools as cross-platform middleware, enabling low budget and lesser funded developers to make better games, faster. Although that's not their primary business. "We're like you," Peterson says. Meaning they make games first, so they've been there. They know how it works, and if you want their help, they're happy to give it - for a fee.

"But we don't have to sell a hundred licenses," he says. "We're a game developer." And considering they've been doing it for seven years, maybe they're doing something right.


Sounds like someone has a chip on his shoulder. But here's my thing. If his argument was that he be considered a developer also, fine. He can have it. I don't considered Dora the Explorer or requisite movie tie-ins like Flushed Away to be the pinnacle of gaming, but developers none the less.

But that's not what he was trying to argue. "We're the real developers"? Really. THE real developers. So what about CCP? Or Firaxis, or Relic, or Bioware? They're not? They're not real developers because they've garnered enough respect and admiration in the industry that distributers are willing to *gasp* give them large sums of money to keep them going?

I don't buy some of his arguments either. Yeah, you sold a million copies of Flushed Away. Good for you. Do you think that was because the children recognized you as being the REAL developer and in turn bought your game over something that got pumped out of EA? No. They bought your game cause you were the latest in a million lackluster movie tie ins. The movie sold your game, not you. Only a very, very small handful of tie-ins get sales from their own merit. If yours was one of them, we'd already be sick of hearing how well your game broke the mold and stood on it's own. To date, I haven't heard one peep to that affect. "Somebody has to make those games." BULL. Where is it written down that every movie to hit the big screen has to have a B-Rate console title to go with it? They do it not as a service, but because they know that they can get a boat load of sales with a meager budget and 6 months of development time, if that. Personally I'd much rather developers pass up movie tie-ins or licences they don't feel are up to par, or development cycles they feel are too restricted. Do it because you think you can make a great product in the end, not because some mystic head in the sky demands that for every licence there must be a mediocre console title.

I can't speak about how good your Dora the Explorer games are. It's a little past my age bracket, and I haven't played it. But I think we can all agree that kids would buy it just on the box art. They don't research games ahead of time like when their older and wiser. They see a cartoon they like on the box and they recognize that whatever is inside makes noises, and they become fixated. Or could be the greatest child's game to ever be made, who knows. I'm just pointing out that your using the demographic that is the easiest to please or produce sales from as your argument for why it's so much harder on you.

You develop middleware. That's great. In fact I think it's a process not taken enough advantage of. But guess what. You're not alone. Game engines get licenced all the time. Still, if someone decides to make their own in-house engine instead of using Unreal 3, how exactly does that make them LESS of a 'real' developer?

If you were going to bitch about EA and how the management spends their massive amounts of capitol, fine. Let's have that discussion. But don't get large conglomerate companies like EA confused with the developers that actually code the games. For example, Mythic was enveoloped in the EA umbrella. But as much flak that EA has gotten lately, I never got opinions about EA mixed up with Mythic. Mythic just reports to a different boss. And it looks like they haven't done anything in their development now that their games have an EA logo on them. Why should they be penalized for having a larger, more stable form of funding than before?

After finding holes in all of those points, the only thing I'm left with is that Eric Peterson is a little bitter. Inferiority complex. Or maybe another, bigger developer got to use the slide before him on the playground. I'm hoping that he simply chose his words poorly when trying to explain his thoughts. Very poorly. But if is really what he thinks, good luck trying to convince others to your side. I'm sure many other 'real' developers would love to chime in. Lets see how he does in a room with all the Peter Molyneux's, the Tim Schafer's, the Sid Meyer's of the industry. Lets see him pull off this argument then.

Eric Peterson's rant is a little confusing, but it seems like he's saying that game developers don't need 100 people working for 3 years to produce a quality title. I can definitely agree with that.

I've often wondered why large game companies aren't interested in making lots of smaller budget games with smaller development teams. Wouldn't 10 well made, small budget titles sell even more than one really awesome title? ...or does everything have to feel like an epic Hollywood movie? Just thinking out loud.

I think you have the right of it Echo. Talking to him, it was definitely more of a "we're the working class developers" kind of thing than an outright rant against big-budget studios. And you have to respect the guy, and the studio. They've been in business for seven years, and have a number of well-selling titles to their name. That they don't get more respect has to be frustrating and a bit befuddling.

Wouldn't 10 well made, small budget titles sell even more than one really awesome title?

Talking to him, it was definitely more of a "we're the working class developers" kind of thing than an outright rant against big-budget studios.

If you are right about what he is really trying to argue, than in a couple short paragraphs you both have already made a better argument than the original. I can't argue with Echo's thought. You really need both. You have your BMWs and your Civics, your Halo's and your Serious Sam's. I for one have gotten a lot of enjoyment from several titles from smaller or independant developers.

But it only works if those 10 small budget titles were indeed well made. All too often it doesn't, and instead results in putting style over substance to try to push impulse sales. I've never played any of Eric's games, so I can't comment on his case one way or the other. In any case, next time he wants to make a point like this, he may want to run it by a PR rep to get the kinks out first.

I think you guys are all being way too hard on the guy. And, to be frank, it's knee-jerk reactions like this that make it hard for us to get developers to talk openly to us without a layer of PR in-between.

Ace, I find it hard to believe that you would really rather hear from a trained PR rep than the actual developer, speaking openly about his games, but if so, there are plenty of other outlets where you can get that exact thing.

Regardless, I'm in the process of scheduling a longer visit with Eric and Vicious Cycle. Hopefully he'll be able to expand his thoughts a bit and clarify his points. Stay tuned.


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