每次行业变革都有催化剂。若没有《毁灭战士》，我们现在会处在什么阶段？若Facebook没有出现，MySpace游戏能否吸引众多用户？还有Unity或Unreal Engine 3？
这些公司许多原本没有门路，因此大众融资对于独立游戏社区而言就是非常重要的渠道。《Cthulu Saves the World》和《Blade Symphony》等作品都是通过Kickstarter融资，《Octodad》因成功在此平台获得融资而推出续集。
《N.O.V.A.》的敌人、武器和环境设计同《光晕》类似。《Shadow Guardian》借鉴《神秘海域》的主题和玩法元素。《Crystal Monsters》采用《Pokémon》的主题、玩法和战争视角。《Eternal Legacy》令人回想起《最终幻想XIII》。《StarFront: Collision》无法隐藏自己的《星际争霸》影子。你能够轻易从中发现“相似”之处。
Humble Indie Bundle（基于互联网）
Humble Indie Bundle是个非常有趣的尝试——将若干独立游戏捆绑起来，向用户提供“购买所想内容”的下载模式。利润要在开发者间分成。此前也有人尝试过此模式，但并未到达这般规模。
Steam已有效证明自己是可行的PC数字发行平台。目前Steam有3500多万用户，控制大片数字游戏推广市场。据悉，如《Super Meat Boy》和《Bastion》等可下载掌机游戏开发者，在Steam所获的收益超过掌机平台，因此掌机和PC交叉开发变得日渐普遍。
姑且不论PC游戏未来是否分散至各服务平台，但Steam依然是此模式的先驱，它有效改变业内各公司的运作模式。Steam通过推出Steam Cloud（这让某些游戏数据得以存在在云端）、嵌入式DRM解决方案和Steam Guard（放置黑客盗取帐号）持续更新内容。
就实际作品而言，Zynga有效凭借《Empires & Allies》和《Adventure World》等作品将硬核玩家吸引至社交领域。其他作品无疑也起到促进作用，但看到大公司不是一味求稳着实令人非常高兴。
OnLive目前正在推广自己的实体设备OnLive Game System，它能够将游戏内容输入电视机顶盒，用户能够直接使用控制器。目前已有超过50家公司同OnLive签订协议，这令玩家能够在上述掌机、PC或Mac上体验游戏内容。
《LA Noire》也许险些令工作室（Team Bondi）关门，其销量并未达到母公司（Rockstar Games）的预期，但游戏确实带来新技术。Depth Analysis的32高清摄像头装置能够抓住角色脸部各角度，栩栩如生地呈现給数字世界的对手玩家。虽然角色依然在游戏引擎中生成，但动画效果着实令人惊叹。由于游戏想让玩家判断角色是否讲真话，准确的表现无疑非常重要。
经过多年研究，Depth Analysis的付出似乎已有回报，因为《LA Noire》的表现受到广泛赞誉。公司称他们每天最多能够采集50分钟的影片，制作20分钟的表情动画。
独立基金由众多独立游戏开发知名人士创建，包括Jon Blow（《Braid》）、 Ron Carmel和Kyle Gabler（《粘粘世界》）及Kellee Santiago（《Flower》）等人士。它的目标是“修复无法运作的机制”——也就是独立开发者和发行商之间的关系。
基金目前主要支持4个已公布项目，即Steph Thirion的《Faraway》、Dan Pinchbeck的《Dear Esther》、Andy Schatz的《Monaco》以及Toxic Games的《Q.U.B.E》。
by Brandon Sheffield
[In this article, originally published in the October 2011 issue of Game Developer magazine, editor in chief Brandon Sheffield selects 20 different things that have changed the course of the game industry -- be they companies, technologies, or anything else.]
We work in a rapidly-changing creative industry, where trends can rise and fall inside of a year, or move on to become new standards that all shall follow. This kind of rapid growth and change doesn’t come from nowhere, though.
There are catalysts to every big industry shift. Where would we be without the business and game architecture of Doom? If Facebook hadn’t come along, would we be employing thousands of people for MySpace games? What about Unity, or Unreal Engine 3?
