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IGC: Gamecock's Escalante On Breaking The Indie Stigma

As part of his keynote for Texas' Independent Game Conference, Gamecock sales VP Steve Escalante outlined the roadblocks standing in the path of indie developers from retail, to big budget competition, to skepticism of indie dev in general, but outlined h
Though Gamecock heads Harry Miller and Mike Wilson couldn't make it to the keynote for Texas' Independent Game Conference this week -- a fact they relayed by way of an elaborate parody video showing them jailed in Mexico -- sales and business development VP Steve Escalante took the stage for a session entitled “All The Reasons You Will Fail, or Don’t Even Try It.” Escalante has been in the industry for eight years, and admitted to his own share of failures. “There are certain stages of failure,” he said, and they can occur before publishing, during development, or at the retail process. Okami and Shadow of the Colossus were critical successes, he noted, “but yet their sales failed in terms of being competitive.” “The industry lives on [original IP],” he said, but the unique IPs become franchise. “We are now looking at a Final Fantasy XII,” he illustrated, adding that most franchises -- World of Warcraft have been around so long it's hard to remember how they first started -- the same with the Marios and Zeldas. “Why is it so hard?" he asked, "Why don’t we see more original IPs launched into the market?” Escalante said that when the company was founded, it saw 100 submissions in its first three days, and realized that there was a "huge amount of talent." He noted an industry saying, “Go big or go home," saying it was a "setup for failure... We’re very well funded, which is difficult in this day and age. But go home or go big means hemorrhaging cash, and that’s not healthy.” The idea leads to games coming out before they're ready once funding starts to run out, particularly, he said, in the MMO world. The Indie Stigma Not only does the indie scene suffer for lack of proper funding, but also because of a general stigma against established publishers. “Everyone is eager to be a critic of an independent developer,” he said, and there’s always talk of a track record whenever a developer is independent. “We get proposals from brand new teams, teams that have broken off from other companies,” who typically constantly have to prove they have the ability to deliver what they're promising. Retail and Competition Retail, too, provides a roadblock to the independent developer, especially one forging its own original IP versus an established brand. Wal-Mart or Target buyers are only given 30 slots, he said, so most movie licenses and known IPs are easily choices for sure success. Escalante said he typically hears from them, “Why should I take the risk of putting in and original or creative IP?” The competition is also fierce from established developers. “The teams you’re competing against have big budgets. Maybe you don’t have the budget but they do,” he said, adding that they also have the inventory: “THQ, EA, Activision... these guys have tons of licenses.” “It’s hard to tell who the independent developers are left,” he continued, “Everybody’s being gobbled up in short order,” and added that when Gamecock started, indie was a negative brand. “People automatically assume it’s boutique, garage band game development,” said Escalante, and was quick to add that ”we don’t feel it’s necessary to spend $14 million dollars for the game to be able to compete.” When a game has a budget of that size, he said, and are talking about Wall Street dollars, you have to listen to marketing, who, for example, doesn't like your characters. “Suddenly, your idea, that you presented, is no longer your idea.” Money Talks He gave the example of the recently published DS survival horror title, Dementium: The Ward, saying “Why do we need to see Nintendo DS games with a budget of $2-3 million?” Profits aren’t that high — particularly when you’re a third party instead of a first, and charge $25 instead of $35 per title. “You need to actually develop smart.” Of Gamecock itself, Escalante said, “We had to fight to get out of this cloud that we were only funding these boutique games... We got pigeonholed as a publisher, let alone your challenges as a developer.” “There’s also the consumer element," he continued, "You have to ask yourself: does your original game appeal to gamers? Does it stand out in order to compete?” After Gathering of Developers folded, Escalante said, “This time, it’s not about changing the industry: it’s about using the industry’s pitfalls” -- that is, funding original IP, “titles that we feel will compete with anything the major publishers can do.” He told the tale of a "not-to-be-named developer" who approached the publisher with a concept saying "this will make a lot of money." "We said, ‘What do you want to create? This doesn’t sound like the game you want to create? This sounds like something that’s supposed to make money',” he said, adding that the company is concerned when developers aren’t talking about why parts of the game are fun, rather the things that will make money. “Independent, original IP is here to stay," he concluded, "The go bigger or go home statement, we really don’t agree.”

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