Posted Mon, Dec 16, 2013 by ricoxg
Moving on actually posed one of the more interestingly divisive and relevant questions of the evening, which was how we apply that to some of the recent crowd-funded titles. Among us were Planetary Annihilation, Star Citizen, and Shroud of the Avatar fans, not to mention dozens of much less known titles. Bigger staffs in some cases, but for all intents and purposes, we’re sort of talking about indie games. With that in mind, what do we expect of these games and which standard do we apply to them?
I have to report that the answer is pretty decidedly inconclusive, or at least none could be agreed upon among that small company. There’s sort of this expectation that with more money and a larger staff, we’re not really talking about indie any longer, but that has to be mitigated somewhat by the fact that we’re being given access to the games in development as we would an indie title. In the end, whichever of those two points you feel most strongly about is really what side of the line you appear to fall on with this question.
As I typically do, I find myself rather in the middle. For one, I do think there is a need to sort of re-evaluate what success looks like with some of these games because they are giving them to us in portions. PA specifically is delivering the game a patch at a time, while both SC and SotA will roll out more modularly. I think we can expect the games to be distinctly unfinished, just like we’ve seen with KSP and Minecraft over the last few years.
However, these guys have a lot more money and more man-power, dramatically so in Star Citizen’s case. It’s more than reasonable to expect more of these larger teams than you would of the smaller, but defining more is the trick. It seems like the respective teams understand that and are already taking steps. PA is offering an expanded map, the opportunity to play what amounts to Total Annihilation on a galactic scale. SC has expanded the size of their universe modestly, but has promised a much more complex game than originally envisioned. SotA, in true Lord British fashion, is promising innovation and an unparalleled immersive experience.
So I think that this will be the trick to judging progress in these new games, and whether they’re being successful or not. With each update, we have to look to see if the games are progressing on their stated target, not whether or not the release as a game is “good.” Using SC and SotA as examples then, I would expect that each SC update expands the game and adds more things to do. Obviously, we’ll have more to do with the release of the dogfight module, but as they update it further we should get more configuration options, more complexity in our ships, maybe more mission types to fly. Each SC module on down the line should see similar expansion in capabilities. That’s what I’m looking for to grade their success.
With Shroud we should find a little more to do in each update, but we should really be looking to see that the updates make the world around us more immersive. Also, they promise to think outside the box, so I’ll be looking for new mechanics or systems that I haven’t seen in other games before. The standard hot-bar of combat actions we’ve seen over the last decade and slot-based crafting system are just not going to cut it. New ideas aren’t easy, so I expect we’ll see more bugs than we might in a development like Planetary Annihilation, though not nearly as many as we probably will with Star Citizen with all of its complexity.
The conversation sort of started drifting apart with the final thought, which was whether the new style of development is better, worse, or just different. There really is something to be said for experiencing a finalized game in its intended form. Then conversely, there’s a lot of reward in being involved with the development as a fan, and no doubt a huge boon to the developers being able to adapt on the fly to things that don’t go over well.
Like when movies recently started flirting with showing in 3D again, I expect we’ll see some successes and some failures. Which we see more of will largely determine what direction the industry takes moving forward from here. A big part of that success or failure may come down to whether or not we can train our eyes to a new way of looking at the developing games. Additionally, the developers will need to be especially cognizant of how they’re being perceived and work to manage it. Players are used to being told with beta access that a game is “in development,” so showing them the difference will be tough.
I’ve said before, and I’ll repeat it again, it’s an interesting time to be a gamer. We could see some seriously significant changes to how games are made over the next years, and now more than ever we can take a hand in it. I think that’s why as we were standing up to leave that one of the final comments stuck with me, “If they’re going to pull this off, social media and community relations are probably going to be the key for those guys. They could easily live or die by what memes spawn out of their forums. I sure hope they’re paying their Community Manager enough!” Then in true geek fashion, the Salon de Hackery broke up to chuckling and the soft light of tablet screens.