In the March 2010 issue of PC Gamer, David Brevik, Studio Director at Gazillion Entertainment, discusses “the delicate balance between the art and business sides of making games.” “I am not motivated by money,” he confides. But he also recognizes that the discipline imposed by the business side of making games “helps both the artist and the business.”
Why? Focusing on the art, without financial discipline or firm deadlines “oftentimes means that you will never finish” your game, explains Brevik. A perfect example is 3D Realms’ Duke Nukem (See The Duke Nukem Trap).
Brevik points out that creating a game should not only be about creating what you want, but “what the market wants.” It also ensures that your project will not be derailed by a lack of cash flow.
The other side of the coin is represented by projects that are purely profit driven. Usually they are big budget titles that follow tightly scripted story lines and use proven engines. They may be sequels to a highly successful title, or they may be new games that are trying to imitate market leaders. Either way, they rarely offer the type of innovation that can move the industry forward and expand the market. Instead, most trade share by targeting the same audience of core gaming enthusiasts.
That is not necessarily a bad thing, as any FPS fan can tell you. Moreover, profit driven titles can provide the cash flow that publishers need to fund smaller experimental projects that can move the industry in new directions.
The reluctance of publishers to experiment with big budget titles is understandable. Too often, such experiments end in disaster. Two examples that we discuss in the book are Lair and Haze.
After three years of development and a $20 million budget, gamers had high hopes for Lair, which boasted some of the most gorgeous visuals ever seen on any console. Developer Factor 5 designed the game to use the motion sensing ability of Sony’s Sixaxis controller. However, most gamers found the controls to be unwieldy. “There is nothing fun about it,” wrote one reviewer. Lair was the “ultimate example of how game play suffers when all the work goes into making everything look pretty.”
When developing Haze, Free Radical Design decided to create its own AI engine rather than purchase an off-the-shelf solution. The end result was not bad by any means. However, the game simply didn’t measure up to other games on the market that used proven engines and strayed less from established story lines. Faced with dismal sales, Free Radical Design was eventually forced into bankruptcy (Shortly afterward, they were purchased by Crytek). “I don’t think we’d be in a big rush to build engine technology from the ground up again,” noted Haze designer David Doak. “It’s just a massive expense.”
For some publishers, the solution has been to partner with small studios that can test out new concepts. These games can then be distributed digitally at low cost through outlets like PSN, XBL, and Steam.
One example is TGC’s Flower, which with funding from Sony, was able to use the Sixaxis far more intuitively than in Lair. In a recent talk, TGC founder Jenova Chen reiterated David Brevik’s maxim that financial discipline “helps both the artist and the business.” “We only had one artist on Flower,” explained Chen.
So how are we supposed to make a game that looks impressive? Having limited resources is a really good inspiration for you to be creative. When you have a $100 million, you can't do that anymore.