We’ve decided to drill down and look at some of the recent concepts, games, companies, and services that are changing the game industry, for better or for worse. Now let’s all get out there and keep changing things for the better!
Mojang (Stockholm, Sweden)
Much has been said about Mojang and its monster hit Minecraft. At over 4 million paid accounts and 16 million users total, the game is a massive financial and critical success. It takes the concept of user-created content to new extremes, making the gameplay and the creation one and the same.
But the reason Mojang makes our list is not just the money. Any company can make money with underhanded tactics — but Mojang has done so with absolute transparency.
For one thing, it proved the viability of the “pay at alpha” model of self-funding. Companies have tried it before, and others have done it since, but Minecraft wrote the book on the concept. Essentially, let people pay for something they like as early as possible — but make sure you keep supporting them, fixing bugs, listening to your audience, and being as honest with them as you can.
Minecraft creator Markus Persson makes most of his announcements to Twitter rather than through press releases, and does his best to answer most emails and comments directly (though that’s impossible with 10 million users), which puts Mojang at the forefront of not company messaging as well.
On top of that, as the company gets sued by Bethesda for using Scrolls as the title of its upcoming game (Bethesda thinks Mojang’s Scrolls sounds too much like its own The Elder Scrolls), Mojang is turning a blind eye to the blatant copies of its game that have cropped up on XBLIG and PC, some of which have made over $1 million.
Mojang should be changing the way companies think about the game business. The Swedish company proves you can be honest, transparent, and responsive to your fans, and still make a massive profit.
Kickstarter (New York, NY)
Kickstarter is likely universally-known by readers of Game Developer and Gamasutra, but on the off chance there’s someone among us who’s unaware, Kickstarter is a company that takes donations on behalf of a fledgling (or finishing) project, offering incentives for buyers, and general goodwill for the company that needs a boost. Though Kickstarter is certainly not the only game in town, it is the largest, and has funded the most successful game projects to date.
Kickstarter takes a small cut of the donations (5 percent – Amazon takes another 3 to 5 percent for use of its payment service), but this is a small price to pay for a company looking for funding.
Most of these groups wouldn’t get anything otherwise, and the crowdfunding model has turned out to be a big deal for the indie game community in particular. Games like Cthulu Saves the World and Blade Symphony got their funding from Kickstarter, and Octodad got a sequel due to its successful campaign on the service.
The great thing about crowdfunding versus getting funds from publishers or angel investors is that Kickstarter owns no part of submitted projects, and (for better or for worse) does not hold them accountable for their successful completion.
Most successful projects seem to be nudges to completion rather than actual kick-starts, but a publisher-free funding model is a blessing to any independent game developer, and Kickstarter is currently the leading way to make that happen.
Gameloft (Paris, France)
Gameloft splits its time between making mobile versions of licensed game properties, like Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell, original titles like Asphalt, and blatantly “similar” titles to popular games like Uncharted and Pokémon.
For better or for worse, Gameloft has pushed the envelope when it comes to making games that draw on the success of other titles. The company makes entirely competent, great-looking games for mobile devices (and occasionally consoles) that leave absolutely no question as to their origin.
N.O.V.A.’s enemy, weapon, and environmental designs look suspiciously like those from Halo. Shadow Guardian borrows themes and gameplay elements from Uncharted. Crystal Monsters uses the themes, gameplay, and even battle perspectives from Pokémon. Eternal Legacy calls to mind Final Fantasy XIII. StarFront: Collision does not hide its StarCraft allusions. You don’t have to stretch your brain very much to see the “similarities.”
Now, this isn’t stealing, but it is a case of extreme influence. As battles around IP and gameplay concepts rage, Gameloft’s studios have managed to consistently skirt the issue. And it seems to be working for the company, because whenever someone like Naughty Dog or Nintendo doesn’t release a game for iOS, Gameloft is there to pick up the slack, and make a decent quality game that scratches a similar itch.
