So recently a bunch of E3 stuff has been saturating my news feeds with all sorts of video-game news shenanigans. Everytime I pop my head up from my game development hidey hole, there's been some new game or peripheral being announced. Most of the time I safely ignore these and resume my days' work. But one game in particular suddenly stopped me in my tracks- Rare's new adventurous cooperative pirate ship crew simulator - Sea of Thieves. Why this game in particular? Well, I just so happen to be working on an adventurous cooperative submarine crew simulator. See the problem here?
When I first saw the trailer for this thing, my first thoughts were NOT "awesome,this looks fun!" or "I look forward to playing this with some friends," it was just "Shit shit shit shit shit shit. They have the same concept as us but a way higher budget shit shit shit." This isn't the first game to incite that sort of response from me, either. All throughout development of We Need to Go Deeper, every game that popped up that even vaguely seemed to be based around a similar gameplay concept or setting gave me a bad case of the heebie jeebies. From Subnautica to Neptune Have Mercy to ESPECIALLY Lovers in a Dangerous SpaceTime, every time one of these games pops up I go into panic mode. "What if they release first? Will people think our game is a clone? What if the market suddenly becomes saturated with these games? Will our game be snuffed out in the crowd? Do these games make ours look bad?"
Everything that makes your game special has already been done - but that's okay.
And yet, had I not been working on a game myself, I can guarantee these are all games I would be excited to play. Yet here I was wishing they would fade into oblivion. And more to the point, here we had our fanbase who would almost certainly share interest in these games, and I was hoping they would never discover them. As if our game was the only one I wanted them to play, like some kind of possessive boyfriend in an abusive relationship, I didn't want our fans or players to hang out with any other game except ours.
But it seems reasonable, right? I mean after all it is a competitive industry. If someone shells out some money for one game they might not always have money for yours. And if it comes down to a choice they'll usually pick the product that they recognize- and with a marketing budget of zip-zop-zoopity bop, our game isn't slated in the best spot for being the winner in that scenario.
Sea of Thieves - estimated budget: A whole lot of moolah.
So yes, from a business perspective, maybe it makes sense to be a little worried. But worry only does as much good as it motivates to market harder, make the game better, and plan release dates more strategically. But if it doesn't motivate, if it simply drains energy, morale, and spirit then worry is one of the worst things you can do for a business.
But this is all still thinking in terms of competition. One thing I've always admired about the indie scene is that it's a very supportive and friendly environment, and yet here we are plotting ways to ensure we "win", while hypocritically making a game about the advantages of working together. Perhaps then, the best answer is to take our own game's advice and do just that. Support each other. Work together. We're all trying to make fun experiences here, to entertain, to educate, and yes, to hopefully make money while doing so. But it's important we don't let that money part turn developers into a bunch of greedy businessmen. We didn't get into the industry for that. And in the long run it benefits everyone to try working more cooperatively with one-another.
Super Meat Boy was a pretty good example of this healthier mindset. Here you had a game whose selling point was essentially "very difficult old school 2D platformer," and yet instead of ignoring or trying not to draw attention to other games in that subgenre, Team Meat tried to raise MORE awareness of other games in the genre by including them as unlockable characters in-game. This fosters a sense that all these games are friendly with one-another, and instead of making players feel like they have to "choose a side," it encourages them to eventually, when they get the chance, choose all of them. Not only that but players appreciate the developers more for it, as it shows that the player's enjoyment, even if it comes from "competing" games, is at the forefront of the developer's mind.
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime - uhhhhhhhh oh shit.
So I propose and hope we stop fearing one another's games just because they're similar to ours in some way. Instead, remember how great it is these games exist, and think of what it would be like to be one of your fans. You'd be thrilled that all these games are coming out in this new and exciting genre/setting/whatever! And share that excitement with your fans by talking about these other games with them and showing the competition that you care for them and their success. Because everybody's trying their best here and it won't do us any good to try to leave eachother in the mud, and more importantly, we all know how it feels to be freaked out by a similar product suddenly showing its face in the marketplace. Our first reaction to seeing a trailer for Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime was "Oh shit." But afterwards I found this little glimmer of honesty on the AsteroidBase website and suddenly felt a connection with them:
You're not alone guys. You're definitely not alone.