An acquaintance of mine is looking into starting a game company. That isn't for the spineless, but it's something I can highly recommend. The years I spent running my own studio were ones I will always think back on fondly. It's a roller coaster ride of alternating fear and elation, but it can be a great experience if you want to test your commitment to the art of making games.
Be warned: starting a game company can lead to meetings with publishers.
I actually believe most publishers would love to give a thumbs up to your amazing new concept, but picking and choosing which games to fund (or not) is as much about aligning with the marketplace, or mysterious business objectives, as the virtues of your spectacular idea. That sort of makes sense but it breeds a strange environment where the external message is "We want fresh, innovative ideas!"
They usually don't. I've actually heard variations on this sentiment in more than one pitch meeting: I love it! That means I'll get in trouble if we make it.
That's right. It's a Reverse Treasure Finding Machine. I decided to chart out this baffling mindset for the benefit of my friend. Apologies to the cool, innovative publishers of the world (and you know who you are) since this paints everybody with the same cynical brush.
Click to enlarge
This may not be how publishers are 100% of the time, but it's how they feel after you've weathered a few pitch meetings.
The good news is that there are different avenues for game developers now. Between the explosion of mobile games, and services like Xbox LIVE Arcade, there is a vibrant ecosystem filled with creative, awesome games. And the audience is growing unbelievably fast. It's enough to give a crabby old game designer some hope for the future. We don't have to dwell in that brownish green Delta of Mediocrity.
We will always have the big, epic game experiences. My shelves are crammed with them. But at least there is room for other flavors, risky concepts and more varied creative direction. It's easy to forget that if you look behind a Halo, you will find a Marathon. Tomorrow's big games have to start somewhere.
Oh, and if you want a real conversation starter, try pinning your favorite games to this chart and see how they line up. Good times!