While one certainly wonders what the company’s design meetings are like, there’s no question that Gameloft is changing the business. This is especially interesting when you get to companies like Nintendo, which says it will never release a game on iOS. Gameloft is forcing companies to think about their mobile strategies a bit earlier, before Gameloft decides to think of it for them.
Rovio (Espoo, Finland)
Angry Birds is not really an amazing game in itself. It’s certainly a massive hit, with over 500 million downloads as of this writing, but when you break it down, it’s nothing more than a standard action physics puzzler using a formula and playstyle that has existed for many years. It’s not the game that puts Rovio on our list — it’s how the company has supported it.
Once it was clear that Angry Birds was going to be a success, Rovio didn’t start planning a sequel, or even a new game. It took the “games as a service” model touted by MMO developers, and shrank it to mobile size. The company has released extra levels, holiday-themed versions, and other updates and upgrades (including some item purchasing) consistently throughout the game’s now nearly two-year lifespan.
People are still buying Angry Birds even now, because Rovio knows when people are playing a game, they talk about it. And when people talk, others become interested. Consistently building buzz has been critical for the title, but so has a massive campaign of porting to every device under the sun, including upcoming versions for Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS, but also older phones and operating systems.
Rovio began as a mobile company doing J2ME games and working from contract to contract, and some of that shows in its porting lust. But the clever bit is that when they found a hit, they stuck with it, instead of moving on to the next contract again. The company also used new platforms to prove out new business models (the first version on the Android OS was free-to-play with ads).
Is this sustainable? Rovio certainly thinks so, bragging that when it goes public, its IPO will be worth more than PopCap’s. This remains to be seen, but the company is doing a fantastic job of pushing Angry Birds out to as many people as possible, without a huge backlash saying that it’s just milking one franchise. And that takes real ingenuity.
Humble Indie Bundle (Internet-based)
The Humble Indie Bundle was an intriguing experiment — pack several indie games together, and give people a “pay what you want” model for downloading them. The profits were to be divided up among the developers. There had been attempts at models like this before, but not on this scale.
The quality of the titles as well as the buzz generated meant that the first bundle went on to generate almost $1.3 million. Subsequent bundles have done even better, helping all companies involved generate additional income without the bundle claiming any ownership over the products themselves.
One of the project’s additional successes comes from its ability to retain that indie feeling while growing massively. As the bundles have gotten more successful, they attracted the attention of investors. Sequoia Capital provided venture funding of $4.7 million to the bundle’s future growth, which is a decidedly un-humble amount of money.
Even so, the third “Indie”-branded bundle has surpassed the previous two in sales, and only a minimal amount of ill-will has been generated from fans decrying the less-than-indie funding source. So long as the games are indie, and no royalties are asked for, it appears the Bundle will continue changing the way indies look at their own post-release business.
Microsoft’s Kinect (Redmond, WA)
The Kinect was Microsoft’s answer to the motion control craze in games that started in earnest with Nintendo’s Wii. Through the power of a 3D camera, Kinect was to make your full body the controller, and early numbers looked good.
Though Microsoft hasn’t released any statistics in the last several months, as of March, 2011, the peripheral had sold over 10 million units. The Kinect camera was instantly the cheapest 3D camera on the market, and the device was quickly modified by hobbyists for non-standard use, with early demos showing some amazing technologies, from 3D rendering of a space in real time, to curious visualizers.
It quickly became clear that Kinect was a hit among not only game players, but the tech community at large, and if Microsoft didn’t get in front of the bus, the hobbyists were going to drive it away. So in February, 2011, MS released a non-commercial SDK for Kinect for PC, and while the third party market for PC-oriented use has only begun, a great number of impressive strides are already being made.
Scripts exist in Google Chrome to control the browser with hand gestures, MotionBuilder is using Kinect for cheap motion capture (as are some hobbyists), and others have found virtual reality game applications for the hardware. Outside of games, Kinect has been used in video surveillance, for trying on new clothes in Topshop, and medical imaging.
