Stardock's Shafer: PC Games' 'Middle Market' Is Underserved

Jon Shafer, the ex-Civ V lead designer who recently joined Elemental developer Stardock,
January 07, 2011
The PC gaming market is rapidly evolving, as the platform is a hotbed for new online business models used by subscription-based games, social network games, digital distribution and free-to-play, microtransaction-based titles. But even amid these changes, there will always be an audience for in-depth, boxed PC strategy games, according to Jon Shafer, who recently joined Elemental and Galactic Civilizations developer Stardock, after leading design on Firaxis Games' Civilization V. "I definitely think there will be [a space for in-depth PC strategy games]," said Shafer in a new Gamsutra feature interview. He explained, "It seems more and more as the industry as a whole evolves, and particularly PC gaming because it has a little bit longer tradition than console gaming, you see the types of games that are made fall into different bands." "So maybe in 1992, all games fell into the same band, they had roughly the same budget, roughly the same amount of people working on them," Shafer continued. "But nowadays, you might see games that cost $50 million to make, whereas somebody's releasing games on Facebook that are effectively PC games that might have required literally one person to make." He said Michigan-based Stardock, which not only publishes and develops games, but also develops business software, lies somewhere between big-budget $50 million games and low-cost Facebook games. "[Stardock is] pursuing what I like to call a middle-market where they focus on an experience that is really big and in-depth, and really borrows a lot from some of the more traditional models of making PC games," he said. "But you're not spending humongous amounts of money." "So you can afford to diversify, you can afford to do what you want in the games, you can afford to diversify in terms of the types of games you make," Shafer added. "I think there's definitely a future for all of these different types of groups." "The middle market is one that I feel is underserved right now, and one that Stardock is definitely aiming at, so I think that's going to make the company very successful in the future, just because there's not a lot of people in that space," he said. For more from Shafer on his transition from famed Civilization house Firaxis to smaller, independently-owned Stardock, as well as his reaction to fan criticism of Civilization V, read the full Gamasutra feature interview, available now.

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