Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 28, 2013
This is… sobering. And very frank.
I wasn’t really a big fan of the Dungeon Siege series. But I have played WAY too much Supreme Commander 2, and Total Annihilation back in the day. I really enjoyed attending a talk by him many years ago at GDC.
The interesting thing to me is the “vicious cycle” Chris Taylor describes. The traditional publisher model that leads to businesses going under. This was pretty much all there was in the industry in the era in which I started my career. This was – and is – the situation in what I call the ‘mainstream’ games industry (which is a little bit of a misnomer, but I use it to differentiate it from ‘indie’ – mainstream really refers to the industry players and process, not the audience for the games). It’s a circumstance caused by limited distribution channels that a few key players could monopolize, and it’s what indie – and the various aspect of indie including crowd-sourcing – emerged to solve.
That’s why big studios, who come out with hit game after hit game, surprisingly disappear. The deck is stacked against independent (as opposed to “indie”) developers. Their “advances” are really just loans against their royalties, and the royalty rates are designed to minimize payout for all but mega-hits. In fact, much of the time the publisher magnanimously forgives part of the advance, never seeing it fully repaid, and coincidentally never paying the developer another dime – while itself making plenty of profit. Effectively, the independent studios become “work for hire” studios that have little hope of ever getting ahead, while accounting procedures prevent them from doing much ‘padding’ to help them sustain themselves in-between projects. This is also why we have such a hiring / layoff cycle in the industry – without any real hope of back-end royalties, studios can only afford to pay their employees while they are actively working on a publisher-funded project.
And, from Taylor’s tone, it sounds like it is leading to the death of Gas-Powered Games. From how he describes it in this interview, if the Kickstarter for Wildman succeeds, they have a chance of ‘beginning again’ as a leaner, meaner indie studio.
Overall – while the video is extremely long (I listened to it more than I watched it), it provides some very human insight into the industry. Matt supplements this interview with a a plea from Neal Hallford (long-time RPG designer). Neal offers some anecdotes explaining why Chris Taylor is an awesome guy, and how the community wants this guy to remain in the industry employing people and making games. It’s something to consider. It was enough to make me back the project, even though I’m not personally much of a fan of Taylor’s RPGs.
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