What does it really cost to open an indie studio? All your money, most of your life

It is common to hear about game companies having crushing financial woes in the games press. It can be observed in companies of all sizes, from THQ going under to 38 Studios defaulting on millions of debts to the recent Yogsventure project fiasco. I've seen the people behind these projects judged very harshly in comments from readers (I know, I know, I shouldn't read the comments) and usually, it seems to me that people grossly underestimate what it costs to run a game studio. For about as long as I can remember, I've been planning on starting my own game studio. It's an ambition I nurtured throughout my youth. Game developers were my heroes and Squaresoft, Bioware and Blizzard were the embodiment of everything I wanted to create. Being naturally drawn toward game design, I oriented...

If Sony wants PlayStation Now to succeed, it has to treat us better than GameStop

Dear Sony,Long time no talk. The comparable lack of opinions about your business speaks to both your competence in launching a video game console and your relative lack of ambition in doing so. Microsoft has been pulverized by press and fans the past couple years, partly because Microsoft has tried to do big things. Today, you are trying to do something big, launching the open beta of PlayStation Now. The service could be be humongous — the Netflix of video games that every other games company wants to own. The future could be bright. The present, however, is not. This could be huge The PlayStation Now service has tremendous potential. You will provide people with access to hundreds of PlayStation games through the black magic of streaming. From Metal Gear Solid 4 to Catherine, D...

What the world needs is not just a selfie phone, but more selfie video games

Microsoft's new phone, designed specifically for people who like to take photographs of themselves, is surely a gadget in dire need of a video gaming killer app.According to The Verge, Microsoft's selfie phone, previously revealed as codename Superman, is a handset with a 5-megapixel forward-facing camera and 4.7-inch display. This is serious innovation, of course. A camera on the front instead of on the back. Now you can celebrate your own wonderfulness without the inconvenience of turning the phone around. Unless you're a bathroom-mirror picture-taker. Then it all starts to get a bit complicated. But what kind of person would want to just take a bunch of selfies, without there being some way of keeping score, without some sort of fundamental point to the exercise? 21st century...

Why I'm in love with this sweet game about a little girl in Alaska

The Inupiat, like many indigenous tribal peoples, hold the belief that all things are inhabited by a spiritual essence that goes deeper than their outward expression.I think that Never Alone, a game based on the Inupiat's stories and culture, is an example of this animism. On the face of it, the game is a simple sideways scrolling puzzle game, in which a sweet little girl and her sidekick arctic fox negotiate tottering ice floes, polar bears and fierce storms. There are many games like this one. But there is a spirit that inhabits Never Alone, that speaks of depths way beyond its basic mechanics. It feels like a game that is not only different, but is also seeking to make a difference. Created by Upper One Games in association with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, it is inspired by...

EA Access wants to be Netflix for video games, but it doesn't go far enough

A video game subscription service in the vein of Netflix Instant Watch will make a company very, very wealthy. But it probably won't be Electronic Arts. Today, EA announced Access, a subscription plan that provides "access" to a limited number of EA games, with the promise of discounts and early access to content, like the EA Sports slate and Dragon Age: Inquisition, down the line. Access will launch as a beta today on Xbox One and expand soon to all Xbox One users willing to pay $4.99 a month or $29.99 annually. Incentivizing players to buy digital copies is a smart business move, cutting into GameStop's billion-dollar trade-in market, which makes money for the retailer but not game publishers like EA. Access intends to cut into GameStop's billion dollar trade-in market But EA's...

The days of owning games are coming to an end

There's only so much you can do with a customer who buys a game. And I mean buying a game in the traditional sense, where you go to a store, pick up a physical product, and can play that product on your hardware forever and ever, amen. Sony has found success with "giving away" games every month for subscription of PlayStation Plus, and Microsoft is now catching up and starting to up the quality of the games being offered. But EA is taking things a step forward and launching a subscription-based service for the Xbox One. The price is relatively low. $30 a year gets you access to games, early access to content and a discount on new releases and DLC. If you're a fan of more than two or three EA franchises it's almost a no-brainer. You're going to save money, and EA likely has enough betas...

The nightmare is over: They're not coming for your games

Recently Gamespot Editor Carolyn Petit, speaking with me on a panel at the GaymerX2 convention in San Francisco, recounted a private message she received in response to a review of Gone Home."I got this message from a reader and it was pretty well-worded, and well thought-out … but what he was saying is, essentially, ‘well, Carolyn, you shouldn’t have given Gone Home such a high score because if game designers see games like Gone Home getting so much acclaim then we’re not going to have traditional games anymore!’" Time and again, this leitmotif of gamer-speak arises: the idea that someone, somewhere is going to take your games away. A "terror dream" that sees us reliving the paternalist past and lashing out at all criticism in hopes of keeping the grasping hands of the censor at bay. ...

Dota 2 needs a white flag

I have spent more hours stuck in games of Dota 2 that I couldn't possibly win than I've played any other game this year.Let me rewind for a minute, to give some context. After this year's International Dota 2 championship, there's been a lot of analysis from people much smarter than I am about the game's "meta." The meta of Dota 2 relates to the relationships between characters, the nature of its current balance: what characters work competitively; which characters don't; what strategies are most viable; etc. I especially enjoyed Chris Thursten of PC Gamer's analysis of the state of the game in his breakdown of the International's grand final between Chinese teams Newbee and ViCi Gaming, which resonated with me on several levels. [The current patch] isn't friendly to strategies...

