More money, more problems?
Independent game development is low cost by its very nature. Many developers are working out of their homes, foregoing payment until the game is completed, and hoping against hope their finished title sells enough to fund the next game. Indie devs are used to dealing with a shoestring budget, but what if their next game came with all the funding they could dream of?
In part two of our Indie Week series, we asked more than a dozen high profile developers what theyd make if they had a comparable budget to Battlefield or Batman: Arkham City. Some would be happy with the extra cash, some would worry about dealing with something on that scale, and others would just pocket the extra money and stay small. Our economic debate begins with...
Jake Kazdal, 17-Bit (Skulls of the Shogun, Galak-Z)
Go crazy with voice actors, hire more level designers, and quit working 12 hour days! Go to every trade show all over the world! Hire a professional PR team! Hire a full time community manager! Not wake up in cold sweats every night!
Kevin Geisler, Young Horses (Octodad: Dadliest Catch)
I think with a large budget, Id like to invest in ways to make sure we were running an efficient operation that focused on a quality work environment and ease of development. I wouldnt want to entirely spend it on making a larger scoped no boundaries game. It feels like a lot of companies get into the trap of having these large budgets where theyre essentially operating like someone would paycheck to paycheck. I wouldnt be opposed to making modest-sized games and stretching out that budget for life.
Sean Murray, Hello Games (Joe Danger)
Maybe get a cleaner? Ryan could do with a new keyboard I mean, we used to work on huge games, with ridiculous budgets and I dont know that it made the actual games better. Those budgets bring this horrible risk with them, that means suddenly you have to play things real safe. Suddenly you have to work on a sequel, or a first person shooter. Having your options constrained by a small budget means you need to focus on the very best aspects of your game, but weirdly it also gives you a freedom too.
Jenova Chen, thatgamecompany (Journey, Flower)
At first, I'll feel pretty stressful about not screwing up that budget and be the cause of hundreds of people losing their jobs. To create that much profit and value under such investment, you can't just make any game on a whim. Copying some existing, successful games won't work unless youre entitled to make the sequel to it. But we tend to focus on new concepts. I'm going to work pretty hard on a concept that I believe that will truly make many people feel better, something worth devoting many years of my life to. And odds are that kind of game doesnt need a AAA budget to exist.
Personally, I'd rather the budget be split to fund several smaller games because I don't feel its very efficient to work with hundreds of people on one project. One AAA budget could fund 20 to 50 indie games at the scale of Flower and Journey. Taking that kind of approach would be less risky for the people who gave me that much money in the first place.
Mike Roush and Alex Neuse, Gaijin Games (Bit.Trip, Runner 2)
Is make a AAA game considered a decent answer? In all seriousness, wed make a game with a scope and level of detail that extends beyond anything weve released in the past. Wed also avoid making a game about shooting dudes in grey environments with grey guns. In other words, wed take a gamble and release a game that isnt typically what you see released in the wild world of AAA games.
Collin van Ginkel, Two Tribes (Toki Tori)
After a certain period of time in development your game will really start to let you know which areas it is lacking in. Often times this is pretty late in development, meaning there isn't always time or budget to do another iteration of those areas.
So I'd like to continue making smallers games, but make sure we give them the time to grow into perfect experiences. I truly believe most indie developers are capable of making close to perfect games if they're given the time.
Chris Cobb, Ragtag Studios (Rays The Dead)
Itd be nice to have an office, and pay someone to balance the books! But seriously, we wouldn't do much terribly differentl The biggest benefit wed see from a larger budget is the freedom to hire some additional help so that we could finish the Ray's the Dead much sooner. From the start, its been important to us to choose a game that we can develop to a level of quality and polish that well be satisfied with. If we couldn't do it, we wouldve chosen a project of a different scale. Were very happy with what we have going, but it would be nice to get things done more quickly!
Edmund McMillen, Team Meat (Super Meat Boy)
I would buy my family members new homes, then make the same scale game as I've always made. Perhaps that game would have a slightly bigger music budget, and I'd possibly hire one or two more people to help out so we could get it finished faster.
Brian Provinciano, Vblank Entertainment (Retro City Rampage)
With a AAA budget, I'd make everyone's eyes explode with eye candy, or might you say, "eye popping visuals." With RCR, limiting the game to 8-bit accurate hardware limitations was important for my vision, but moving forward, I want to go in the complete opposite direction. Particle effects, everywhere!
Mel Kirk, Zen Studios (Zen Pinball)
Id probably embark on a game that we would never finish. Seriously, a huge budget is scary in this day and age. To succeed in todays environment you must create something that is timely, relevant and interesting. Bigger budgets actually get in the way of these critical components because it likely means dev cycles are longer and the project scope is much bigger. Plus, long development cycles are huge risks, as youre likely to miss current trends and opportunities.
Bryan Sawler, Muteki Corporation (Dragon Fantasy)
Probably the exact opposite of what AAA studios do. With the kind of budget they throw out we could do 10, or even 100 really out there, interesting games. And we'd be able to do them without the fear of what might or might not work. Look at what Mojang is doing right now. They're taking the money they made off Minecraft and spending it on projects interesting to them. They don't need to worry about everything being a huge success because of where they're already at.
Or if you're insisting I use that AAA budget on a single game, I'd acquire the rights and make Shenmue 3.
Jonathan Lavigne, Tribute Games (Mercenary Kings)
We often talked about how cool it would be to make an all-new 52-in-1 NES/pirate style game collection. Im aware that theres already a legitimate game on NES called Action 52 that features "new and original exciting games", but they obviously didnt have a AAA budget. With a AAA budget, we could spend a couple years making these 52 games and make sure that theyre all actually very fun and all have a high level of quality. It could have tons of Trophies/Achievements, feature crossovers between games, but most importantly itd be really fun to work on! I enjoyed Retro Game Challenge a lot on Nintendo DS, so it could be something like that, but on a much larger scale!
Graham Smith, Drinkbox Studios (Guacamelee!)
I could picture us using a larger budget to explore other types of games or features that we have previously shied away from because of the expected costs. A multiplayer online cooperative game, for example, is something we have always wanted to do, but have never had the budget for.
It would also allow us to increase the size of our team, move into full 3D, and target a more retail-scoped project. I'm not actually sure that we would want to do this though... Can we use the money to make 10 indie-sized games?
Yousuf Mapara, Switchblade Monkeys (Secret Ponchos)
AAA games get a little scary because as everyone knows the titles need to sell many millions of copies to cover their development costs. This tends to make the people funding the production really risk averse, and limit creative options for the developers. That's why I love working in the digital space, you have freedom to take some creative chances, and its your own skin on the table. You can make games that might be a bit weird and go against the grain, like Journey or Limbo to call out some of my favorites.
A few AAA games have dared to take some big risks, like Demons Souls and Shadow of the Colossus to name a couple. They went against the grain on huge scale projects, and created very compelling and large scale experiences, so that's inspiring. They were able to create a unique player experience, without the fear of losing tens of millions of dollars holding back or watering down the risks the creative vision required. I would hope that I would set out to do something in that fashion.
Money, thats what they want
Thats how these devs would deal with a massive pile of money, but what would you like to see them do with that much cash? Tell us in the comments, and be sure to stay tuned for more answers to burning questions over the next few days.