Kinect is proof positive that if you provide intelligent people with an affordable and intriguing product, it will take on a life of its own. While the Kinect’s greatest success will likely be in games, when our world crosses over into other spheres, even greater things can happen.
Pixologic’s Sculptris (Los Angeles, CA)
It wasn’t too long ago that ZBrush, and later Mudbox took the game art world by storm, offering 3D modeling environments that were closer to sculpting than they were to traditional Maya modeling. The high-polygon models couldn’t be beat — but for some, the software was too complex and labor-intensive.
And so it was that hobbyist Tomas Pettersson set about developing Sculptris in his spare time in 2009. The software is still in alpha, but already has artists excited, with its simpler user interface and speedier entry into the world of digital sculpting.
Though some call it a “ZBrush lite,” the software is now under the guiding hand of the the ZBrush company, Pixologic, and packs nearly as much power into a more user friendly package.
Artists, indies especially, have gotten excited about the development of the software, which looks to open up the world of digital sculpting to a whole new audience. What’s more, it’s free to download, though of course Pixologic hopes to transition users into ZBrush and its more robust, deeper toolset, allowing interoperability between both packages.
Valve’s Steam (Kirkland, WA)
Steam has more than proved itself to be the digital publishing platform of choice for PC games. With over 35 million users as of this writing, Steam commands a huge chunk of the digital game distribution marketplace. Developers of downloadable console games such as Super Meat Boy and Bastion have reported making significantly more money on Steam than on consoles, and cross-platform development across console and PC is becoming more common as a result.
Valve’s platform has become the de facto standard for independent game companies looking to publish on PC, and companies such as EA and GameStop have tried to make inroads with their own systems, with Origin and Impulse respectively.
Regardless of whether the future of PC games will be fragmented across multiple services, it was Steam that proved the model, and continues to be a game changer for companies across the industry. Steam continues to update, with Steam Cloud, which allows some storage of game data on a cloud service, built-in DRM solutions (for better or for worse), and Steam Guard, a safeguard against account hacking.
Though Steam has been available to some degree for many years, its continued and increasing relevance keeps it on our list.
Zynga (San Francisco, CA)
Here we have the 500 pound gorilla of the social space. Zynga is huge, to be sure, with 232 million active players as of November, 2011, and over 2,000 employees — but the company is also leading the social industry on multiple fronts.
For its huge corporate anonymity, Zynga has actually been rather open with its development practices, sharing best practices for web game development at conferences, and discussing the use of social metrics in games.
In terms of its actual games, Zynga has also made big strides when it comes to trying to get the core gamer into the space, with games like Empires & Allies and Adventure World. Others have made inroads, to be sure, but it’s nice to see when a larger company doesn’t play it totally safe.
Zynga also runs Zynga.org, a charity outlet that has donated thousands to worthy causes, based on in-game item purchases. Though some question the legitimacy of Zynga’s practices and place at the top, it is doing some good while up there.
Apple’s iOS (Cupertino, CA)
Though the revolution came some time ago, Apple deserves to make our first list of game changers for iTunes, and its supported iOS platforms. Since their inception, the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch have collectively become a major force in the game industry, and a (relatively) cohesive platform in their own right.
Apple’s devices have not only skyrocketed Apple to the top of the technological heap, they have also launched the careers and assured the fortunes of a great many independent developers. Apple’s 70/30 percent revenue-share has become the industry standard, and the platform shows no sign of slowing down.
While Apple hasn’t put as much focus on facilitating games on its home computers, many expect some manner of convergence across iOS in the near future.
Cloud gaming services
Developers in general seem to agree that cloud-based gaming is an important step in the advancement of the digital medium. It can free players from having to keep their PCs or consoles up to date, and could pose a platform-agnostic model for game development. But at present, there are two major players vying for the biggest slice of the pie — OnLive (Palo Alto, CA) and Gaikai (Orange County, CA).
OnLive is currently pushing its physical device, the OnLive Game System, which streams game content to a TV-connected box that allows the direct use of controllers. So far, over 50 companies have signed on with OnLive, which allows gamers to play on the aforementioned console, their PC, or Mac.
