Issue #4 - Creativity and Money

Double Fine starts a kickstarter crowd-funding project for a new point-and-click adventure. 24 hours later, this kickstarter has surpassed the aim – three-fold. It has yet to run for more than 30 days at that point. These are the basic facts around Tim Schafer’s new project and the cause of this new tie-in entry about “creativity and money” instead of an entry about what we call “content” in MMOs.
So, this week we ask the question about independent funding, and the role of publishers. We have seen multiple cases of either self-publishing or crowd-funding recently, but the most surprising ones to date are certainly Mojang’s Minecraft and the still ongoing Double Fine Adventure kickstarter. Do these mark the end to publishers and their careful balancing of both creativity and money – which isn’t bound to success anyways?
Creativity – judged, or simply blocked by publishers?
Publishers fulfil three basic roles, says the industry consensus: a) Funding, b) Marketing, c) Quality Control. The core issues are both funding and quality control, we’ll start with the first, since money is our second topic anyways:
Quality control refers to publishers deciding which project is to be worked on, refined and brought to the market. What is a factor of success for a publisher? Grand revenue and a big consumer base to provide merchandise for.
This ideology conflicts with a simple concept of creativity: Innovation and filling niches. Creativity is based on new ideas, new means of achieving something, innovation as a whole. Anything “new” causes a risk, though. Will “they” buy it? Will they adapt to the changes? How big is the consumer base anyways?
Some of these questions are ruled out by “testing” these new ideas in already established IPs. How about a hybrid of an RPG and a Tower Defense game? How about combining some nostalgia with an already radically changed IP to get the lost players back?
It may work, but it is still risky, and most publishers still drop such ideas to prevent loss.
Publishers, therefore, attempt to keep the creativity to a minimum – allow it only, when it is expected to be successful.
Money – Cause and effect?
Well, of course this is all influenced by money. A publisher’s decisions are based on what changes to the income they expect.
As said before, a publisher seeks grand revenue and a good market for merchandise. This only works with already established IPs, and only with established features. Not with any offspring of some random creative minds.
As long as a developer has to rely on a publisher to get his ideas out there, they are unlikely to succeed. Either accept the fact that a creative project won’t be funded, or do the fundraising on one’s own – be independent.
With Double Fine’s kickstarter hitting a million dollars in less than 24 hours, we have seen a successful attempt at being independent already. This requires reputation and contacts in the industry, though. These can only be gained over time, with a loud voice to get one’s concepts out there.
Therefore, independent fundraising is ... ?
... a good idea, and certainly a path that takes us away from a publisher-focused model.
Why is it a good idea to move away from the publisher-model in the first place, one might ask. Given that this model is established in almost any medium’s industry, this is actually a valid question.
The answer is rather simple: Games are an interactive piece of art. They create a bond between whatever-company-is-written-onto-it and the player himself.
Publishers use this bond to evaluate their consumers. They are focused on catering to a certain base of people with money, willing to spend it on the publisher’s products. Publishers want to cater to as many people as possible, to gain the most income.
Developers see the “consumers” as the community. It’s a much friendlier relationship and the developers seek the most joyful experience for their community. This is the reason as to why we see developers communicating with the people playing their games, quite directly even.
Publishers still serve a purpose in our industry, and with a shift of focus on their end to a much more community-focused attitude, there will be no need to reduce their influence.
As it stands, though, publishers have way too much influence and block projects that might bring a whole new twist to the industry – even if it isn’t successful.

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