Back from London, our meetings at Games Market Europe (GME), and two out of three IGDA events (we skipped out on the party). There's much to do, but I wanted to take a moment to post, if only to take stock.
We spoke to a number of budget market publishers, and got a good feeling for this market. At the very bottom, it's about $30,000 per game - but the developer is expected to be paid only for a finished game. The standard price for budget market games seems to be $50,000 to $80,000, and some capital is available. (These fees are converted from pounds - largely because I cannot find the pound key on this laptop... serves me right for buying it cheaply in LA). These publishers are focused on family and children as their key market - as you might expect for games at a $10 price point. Break points seem to weigh in around 40,000 to 75,000 units. All this is on the PS2 - the only console with the installed base to make a profitable budget market. Most publishers were friendly and realistic - quite refreshing. Looking forward to meeting with them again when we have our first verb game demo.
We also had our second annual UK Game Writers gathering - lots of familiar faces, including Jim Swallow, Rhianna and Steve Ince, and some new faces too. A lot of fun, although my blood sugar bottomed out half-way through in an embarrassing fashion leaving me sat at the table in torpor; I just can't convert alcohol to glucose fast enough... I should have had something to eat at 4 pm or so, and I'd had nothing. Sometimes its hard to adapt to not being a teenager anymore, although aging certainly has its privileges.
GME was a rather sorry state of affairs, compared to what ECTS was in the mid-90's, but I don't want to rail against it too forcibly. After all, when ECTS was at its height, it was basically a microcosmic E3 - and back then I complained about the style over substance, women paid to parade in embarrassing costumes, and lack of inventive games on show. And after all, we were able to meet with several companies under one roof in one day. GME may not have been much, but it's better than nothing. Just.
The rest of the matters arising...
On the subject of our "verb games", I want to clarify what I mean when I refer to this genre (I'm asserting my right to call this a genre, but I also accept that this is creative luxury on my part). Verb games, as I see it, are games built from a very small set of verbs (player actions) and a smaller set of nouns (categories of game objects). They are abstract - the avatar is not strictly humanoid, the world is not consensus reality - and most importantly the joy of playing comes directly from the verbs the avatar acts out. In Katamari Damacy, the verbs are roll, absorb and grow; the nouns are objects you are big enough to pick up, and objects you are not yet big enough to pick up. The world is not real - the real world does not have sushi, telephones and dolls scattered around willy nilly.
Our verb games - and I don't know how many we'll get to make, perhaps only two or three - are based around these principles. Their designs were directly inspired by hearing Keita Takahashi describe the process that lead to Katamari, and also to some extent hearing Toru Iwatani talk about the process that lead to Pac-man. Both talked about gameplay in terms of verbs - because as Ernest likes to point out, gameplay is about what the player can do. Hence verbs. Hence verb games.
On the subject of Greg Costikyan's Death to the Games Industry: Long Live Games (Part One) article in The Escapist, well, it's nothing he hasn't said before, and it's nothing I disagree with, broadly speaking. But does he have any solutions, or is he simply the rabble rouser at the head of the hypothetical angry mob? And if so, can't we just get the angry mob to buy the indie games? It would be a lot easier than destroying the games industry. As I point out above, we only need about 50,000 of them to fund console game development, albiet one generation behind. If what we care about is gameplay or innovation, that shouldn't matter, of course...
On the subject of the research leading towards DGD2, I'm really appreciating everyone's feedback on this... It's going to take us a while to take this second model forward, and the more viewpoints people come forward with, the better. I haven't time to respond to every point people have raised, but rest assured it's all useful, and it's all interesting. It's given me quite a lot to think about, and for that I'm eternally grateful. One thing that is clear, skill use varies from game to game for everybody. The model may need to take into account several different elements - both play needs and player proficiencies, and also perhaps the distinction between what a player looks for in play - and how they actually end up playing.
I have 9 minutes of battery life left on the laptop... I guess that's all I get to write for now.
Oh, one last thing: our copies of 21st Century Game Design were waiting for us when we got back, so I guess it's now available to buy.