The Games We Play • Fear Kills Creativity

Or, AAA Publishers, Necessary Evil or Evil Overlords?

To use a Dune quote, “Fear is the mind killer.” Sure, being risk adverse as the big AAA game publishers are keeps them from making too many mistakes, but this fear leads to a lack of innovation in games. This is why 90% of the games we have today are “me too” titles.

The big publishers have turned developers into cogs, working tirelessly on the exact same game they made at Studio A the year before, with a different title. And worse, it’s the same game someone else is making over at Studio B. Making games is supposed to be an art form, isn’t it? Not an assembly line production designed to maximize profit. There has to be a better way. Part of the problem is that it seems that so many game developers measure success as having worked on multi-million dollar “me too” projects for the sake of doing so, rather than having more creative freedom to try out new and exciting ideas, and being your own boss. So what if your game doesn’t have cutting edge graphics financed to the tune of 10 million, and a slick commercial on TV. Why does commercial viability have to be the measure of real success? This is why publishers exist. Because we allow them too. We accept them as “needed” and “the norm.” Most of us are happy in this paradigm, and refuse to find a better path. “QQ!” is the response of some of our own brothers, as is “if you don’t like it quit.” These poor souls have become assimilated, happily toting the party line of their corporate overlords.

As someone who ran his own indie studio for two years on his own dime, and failed to get published even with a widely favorable demo, I have never liked the current system. I pitched to the likes of Midway Games, Eidos, and Atari among others. Every single publisher’s essential response was, “great demo and great idea, but we can’t risk giving a start-up 4 million dollars.” So, despite the fact that we had a healthy fan following, a killer prototype, a completed design document, tons of great concept art, and despite the fact that we had been interviewed by nearly all the major game sites, and despite having been included in an issue of PC Gamer, the big publishers just couldn’t be bothered to risk it. And I know there are hundreds if not thousands of similar stories out there of good indie teams with great demos trying to find publishers and failing at every turn. Publishers have become more than just a necessary evil to make and market your game. They have become the overlords who decide what games and game genres even exist sadly.