There is a potentially decade-defining revolution happening in gaming right now, and not many are noticing. The iPhone, flash games, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, Second Life, Facebook widgets, and even Foursquare haven’t just moved the bar for gaming development —they’ve completely redesigned and re-purposed it.
We’ve gone from game development as an artistic/programming pursuit to the past five years, the age of the blockbuster game. Like Hollywood, anything that doesn’t fit a predetermined market requirement is cast aside. Big console and PC development takes years of work and ginormous sums of money, and as a result, the gaming studios play it safe, releasing sequels, retreads, and other swill. Sound familiar?
But just as there’s more to film than Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, there’s more to gaming than Mario Kart and Mortal Kombat. Indie game developers have always been around, but they’re now finding friendly outlets and eager gamers thanks to the iPhone, Xbox, and Playstation’s relatively open platforms. For many, it’s the first credible outlet they’ve ever had.
But still, there is money — a lack of it. And for some developers, that’s where Kickstarter has come in. We’ve had games like High Strangeness, Liferaft, and Resonance — all excellent. Another set in the post-election demonstrations in Iran (we’ll be posting an interview with its developer tomorrow). Also a documentary on competitive Street Fighter 4, a Halo-based talk show, and a new video game journal, among many others.
The rewards are often great. In addition to the games themselves, creators have offered to base characters after backers and use them as in-game voices. And for the creators: I don’t know the ownership stakes normally given to game developers, but I can take a guess. On Kickstarter creators always keep full creative control and intellectual property.
If you aren’t a big gamer you probably don’t think of these people as artists in the same way you do filmmakers, painters, or musicians. And considering what’s out there, you aren’t wrong. But a good game developer or designer’s work can be just as profound and just as serious as anyone else’s. Visit a couple of the projects above and I bet you’ll agree.