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As game development budgets get higher as new consoles come in, the stakes will get higher and smaller devs and publishers will find themselves more frequently smashing face-first into the cast iron, electrified barrier of entry. Or, you know, being more violently punched in the face by the big burly nightclub bouncer on the front door, to go back to that metaphor I started a paragraph ago but seem to have already forgotten about. Ahem.
Continuing in that metaphorical vein - to prove that I really do commit to my own analogies and am no cheap fly-by-night literary floozy - PC gaming by comparison to console gaming is the slightly scummy all-night bar with the cool jukebox next door. Yeah, the paintwork is peeling a bit and the toilets don’t always flush like they should, but more interesting people hang out there, the conversation is interesting, and no-one is too bothered about anyone’s appearance or social status as long as they’re having a good time. Oh, and there’s no door charge.
As Schafer adds to his statements about console-patching, “Open systems like Steam, that allow us to set our own prices, that's where it's at, and doing it completely alone like Minecraft. That's where people are going.”
Above: And Gabe did look down upon his creation, and he saw that it was good
And he’s right, of course. While they’re two of the most prevalent ideas within gaming right now, the notions that PC gaming and indie development are in trouble are hilariously inaccurate. Both are in rude health, because both absolutely back each other up. And in terms of gaming as a varied, rich, progressive medium, they’re certainly in better health than console gaming. The barrier of entry is low, self-distribution is more than feasible, and there's a more accepting customer culture in regards to smaller, less mainstream games.
The various consoles’ downloadable game services were meant to level the playing field. They were meant to be the saviours of more experimental and lower budget indie development on the big HD machines. They were supposed to turn console gaming into a truly democratic, healthy and varied experience by opening up an outlet for the kind of games that just couldn’t find a market in an age dominated by big retail blockbusters. And for a while they did.
But now? Nintendo’s online stores are an organisational and marketing shambles. The PSN is still has a steady trickle of interesting exclusives but what does Xbox Live Arcade give us these days? Three or four decent downloadable games a year, increasingly tied to big franchises or publishers, and almost certainly tied into some Microsoft-branded promotion. The rest are left to die. Indie devs are giving up on the Xbox 360 in droves, repeatedly citing too much control and too little support from Microsoft as the reasons. The freer (though frequently crap-filled) XBL Indie Games marketplace has been buried deep by the new dashboard update. The “triple-A or GTFO” model remains the same. Only the delivery method and file sizes have changed.
Above: This was where the less mainstream stuff was supposed to be, wasn't it?
And let’s not ignore the fact that both XBL and PSN are increasingly being colonised by more big-namers as delivery methods for their full-fat disc games and HD remakes (at ludicrously inflated prices). I increasingly feel that the systems I used to so value are being subverted to become more and more part of the thing they were supposed to combat.
By nature of being an open platform, though, the PC has the full spectrum of gaming, covering every level of budget, profile, genre and beardy-weirdy artiness. There are no publishing gate-keepers. It’s just you and your audience, and handily your audience are pretty much all connected to the internet. Whether you use a distribution network like Steam or not, getting your game out there is cheaper and easier than on consoles by far. So creativity and ambition of every size and shape can flourish.
Next: Why it's time to stop moaning and make a change.