Gaikai, on the other hand, is a browser-based service, with no specific game console, and the ability to embed in web sites. Many leading games are already available on the service.
Whether one of these companies wins or loses is not the point — the game changer is the cloud service itself, which frees consumers from console cycles, game-based PC upgrades, and in some cases, installation or downloading of software. Gaming on the cloud is not a totally proven model yet, as the servers are quite expensive, but as costs go down, prospects certainly look up.
Mozilla/Khronos Group’s WebGL
As the next generation of web content starts to become a reality, 3D games in browsers become more common. And for that to happen, we were going to need something better than standard Java. Mozilla’s WebGL, among other 3D web libraries, has risen to fill that need.
Though WebGL is far from perfect, the fact that it provides a 3D graphics API without the use of plug-ins is an extremely important step toward 3D games in the browser. There are some competitors out there, but at the moment, WebGL is the (slightly fickle) darling of the browser game development community.
As the library expands, and best practices start to emerge, trends indicate that we’ll be playing a lot more plugin-free 3D games in our browsers than ever before, further reducing the barrier to entry for players. And who can argue with that?
Depth Analysis’ MotionScan (Sydney, Australia)
LA Noire may have shuttered a studio (Team Bondi) and not fully pleased its parent (Rockstar Games) in the sales department, but it also brought us one heck of a piece of tech. Depth Analysis’ 32 high definition camera setup allowed full capture of all aspects of actors’ faces, mapping that to their digital counterparts for an incredibly lifelike performance. Though the characters were clearly still made in game engines, the animation was truly astounding. Since the game hoped to allow players to gauge whether characters were telling the truth, precise performance was incredibly important.
After many years of R&D, Depth Analysis’ work appears to have paid off, as the performances in LA Noire have been universally lauded. The company claims its setup can capture up to 50 minutes of final footage, processing up to 20 minutes of facial animation automatically per day.
This technology is available only from Depth Analysis, so far, but now that the technique has been illuminated, it’s likely that others will follow. The only problem now is that with such lifelike facial animation, the rest of the computer generated body begins to look even less realistic by comparison — but that’s a problem for another day.
Google’s productivity services (Mountain View, CA)
Google’s Android platform is currently the only serious contender to iOS in the smartphone game space, and has shipped on millions of devices, yielding massive sales for some of the developers on the platform. Even Sony is using it for its upcoming tablets, and a set-top box is in the work to serve games to televisions like a standard game console.
But in terms of game development, Google has arguably made an even greater impact in free collaboration software. While Google Docs may not be the perfect place to keep that game design document or store spreadsheets, it’s free, and certainly useful in the prototyping phase.
The company continues to push the envelope in the free collaboration space, and though some may decry the fact that through data mining, their users are their product, few can deny the services’ usefulness.
Looking forward, Google is making good strides with its Native Client solution. The intent is to get ARM native code running safely in browsers, allowing web programs to run at near-native speeds. The implications on this for browser-based games are pretty clear. Faster is (almost) always better!
Web development pipelines
Though much of this is still in its infancy, integration of browser tech into game development pipelines is looking to be a big deal in the near future. Some companies, like Insomniac, are building their own solutions, integrating browsers with their engine for things like level editing.
Other companies have begun using cascading style sheets’ 3D transforms to build UI and HUDs even in non-browser games, and let’s not forget client-side storage solutions.
In some cases, groups like Fabric Engine are so convinced of the future of web pipelines that they’ve build their entire business around it. Though a lot of the current tech is primarily for building web applications, even companies like Blizzard have found uses for the web in their more traditional pipelines. Expect to see more of this as the years wear on.
Riot Games (Santa Monica, CA)
Though the microtransactions model has been proved in Korea for years, it had some difficulty making inroads with the core gamer in the U.S. and Europe. More and more games from Western developers have been adopting the model, but Riot Games’ League of Legends is truly knocking it out of the park.
