Games

You (and Your Money) Are Driving Today’s Gaming Renaissance

Brian Crecente / Tribune News Service (TNS)
Photo: Jo Simoes from nicoaugusto.com

You don’t need a big publisher, or a publisher at all, to get your game out and that game doesn’t have to sell for $60, or $20, or anything, for a developer to achieve great success.

His first career, kicked off by a UFO sighting in Greece in 1997, was running a popular ghost-hunting show in Europe.

Nicolas Augusto co-starred in “Research, Investigation, Paranormal” in France for five years, shooting 52 episodes that had him and his team of five visiting haunted locations around Europe, including Dracula’s castle.

The 35-year-old said he became obsessed with the paranormal after seeing a strange floating object while on a trip in Greece. He started reading up on the topic, visiting places where there were sightings of not just UFOs, but also ghosts.

“I fell in love with the field,” he said. “I started writing a documentary. People called me Mulder (of “X-Files” fame).

“I found people who could help me in the process, witnesses. It was a big adventure.”

But after five years adventuring with his team of fellow paranormal sleuths, Augusto decided he wanted to try his hand at something he’s always wanted to do: create a video game. So he recruited a team of seasoned game developers and launched a studio called Any Arts.

While the backstory, the UFO sighting and ghost hunting, are unusual, Augusto’s decision to get into game development now, and his chances of succeeding, are typical of a new climate in the game industry.

Thanks to the likes of Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Steam, and the impact these services have had on the democratization of both funding and pricing, games no longer have to fit into a very specific model to succeed. And they don’t have to worry over the publisher middleman to find an audience. Instead they can go straight to gamers.

You don’t need a big publisher, or a publisher at all, to get your game out and that game doesn’t have to sell for $60, or $20, or anything, for a developer to achieve great success.

The impact this new freedom is having can’t be overstated. Not only does it create space for the likes of mega community-driven hits like the $72 million Star Citizen, but it creates space for all sorts of games that blend genres, defy expectation and test the limits of what a game is and what gamers want from gaming.

With a new democratization of funding and pricing, games no longer have to fit into a very specific model to succeed.

Ostensibly, the annual DICE Summit in Las Vegas is a two-day show powered by presentations given by developers for developers. But the real attractions of the show are the deals being made in the background. This year, the day before the show officially started, I spent a day meeting with nearly a dozen small teams at a circular bar in the back half of the Hard Rock Hotel’s Casino.

The Luxe bar features a ring of tiny tables and stuffed chairs spread out along its outer perimeter. It often becomes the out-of-the-way, but not-too-out-of-the-way meeting place for quick gaming pitches and deals.

My meetings with these teams were unusual: None of them could talk about the games they were pitching, so the meetings often were more about the formation of the teams and their desires. Coupled with the fact that the meetings were back-to-back, both in their timing and sometimes in their locations, and the interviews began to feel a bit like speed dating.

Many of the new studios I met with were made up of developers with long, prestigious careers making successful games. They set out on their own because of the new, more welcoming climate. Funding is easier to find, gamers more willing to try different things.

David Adams, whose Vigil Games created the blockbuster Darksiders series before going under, decided to break away from publisher Crytek and go it alone with his team because of how welcoming he sees the development scene today.

“When we started Vigil, either you got a big-ass triple-A publisher or you just didn’t make games,” he said. “Going from there to now where it’s like there’s a full spectrum: there’s $60 games, there’s $20 games, there’s free games, there’s 99 cent games. There’s a lot of slots you can fit your game into.”

Preparing to launch his team’s first game, “Adrift,” Adam Orth returned to DICE to pitch not his studio’s second game, but its third.

“Our ambition has always been about independence,” he tells me. “We are actively looking to change the way we operate in the future in terms of business.”

Others tell me about a desire to shift genres and try something new, or that they want to be able to fully own their creations and no longer make money for publishers that they feel are increasingly unnecessary.

And of course there are the dreamers, the fledgling developers attracted to the still blossoming industry of creating games.

People like former ghost hunter Augusto.

While Augusto doesn’t have any game development experience, his team certainly does. He hired on a staff of about 16 from Ubisoft’s Montpellier studio, home of “ZombieU” and “Rayman.”

Augusto said his love of gaming started at a young age as a player. He loved the Nintendo Entertainment System. Later in life, he had a job selling games.

He was able to make the leap from TV to heading up a game studio because of his passion for gaming, he says. He also brought along a 600-page manuscript for the studio’s first game, one he can’t tell me much about because he’s still pitching it.

I know the game was, in part, inspired by his dog, a French bulldog named Any (short for Anakin from Star Wars) that died peacefully one day lying in Augusto’s lap as he worked. I know that the game, like the hopeful game-maker, is driven by emotion.

“I talk with my heart,” he said, explaining how he convinced a team of experienced developers to join him to form a new studio. “I told them the story about my dog, how I want players to feel this experience of losing something so important.”

* * *

(Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding news editor of Polygon.)

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