Posted Thu, Jun 07, 2007 by Cody Bye
Throughout our lives as gamers, we often find ourselves at a loss. We wonder why our current game isn't providing us with a substantially satisfying experience. The game seems bland, colorless, and uninteresting, yet there appears to be nothing better. Many of the mainstream games have fallen into a state of replication; if a game does something right, copy it and resell it as something else! The major marketplace is filled with these sorts of copycat games, and it's often hard to find anything that is innovative or exceptional. Some gamers even believe that it's a hopeless search.
That's where we're wrong. According to Brian "Psychochild" Green, the answer lies in the smaller games, niche titles that have slipped under our radar yet could have subjects as interesting as mermaids, mechs, and mature themes. In the first part of our interview, Brian discusses what it means to be a niche title and how that can help them differentiate from the larger games on the market. He also covered some of his background with Meridian 59 and how his previous work has helped him become an experienced voice in the MMOG industry.
The second part of the interview, which we feature below, has Brian advising gamers on how we might find a niche game of our choice. We also cover the need to legitimize the video gaming industry and where Brian believes the future of MMOGs is heading. Sit back, relax, and allow Brian "Psychochild" Green to entertain you with his words.
Brian "Psychochild" Green, Founder of Near Death Studios, Inc.
Ten Ton Hammer: As players, what should we expect from indie games? How do we sift the wheat from the chaff and really find a quality indie MMO that we want to play?
Brian: I think the important thing to remember is that indie games aren’t big budget games, and you shouldn’t expect them to be. This doesn’t mean that the games won’t be fun, but it often means they won’t look as visually stunning as the big-budget games do. With the newest generation of games, the cost of art has skyrocketed. This is the largest cost for a game, and a game with a more modest budget won’t be able to afford an army of artists as the latest $30+ million dollar game can.
On the other hand, this can be a tremendous benefit. A game that isn’t spending tens of millions of dollars can do something the large games cannot: try something risky and innovative. The person who leads a project worth a ton of money is going to want to take the safe path so that they aren’t blamed for wasting all the money. Of course, this doesn’t always work, but it is what a lot of developers think.
The hard part is finding a good indie MMO. Low development budgets usually mean that there is no budget for marketing, so it’s hard to hear about these games unless you really go out looking for them. I’m glad for indie conferences because it gives me a chance to hear about all the games that I might otherwise overlook.
I think that the best way to evaluate an indie game is to see if it appeals to you. Do you love a particular setting besides high fantasy? If you see something that sounds interesting, don’t be afraid to try it for a bit. If an indie developer is making a game about fighting dinosaurs, to pick a random example, chances are they are really interested in dinosaurs. If you like dinosaurs, you should definitely check it out. Or, maybe economics is fascinating to you and you find a game with a deep economy. Perhaps you love hard-core PvP. Even if the art isn’t as pretty as in other games, you will probably find a great game run by someone passionate.
On the other hand, I tend to avoid games that try to clone popular games. An indie WoW-clone is probably not going to be very interesting. Given the endless possibilities, it’s sad to see someone with so little creativity that they have to clone a game they have no possibility of competing with. Look for and support innovation.
Even though WoW has been hugely successful, it actually uses less CSR help then previous online titles.
Ten Ton Hammer: Customer service seems to be a hot topic around the web as of late, but you’ve stated in the past that customer service isn’t necessary the end-all-be-all that some developers believe it is. Why do you hold this position?
Brian: This is always a tricky topic, because some people misrepresent my position. In Meridian 59, the majority of our costs are to keep a few CSRs employed to help people, so I believe that CSRs are still very necessary for a game.
However, customer service does not make a significant difference in which online game someone will play. Most of the largest games have had terrible customer service, yet they still play the games. I, personally, had a very disappointing customer service issue in WoW, yet I continued to play the game several months after that event because my friends were playing the game. If you look at the history of online games, the most popular games had no end of people complaining about the terrible customer service in the most popular games of the time.
Likewise, people rarely decide to play a game because of the customer service. Meridian 59 probably spends a larger percent of our income on CSRs than WoW does, but you don’t see people rushing to play M59 because of this greater focus on customer service. So, even though CS is an important part of the game, it does not make as much of a difference as other aspects of the game, from my experiences.