Thursday, January 25, 2007

Design on a Dime

A successful game launch requires two very important elements to be successful. The developers need a good design concept, and the financial resources to make their vision a reality. Design concepts are like assholes, we all have one, and when push comes to shove, the vast majority just result in is a steaming pile of shit.

I believe that the best design concepts die on the vine, conceived in an indy studio or a yet unknown developer's notepad, and forever lack the second necessity to really revolutionize this industry. Money... Since money, and how to get it, is something that I am intimately familiar with, allow me to elaborate on the problems with this industry and how to solve them.

Game development, particularly in the MMO space, has become an inbred industry. Designers, developers and producers work in much the same arena, in a relatively small industry dominated by a few very big gorillas. So when an indy studio, with a genre shattering concept runs out of cash, they all turn to the same basic set of options to proceed. Cancel the project, or call the gorilla. Equally poor choices in my opinion, and here is why...

MMOs, from a monetary standpoint, are a speculative growth industry. Much like commodities, they have an absolutely mind boggling P/E potential, while also having a very high speculative risk factor. Venture capital firms, small private equity firms and many wealthy investors spend billions every year finding avenues to dump money on these very same metric opportunities. So why not in the MMO market as well? Because no one is asking them.

The game industry, if it is to be truly revolutionary, needs freedom to develop concepts without oversight from a interested investor. The gorilla is a very interested investor, and despite the press release indicating that all creative input will remain with the boutique studio, you can assume that is 90% PR bullshit... it is spin.

So how do we bridge this divide and find these Sugar Daddies, just waiting to throw us boatloads of cash with no strings? Well, designers need to employ money men, with enough industry knowledge to make the concepts palatable to the investor, while also knowing what the investor wants and needs. Development firms need to employ financial industry salesmen to pitch their product to disinterested investor groups, much like REIT managers do.

REITs are a good comparison example. I have $10,000 and I want to make a lot of money. My broker suggests Real Estate is an area with phenomenal growth potential, but what can I buy for 10 grand? And truth be told, I don't know dick about Real Estate, nor do I want to manage it. So he takes my money to an REIT, pools it with 1000 other people's $10,000 and he buys a bunch of properties. Some lose money, others win big, and at the end of the day, all I care about is watching my $10,000 become $11,000. I don't need to know how, I don't care if the buildings are painted white or blue, or if one building lost $100,000 and went under.

So how do we apply all this pseudo-intellectual bullshit into a usable concept? Well, you start by having a design idea. Get your idea mapped out well, and rudimentary designs and features in place. Then find your salesmen to pitch your potential to investors and gather the assets to make your vision a reality. At the end of the day, mediocrity in the industry would return enough to satisfy your investors, and with the freedom to design in your own way, you just might transcend mediocrity and make something revolutionary.

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