The game uses intelligent microtransaction-based game design that doesn’t make players feel like they’re playing a “partial” game if they don’t pay, and gives those that do pay something significant to crow about.
As an online player-versus-player game, League of Legends has also been intelligently built for competitive play, which has given the game extra legs in other countries. The game is one of a handful to be brought to China, and distributer Tencent Holdings went so far as to purchase Riot outright because of its success.
The game’s smart design, its democratic moderation system, and overarching metagame exemplify the future of Western free-to-play game development — and some might say, the PC game industry as a whole.
The indie fund was put together by a host of indie game development notables, including Jon Blow (Braid), Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler (World of Goo), Kellee Santiago (Flower), and others. Its aim is to “fix a system that never worked” — that is to say the relationship between indies and publishers.
The fund currently supports four announced projects, Steph Thirion’s Faraway, Dan Pinchbeck’s Dear Esther, Andy Schatz’s Monaco, and Toxic Games’ Q.U.B.E.
The fund’s overarching goal is to help products come to release that are markedly different from the norm. As the fund says on its official site, “We make smaller investments and ask for less in return. The hope is that developers see enough revenue from their game to self-fund their next project. And voilà, one more developer that is free to make whatever crazy game they want.”
The fund promises a flexible budget with no milestones, proportional repayment based on the amount borrowed, and no long-term obligations if the game fails to make its money back. And it’s debatable whether the funded games would even be possible without this financial backing. It’s an interesting experiment, and the fund seems like a model to watch as the games start to roll out and developers give feedback about their experiences.
Patent lawsuits appear to be here to stay, and they’re definitely changing the face of games. It feels like every week, someone is crawling out of the woodwork to sue Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft, and any other company they can think of for violation of their patent for “moving objects on a digital screen.”
The U.S. has a particularly litigious culture, and it was perhaps a matter of time before greedy eyes turned toward the game industry, but we can’t help but decry most of these patents as mere cash-grabs. Many of these suits came from outside the industry — engineers here or there who saw fit to patent an algorithm, technique, or process.
Some of these lawsuits are legitimate misuses of intellectual property, but many more are simply posturing matches between companies looking to stake out their marketing arenas. Unfortunately, the only people that win in these weaker cases are the lawyers, and quite often the shady engineers with their vague patents. That means less money for game development, and less money for developers, and certainly changes the industry for the worse.
Mobile social platforms
OpenFeint was the dominant mobile social platform on iOS upon launch, serving achievements and persistent leaderboards across multiple games. But then Apple came out with its own solution, Game Center. Now OpenFeint exists for Android as well — and has bought by Japanese platform holder GREE. That country’s top dog is DeNA, with its Mobage service, which dominates the country’s still-popular feature phone space. Mobage was also recently launched in the West by its San Francisco subsidiary Ngmoco.
While all these companies and platforms duke it out for first place, it’s clear that this is an important space. Players want achievements, and they want social elements in their games, and that’s the real game changer here. Mobile games, even a few years ago, were largely solitary experiences, but that has changed completely with the advent of these sorts of platforms.
Will one solution rule them all, or will the market fragment? As long as consumers’ interests are served, and there some interoperability for developers, the revolution matters more than who’s fighting.
The U.S. Supreme Court (Washington, D.C.)
In a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this year that video games are protected under the auspices of the First Amendment, striking down a California law that would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors. As the official ruling said, “Video games qualify for First Amendment protection. Like protected books, plays, and movies, they communicate ideas through familiar literary devices and features distinctive to the medium.”
The court also said, “Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.”
While the ruling may seem obvious to those of us in the industry, one can only imagine what might have happened had the court ruled in the other direction. This is a critical point in the future creative freedom of the game industry, and can be used to good ends when the inevitable future cases of video game censorship crop up. Until a new evil comes along to steal the hearts and minds of America’s youth, as movies, heavy metal, and comic books did before them. video games will continue to need solid defense in the courts. And the First Amendment is pretty much the best thing we could ask for.（Source：gamasutra）