Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Infinity: The Quest for Earth +

Originally Posted by eventhorizen
It might sound strange, but I am beginning to be drawn more towards game concepts that are commercially unsuccessful, that manage to stay afloat. A hotbed of innovation and experiment to try to make the game take off is what leads to first breakthrough game concepts.
Actually, it doesn't sound strange to me at all.

Not to get too far off-topic (I'll loop back to Infinity), but I'm with Greg Costikyan: this industry is doomed if the cost to produce good-quality games continues to rise faster than there are people willing to pay to play them.

We desperately need a low-cost indie system to allow new concepts to be tried. Our problem, compared to that of Hollywood, is that the complexity of making even a minimally deep game is significantly higher than that required to make a movie with reasonable production value. For the cost of a prosumer digital video camera, decent lighting and sound, and some nonlinear editing software, a perfectly watchable little movie can be made. It's not going to have Star Wars: Episode III special effects, but with the right story you don't need that.

The game design field has nothing comparable. The tools are way, way too expensive, or, when nothing appropriate exists to satisfy a specific need, have to be designed and built internally. All the art and sound and interactive assets have to be created from scratch, which takes time and costs money. And if it's a persistent-world game, you not only need to keep paying the artists and sound engineers and worldbuilders for ongoing game enhancements, you also need server engineers, you have to pay for server usage, and you've got community relations to manage. "Open source" projects aren't a solution; most people aren't willing or able to spend three years on an unpaid second job.

Unless you're willing to settle for simplicity (e.g., Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates or A Tale In The Desert), or your rich uncle left you enough zorkmids to afford to license a powerful game development engine, the cards are definitely stacked against the independent online game developer.

Which is why I'm watching Multiverse. They start out with an indie-friendly licensing model -- you don't pay 'em a cent until/unless you start charging, then they take 10%. If their game engine is both powerful enough and flexible enough to allow the development of quality online games in finite time by normal human beings, Multiverse could be exactly what independent developers need to try the crazy new ideas that could help reinvigorate the entire industry. Now that it's in beta, Multiverse has some games in the pipeline; we'll have to see what they look like and what it took to make them.

[Added 2008/03/28: I'm also watching Raph Koster's Areae to see how its Metaplace offering fares. I have the distinct feeling that the real purpose of Metaplace is to become The 3D Interface to the Web (as competition for Second Life and Google and probably Microsoft). But it seems they want to get there through a kind of build-your-own-Web-aware-games model, so it's certainly worth watching on that score alone.]

For now, it's great to see something like Infinity. I have no idea whether it'll wind up being playable, but the mere fact that it's coming together at all is perhaps grounds for some optimism.

I wish Infinity all the best -- the industry will be going in a helpful direction if it succeeds.