On April 28th and 29th, we visited the Festival of Games conference in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Festival of Games is arguably the largest annual game industry event in this little country and this year was no different, the event attracting both 'big' speakers as Al Lowe and Ian Livingstone and smaller ones like, well, us. If you don't care about all that and happen to be interested in LUFTRAUSER, a Flash game we created in our spare time, scroll down all the way.
Since we were asked to do a little talk as well, we came up with the idea of throwing an idea into the fray, something we started thinking about during the 'press storm' after we released KARATE a few weeks ago. How could a game as tiny as that gather so much press coverage? What we concluded - not through statistics but through a gut feeling - is that game companies with a 'average' scope are disappearing. We don't have the numbers, we can't tell you what constitutes a small or a big company - we feel that as a game company, your scope is either big or small, or you're sucked into the emptiness in between where you fight an uphill battle just to survive and do what you love.
Leading this process, we think, are digital distribution, tech and audience expectations.
Back in the days (but not too far back), you had big companies with enough money to dominate the spaces in the gaming isle and the average-scoped companies that had less money but still got a spot somewhere in the back corner. Nowadays, the small companies can be flexible and cost-effective and the big companies all but own the shelves in retail.
New hard- and software allows big companies to create the most amazing of game experiences with almost insane capabilities. Expensive and continiously advancing engines and middleware allow the big companies to allocate and use every last bit of processing- and graphical power from the increasingly powerful hardware. On the other hand, game creation has been made increasingly simple for beginners and small companies with tools like Unity, Game Maker and FlashPunk or Flixel, allowing them to rival medium-scoped companies in capabilities.
However, the biggest problem for the average-scoped companies we believe to be the audience expectations. AAA games are expected to have high production values and usually, reasonably safe design choices. An indie game is measured with a different measuring tape and whether you like it or not, will usually be compared to its peers on terms of originality & concept.
What does this leave for the average-scope company? They can't compete with the indie developers, as indies can work far more cost-efficiently and be more flexible. They can't compete with AAA because the audience expectations are too high in terms of production value - things they can't afford and the AAA studios can.
We also stressed that big and small are mutually exclusive. A small-scoped company should never aim to make a AAA game, nor the other way around. These are different worlds that require different approaches and different types of skills and experience.
While in the old days, companies grew slowly and steadily, we feel nowadays the jump from small to big - if that's something you aspire - should be made in one leap. If your company fits in a ship container, you'll be fine - if your company can own the ship, you'll be fine too. Anything in between and we feel you might be in for a world of trouble.
Also, we wanted to make a quick mention of LUFTRAUSER, a game Jan Willem and I created outside of Vlambeer in cooperation with Paul Veer and Kozilek in the past few days. It's a Flash airplane combat game we created to fight some stress, which turned out really good in its first prototype - so we pushed through with it. At this point, we're looking for any interested sponsors. If you know someone who might be interested in the game or if you happen to be that someone, drop us a quick e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.