Why Shadow of Mordor's undead Elven hero and sexy Sauron are such a big deal

Monolith Productions revealed that Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor's mysterious Wraith character is Celebrimbor, the original forger of the Rings of Power in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. Celebrimbor does not appear in the The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, which means most of Tolkien's modern audience will be introduced to this Elven warrior through the game, not through Tolkien's work. Celebrimbor's time in Tolkien's world occurred long before Thorin and his Company of Dwarves challenged Smaug for Erebor, and his work is directly responsible for Bilbo Baggins being such an excellent burglar due to his use of the one ring. With this one character addition, this one plot point, Monolith Productions has proven the lengths to which they are willing to go to make M...

Learn how to copy, and know when to steal

There are developers and publishers finding huge success with brand-new ideas, but the majority of profitable games take proven ideas and add a bit of spin to them to find an audience. There's nothing wrong with copying the work of other games, or other genres, the important thing is to know why you're copying, and do something interesting with your own product. "Look at the game you are thinking of copying, the one that got all those YouTube views, and look at why it worked, the decisions and choices, the objectives," Volume and Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell wrote in a recent blog post. "How the surface of the game achieved the outcome, and then come up with something different that may duplicate some of that success." He describes a meeting where his then boss asked how to...

Wonder Woman's new look isn't half bad

Wonder Woman made a much-ballyhooed appearance this weekend at Comic-Con, sporting her new look from the upcoming Batman v. Superman. Here she is. Actress Gal Gadot's portrayal isn't challenging anyone's definition of conventional attractiveness. She's a thin woman in a sexy outfit. And those boots look a lot like they've got wicked heels. But, especially compared to the way other women have been portrayed in superhero fiction, she looks pretty badass. She's looking fierce, muscular and ready to fight, and while her armor doesn't look exactly practical (breast plates are no good, folks), her costume looks appropriate for an Amazon. As many have pointed out, there's a definite Xena vibe to the new look, which makes a lot of sense, given the Warrior Princess' own ties to the...

Want to win the console war? Here's how

Isn't it about time the console companies finally figured out the big, big secret about making a successful games console?You and I know this secret, but if the likes of Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony understand it, they seem to let it slip their minds from time to time. The trick is to make something that people want to buy; not something that companies want to sell. The trick is to make sure that you are selling games consoles and not high-falutin' super-boxes. Undoubtedly, Xbox One was launched as something that its creators wanted to sell, rather than something an appropriately sizeable number of people wanted to buy. Must Read Why you should wait before buying a new console Microsoft spent much of 2013 telling anyone who would listen that Xbox One was more than a...

The most progressive game of the summer is the one you're probably not playing

Video games have been my home since I was young, and today I'd argue that they're even more than that — they're part of my livelihood. But the experiences they've given me have always been narrow, filtered through the eyes of one beefy white guy after another.Yes, it's hard enough to get developers to add women as playable options into their games, let alone minorities with fluid sexuality. Yes, there are a hundred reasons we've heard that seem to gently take our hand and explain why it can't be done. It's disheartening, predictable and, sometimes, bullshit. Games can change. We just need to learn a thing or two from Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Why it matters The Kim K. game is a mobile social sim in which you create a character and do your darndest to push them up the hill to fame....

But WHAT CAN BE DONE: dos and don'ts to combat online sexism

Editor's Note: After publishing Brianna Wu's excellent opinion piece on the level of harassment women have to deal with in the game industry earlier this week, we received a lot of feedback. One question we received from some frustrated readers was: What can I do to make a difference? To help answer this, we've reprinted this post from Leigh Alexander's blog with her permission.You may notice that a lot of things happen to do with sexism on the internet. Sometimes someone has done a sexist thing and people are talking about it. Sometimes someone has written an article about the time they experienced sexism and other people are having feelings about it. Sometimes a particular woman or women is being harassed on Twitter and you are witnessing it. As you know, sexism is bad, and when bad...

Never back a Kickstarter without a programmer (and other tips for not losing your money)

One of our concerns when prepping our 2013 Kickstarter campaign for Road Redemption was that a high profile Kickstarter-funded project would fail to deliver on its promises, thus ruining the public’s confidence in crowdfunding in general. Indeed, over the past year, a number of Kickstarter-funded video game projects have failed to deliver anything to their financial backers, with the $567,000-funded Yogventures being the latest. As a Kickstarter-funded development team, we think it’s important to examine these failed projects and identify aspects that led to their failures. Hopefully it will help potential backers of future Kickstarter projects know what red flags to look for. If you ask for money, know what you're doing with it Looking at the Yogventures post-mortem, it’s clear...

In the face of recent wins, Nintendo's lack of online functions is no longer forgivable

Nintendo is a company that, for better or worse, is completely blind to the trends and innovations of the gaming world around it. This allows the company to make interesting and bold leaps with its software and hardware, but it also means that Nintendo is often laughably behind the rest of the gaming world when it comes to basic features. Small steps are being made to fix this issue, but the baffling lack of competitive online or account-based features make the Wii U feel like a prior-generation console. At this point we're not mad at Nintendo, just disappointed. Especially after the release of games like Mario Kart 8 that help breathe new life in the hardware, and a wonderful slate of games shown at E3. The problem A recent update to the Wii U allows you to move your content to...
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