The future of independent game development

Currently there are quite a lot of independent game development companies that develop games for the big publishers. They draw up a contract and they are told what to do by the publisher. This is really just glorified outsourcing and will never make a lot of money because the publisher can and will shop round on price. In fact it is ironic that independent developers are themselves outsourcing to Eastern Europe and Asia in order to remain competetive.

The real route to riches is to own your own IP, to make your own game. Then to choose which publisher you will allow to distribute the finished product. This is how a lot of the film industry works and increasingly it will be how the gaming industry works.

You don’t have to have a Harry Potter or Olympics license to do this, either. When I was at Codemasters we published World Chamionship Snooker which was developed by Blade Interactive . They owned all the rights to the game and did all the work getting all the licenses. All we did was the manufacturing, sales and marketing. So when Sega came along and offered them a better deal Blade had no problem in taking the next iteration of their game to a different publisher.

Of course there are really massive games where the developer owns the rights. Valve have allowed Electronics Arts, Vivendi and Sierra Studios to publish huge titles like Counter Strike and Half Life for them.

This whole approach is a lot more risky than just being a sub contractor. You can finance it all yourself or you can introduce risk taking partners who help finance individual games in exchange for a slice of the profits. Finding these and making the right deal would be a new skill for most independent developers. But it takes the risk out of our industry and follows film practice.

Another new skill for developers would be the marketing. You can let the publisher do the launch advertising and promotion. What the developer can do is the long term stuff that builds the brand. Starting a year out with monthly press releases and a full time community manager. This is the stuff that builds a big swell of knowledge for the game which makes all the launch stuff just so much more effective.

And of course there is also the credible view that publishers will become redundant. That the future will see content generators going directly to market themselves via the internet and digital downloads. Obviously the current console publishing model precludes this, but who knows what the future will bring. And in the meantime there is always the PC.

So are you a developer or a publisher? Would you like to see the risk taken by external finance instead of the industry itself? Use the comment function to add to the debate.