No Time To Play
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Weekly Links #20

All right, this week's links sure seemed to be more numerous before I started writing the newsletter. At least I have more to comment than usual (to compensate for all those weeks when I don't have much to say). Ups and downs I guess... oh well, let's get started.

I'll start with this humorous tweet pointing out the difference between what developers thought players wanted out of a tablet game, and what they turned out to want:

This amuses me, but it's also interesting how perceptions of what people want in the mobile space have shifted

— Tim Dawson @MIGW (@ironicaccount) May 23, 2014

I daresay this parallels the way enthusiasts thought tablets were going to replace PCs... until they tried doing actual work on tablets. Or how the baroque web design from years ago has been replaced by clean white pages that make it easy to find the one thing you went there for, most likely some piece of information. That's the problem with techies: all too often, we forget that most people don't give a damn about all the cool stuff we can do with our toys: they have real work to do and very little time or attention to spare. As for games... Let's just say that when I'm playing on a tablet, I'm not going to squint at that tiny screen to admire your wonderful 3D art... the details of which won't render well in 800x480 anyway. Doubly so if I happen to be playing on the metro, with countless distractions around.

The other big thing I want to write about is yet another epic rant by the author of Death Ray Manta, this time about the question of whether there are too many games. This, by the way, appears to be in reply to Jeff Vogel, who recently complained that the indie bubble is popping. By which he means, of course, that it's not as easy to make a living from games (or anything else) when you don't have an entire market to yourself anymore and your hardcore audience is growing as old and tired as you are. Never mind the silly idea that pulling a Minecraft was once easy (it wasn't). Just listen to this:

Steam released more games in the first 20 weeks of 2014 than in all of 2013. I don't know why anyone acts surprised. How many times last year did we see the article, "Another 100 Greenlight games OK'ed for publishing!"?

This wouldn't be a problem if there were a demand, but there's not. After all, almost 40% of games bought on Steam don't get tried. As in, never even launched once! At least the people who download free-to-play games try them.

(To be clear, this isn't a problem because these games will keep people from buying new ones, though there will be some of this. People mostly don't play these excess games because they didn't want them. The problem is that a business based on selling things people don't want is not a stable one.)

Um, no. As I wrote many times before, there are people who buy indie bundles strictly to show support. They do want to do that, it's not just marketing. If they don't play the games, it's because they increasingly lack the time and patience. I should know. My own house is littered with books that had the same fate. And if anything, having paid for them should be an incentive to at least give them a chance.

It never is.

Sure, there's more media being made than ever. Dizzying amounts of it, really. And yes, that does make it ever harder to make a living at selling games/books/movies by the (now virtual) disk. Are we supposed to strangle this Cambrian explosion of creativity? That way lies the madness of Hollywood, people. The Mickey Mouse Act, anyone? Seriously, are we unable to imagine other ways to make money? I hear subscription based services are big right now (been happily using Scribd as of late). Patreon, too. And Flattr. Heck, people keep sponsoring Kickstarter projects knowing they may not see anything in return. They don't seem to mind too much. It's disposable income anyway -- all in good fun. And there's plenty of that to go around, even with this economy that keeps worsening. But you must be willing to share.

It seems to be the motto of the 21st century.

To end on a more relaxed note, Jay Barnson notes yet again the recent surge in roguelikes and their modern descendants. But after playing quite a few of them, making my own and planning yet others, I still don't quite know what the essence of their appeal is. I do have a theory as to why people make them in such great numbers: since those developing games as a hobby are almost always programmers -- as opposed to artists or writers -- their games must by necessity focus on that which can be programmed. Which means systems. And once you do that, it turns out a narrow yet deep game offers a lot more bang for the buck than one that's broad but shallow. A trade-off that matters a lot when you're putting your precious spare time into gamedev -- an arduous task at the best of times.

Luckily, the gaming public seems to enjoy playing them as much as we enjoy making them. Fun times ahead.