Why is the industry so bass-ackwards right now? My tag line for this article is: “Why big publishers are doing what indies should be doing, and indies are doing what big publishers should be doing.”
Let me explain: Big game producers (ActiBlizz, Ubi, EA, Take2, to name a few) are going with the 'safe bet' corporate risk strategy. They have all the resources anyone in the industry will realistically be able to muster to invest in smart things like innovation, research and development, or generally speaking beneficial risks. On the other hand almost every indie developer I am aware of is practically going out on a limb to ruthlessly innovate and risk as much as possible just hoping for a payoff. Most indies don't break even.
This is an all around bad business move for the industry. The people who likely care the most about the industry, the indies, are basically living out of friends and family's residencies whilst trying to scrape by with enough to feed themselves something slightly more substantial than ramen. The big studios are comprised of people who once cared but gave that up when their insidious management waved bonus checks near them like carrots on a stick.
I can't fault either of the two groups of people to be honest. The indies that still live the dream even if they are barely making a living, and the industry 'pros' that understand the importance of making money and providing for themselves and their families. Everyone's got to eat, and no one wants to be soul-less.
The good news is there's a compromise that's really just an improvement for all said parties. It involves two things happening: a switch in big studios being the innovators and indies using the proven strategies/get paid scheme for a change. The second thing is having good management. I cannot say this enough to the industry right now.
Have good management. If you don't, do something about it. It is really killing so many great things in the industry. If the recent Rockstar San Diego fiasco isn't case and point then you people need to see your local optometrist because I can guarantee you are going blind.
The 'Kotick Doctrine' as it has been coined will ultimately bury itself soon. Take heed now and cut your losses people. If you aren't looking at the long term effects they will eventually eat you alive. Taking the fun out of games and making them milk loyal fans will backfire in the end. In fact, I doubt it will even take that long.
Also, this isn't just a message to big publishers. Indies, know your role too. Innovation is fine, but you don't have to re-invent the wheel all the time. Have a plan like: "We will make a game like 'game X' and add this one really cool new feature to it. We will make sure that new feature makes it a way better game than 'game X' and we will plan how many copies we can realistically sell. That way we can budget to pay ourselves a decent living wage and still make games that rock!"
I guess a simple way of saying all this is to reorganize and shake up production management at your company such that you are certain everyone where you work gets paid a fair living wage and has a reasonably good quality of life.
There was once a phrase in the middle ages of Europe, “Know your place.” It was not condescending like it is today when someone who presumes power assumes to put down someone who rises up above the inhumane dignity that was dealt him. It simply meant there was a greater chain of beings and knowing your place meant knowing who's above and below you and how your actions affect them. Knowing your privileges and your duties, and not ignoring either.
Your call of duty should you choose to accept, is to know your place in the industry and make sure that you strive towards better working environment for yourself, your coworkers and everyone in the industry. It is to create an environment where creativity and fun flourish such that others quit looking down on our industry and start to look up to us for advice. There's a 'call of duty' that will set you back 60 bucks, and there's a 'call of duty' that is invaluable and will cost you and the industry everything we've worked for if you ignore it.
Your duty and privileges call, are you going to keep putting them on hold?