The thin measure of success

I’ve been thinking about some of the implications of my previous post about Screen Australia‘s All Media Fund and in doing so have clarified something that has been on my mind for quite some time.

In particular, this quote in the original piece from an unnamed executive has rattled around my head:

“Strong story-telling elements are found in AAA titles – like the recent LA Noire by Team Bondi – (but) the budgets for these projects are beyond what most independent games developers can expect to secure,” the source says.

“It’s no accident that Australia’s recent success has been on the iPhone platform – Flight Control and Fruit Ninja are examples, and there’s been a shift towards developing games for social media networks like Facebook.”

I’ve come across this thinking a lot and have started to wonder: are these our only measures of success – LA Noire or Flight Control? AAA or iPhone? I think we do ourselves a serious disservice when we put barriers up about what we can create before we even create it or when we fail to consider the other options that might work from a mechanical and storytelling perspective – options that might not have examples in Australia but which certainly exist as part of the wider worldwide gaming community. Just off the top of my head, what about Stacking or Sword and Sworcery or World of Goo (stretching it a little, but it certainly has a story) or Machinarium or Costume Quest or Limbo?

Not AAA, and not Flight Control either, but interesting and successful titles with a narrative bent. Would Screen Australia fund these? I don’t know, but they certainly won’t if nobody applies. To damn a project or an idea before it has even been born because it doesn’t fit into the thin measure of success of being either a mechanically driven iPhone game or a multimillion dollar title seems to me to be economic & creative folly.

And anyway, someone has already done Flight Control, Fruit Ninja, and LA Noire. Maybe there’s room for something that’s different.

6 thoughts on “The thin measure of success”

  1. Success = delivering on a minimum level of time vs cost vs quality that is just high enough to get another project signed…? 😉

  2. Nail, head. Paul, you hit it.

    This is _the_ primary concern for indy devs who want to cultivate their own storytelling IP. Having thought about it a lot, the polarization between AAA & Twitch games seems to stem from the context in which a game is played.

    If it’s a mobile twitch game playable on public transport or at the water cooler it’s commercial potential is undeniable — it’s instantly purchasable, pick-up-and-playable anywhere, and short-burst play has become a social norm like reading horoscopes or staring out the window listening to headphones… Storytelling takes a back seat to twitch mechanics, and the number of “me-too” clones of Flight Control and Fruit Ninja flooding the market suggests something about the longevity of such success stories…

    If instead it’s a hollywood-style immersive masterpiece playable on the couch with the home-theatre system, then this model is also proven. It’s a larger buy-in, for a bigger return, in both time and money, for both creator and consumer.
    No need to mention the number of “me too” clones here, but certainly an original storyline with strong creative direction is what elevates a few above the many… but to compete in this market is prohibitively expensive.

    If we’re not playing one of the above two examples, we’re probably playing an MMO or Facebook game… What other options are left?

    Indy devs can propose to make a game which offers a unique storytelling experience, and build strong IP on a low budget — such as Machinarium or Sword and Sworcery…

    But what is the proven development model for games such as these? How to sell the idea to investors who think:

    “These are revenue models:
    1. App Store = Angry Birds,
    2. Facebook Credits = Farmville,
    3. AAA Console = CoD, or
    4. Monthly Subscription = WoW.
    – take your pick, but we can’t afford the latter two…”

    • I kind of agree Dan, but with the caveat of my previous post about IP & the language of game development –

      The best way to have a middle ground is to create it. If investors aren’t interested, let’s figure out some other ways to get the games made. These might not create studios or build jobs, but commercial success shouldn’t be the *sole* goal of any creative sector. Working on Freeplay, I talk to people who just want to make things for their own sake without necessarily getting paid for it, others who want that indie lifestyle, others who want to work on small-scale studios, and others who would love to just be at an EA or Ubi.

      At the heart of this is the need for diversity & the acknowledgement that not everything is about economic growth, jobs, or investment, but sometimes just about making art – and to bring it back to the Screen Australia fund, maybe that’s one way of doing that…

  3. I know this is going to sound terrible but people love putting things in boxes to make them easier to understand, over time we develop more boxes but at the moment, there’s two in australia.

    Things will change, it’ll take time.

    • Doesn’t sound terrible at all and I totally agree. As a first step to developing more boxes I figured it was worth pointing out that they did in fact exist 🙂


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