Independent Developers And The Opportunity They Have

This week, I will be explaining how small independent Developers are beginning to rise in the industry as the massive Triple-A Publishers start to decline. This will be a companion post to my piece from last week titled The Decline of Triple-A Publishers,which you can find on my site.

I would like to thank my friend Alex for suggesting I do this as a follow up piece. He runs his own site and YouTube Channel where he vlogs about his life in British Columbia. His latest video can be found here:

As Triple-A Publishers begin to decline and the gaming market begins to crash, this could and most likely will allow for smaller independent Developers to expand and take over the market. There are plenty of examples of indie Developers making it on their own but first, I’m going to talk about an independent Developer that is a favourite of mine, CD Projekt Red.

CD PROJEKT RED

CD Projekt Red is a Polish video game Developer and Publisher best known for the Witcher series of video games. It was founded in 1994 in Warsaw, Poland by Marcin Iwiñski and Michał Kiciñski who both worked as video game retailers before founding CD Projekt Red. Their first project was to translate major western video games, the Baldur’s Gate games, into Polish. When the project ultimately fell through they used the coding from it to begin their own original project, Witcher, based on the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. Their first stab at the Witcher, universe didn’t prove as fruitful as they hoped it would and the company was nearly forced to declare bankruptcy; the 2007/2008 Financial crisis also had a lot to do with the threat of bankruptcy. Through their own perseverance they produced the second game in the series Witcher II: Assassin of Kings and the small studio began to increase their success. When the third installment was released, Witcher III: Wild Hunt the company received global praise for what they had done. They were named developer of the year with their game being named game of the year. They released several free DLC packs for the game along with two free full expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, the latter being widely considered one of the best DLC expansions ever made.

The company expanded opening a second office in Wrocław Poland in March of 2018, to assist in the development of their new IP, Cyberpunk 2077.

WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

CD Projekt Red has long said that the players are their priority. The support and praise from the fan base helps to drive them forward and to encourage them to constantly develop new and expansive content. They also consider themselves to be “rebels” in the sense that they do not partner with any of the Triple-A Publishing companies. Instead they deal with all aspects of game development, publishing and distribution themselves. The studio follows the work philosophy which was made famous by Rockstar Games, rather than having a lot of small projects splitting your workforce, the entire studio focuses on one project to deliver the best possible content. They focus on quality over quantity and believe that by delivering a quality product the revenue will return due to the appreciation of the fans. Open communication is a large aspect of the company’s core values, this means that all financial details on project creation (development, marketing, distribution) are public knowledge.

” The moment we start becoming conservative [and] stop taking creative risks and business risks, and stop being true to what we’re doing, that’s when we should worry. And I am not worried. Our values and our care for what we are doing and – hopefully what gamers would agree with – care for gamers is what drives this company forward. It’s my personal horror to become a faceless behemoth of game development or publishing or whatnot. As long as I am here I will be fighting for this not to happen.

— CD Projekt Red founder Marcin Iwiński

EPIC GAMES

Epic Games was founded by Tim Sweeney in 1991. It was originally called Potomac Computer Systems but changed its name to Epic MegaGames in 1992. They focused primarily on computer games from their founding up until 2006. In 2006, the game industry was suffering due to copyright infringement cases from various parties and the bloom of video game piracy. The company decided to branch into console games and in 2006, the delivered Gears of War. The Gears series would go on to become one of Xbox’s biggest properties and earn the company dozens of awards and accolades for it’s content and style. Prior to their fame with Gears, Epic was known for the manufacturing of the Unreal Game Engine, and the Unreal game series. Mostly though, people know Epic Games for one singular property which has been plaguing the gaming community for almost 2 years now, that would be Fortnite Battle Royale.

Epic Games focuses on third person shooter games, which is prevalent given their library of releases. Recently, as in December 4, 2018, Epic launched their own digital game store in contention with Valve’s Steam which has been operating for many years already. Steam has long held the title of PC gaming store front, and is now having to compete with the new Epic Games store. Compete may be a strong word, tolerate is more accurate. For the most part Epic has tried to stay away from large Triple-A publishing companies instead choosing to focus on smaller more independent companies for publishing purposes. While they have partnered with the likes of Atari, Microsoft, and EA in the past, their two most successful properties have been developed and published in house.

WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

The main thing that make Epic Games different from other Developers and Publishers, is their new Epic Game store. The store itself is nothing spectacular, like at all. If anything, it’s a far cry from the Steam store which has fine tuned the necessities of an online digital game store. The main thing that the Epic games store has over the Steam store, is their profit sharing. If a Developer wishes to release a new product they’ve been working on for years on the Steam store, they must allow Steam to take a 30% cut of the sale profits of that product in order to sell it on their site/app/program. To most Developers, 30% is nothing. Some companies spend more than that just on advertising alone, but to smaller indie Developers, that can make or break their release. Epic has realized the gap and in order to provide a competitive market and a space for indie Developers to deliver their content to a large fan base, their store only takes a 12% cut on sale proceeds. This cut means a much larger return to the Developers to ensure they continue to produce quality output. This smaller cut has allowed them to obtain exclusive contracts with 4A Games and Ubisoft. The former putting their new release Metro: Exodus on the new store and the latter putting Division 2. While these games may eventually make their way to the Steam store, they won’t be permitted to arrive there until at least this time in 2020.

There are a lot of people who are not happy with the move by 4A to the Epic Games store. So much so, that there was a large portion of the player base willing to boycott the game simply because of the exclusivity deal with Epic Games. It wasn’t solely about the exclusivity, it was about the deal coming to light mere weeks before the game’s release date. Not to mention one employee tweeting about the “whiny gamers” and going further to say “If this is the kind of reaction we get from PC gamers then we just won’t make PC games anymore”.

THE OPPORTUNITY

I know I’ve been rambling a bit about these two companies but I swear it will tie together…

Okay, so as I said this post is a companion piece to the one from last week about the decline in Triple-A Publishers, which is becoming more and more prevalent as the months tick by. Activision Blizzard is facing a huge dip in their stock prices and only have two major properties due out this year, which means they’re going to double down on their predatory monetization schemes. Already, they’ve introduced gambling style pay to win loot crates in Black Ops 4. This is all coming after they laid off hundreds of employees, signing a new CFO as well as coming months after the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has launched an investigation into loot boxes in games. Here is an article by Kotaku regarding the subject:

https://kotaku.com/the-ftc-says-it-will-investigate-loot-boxes-1830714932

Black Ops 4 Loot Crate with Pay to Win mechanic

So, with these large companies now under a microscope and bleeding money on crumbling practices that gamers are no longer accepting, the opportunity comes for smaller independent companies to make an impact. Some of the greatest games in the last 20 years came from small independent companies that partnered with large Publishers to expand their product, Halo is a prime example. Bungie was a relatively unknown company before it partnered with Microsoft to make the first Halo game and it spawned one of the largest franchises in gaming history. But the likes of CD Projekt Red and Epic Games show that while things may be easier with having a massive Publisher to help push your game, it’s not necessary and you can make quality products with a commitment to the work and fans rather than the almighty dollar. Companies like Paradox Interactive, Mojang, Rovio, Paladin, HALFBRICK, MDHR and SpaceChem prove that you can make quality products that fans love, without the interference of large Publishing companies. If more studios follow the examples set out by CD Projekt Red and Epic Games we could be seeing a large influx of quality independently developed games in the coming years. This influx could gift us with some great new franchises that might last for years to come and help to show Triple-A companies that they need to stop using the gaming community like an ATM machine with no limit.

Any questions or comments leave them down below! See you next week!

The Witcher – Netflix’s Next Big Endeavour

I decided to include not only Halo, but all video games in the opening post for each month. While I focused on Halo for the past three installments, this time, I decided to focus on a game that has a series coming to Netflix, The Witcher. The Witcher is an epic fantasy saga that was based off the books written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. The first book of the series titled Sword of Destiny was written in 1992 and gained a cult following. Since the release of Sword of Destiny, there have been 7 more novels added to the series with the latest one coming in 2013. The novels were originally written in Polish and have since been translated into over 15 different languages, including English. The main character of the series is named Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher. In the novels, a Witcher is a monster hunter that along with some mutagen body modifications, has been trained from a young age to combat monsters. Geralt is a member of the School of Wolves but several other Witcher Schools exist in the universe.

SETTING

The saga of the Witcher takes place on the continent, the name of the continent is never given but the various kingdoms and cities all have been named. Several thousand years before the series starts, the Elves sailed across the sea and settled the continent. With the continent already being home to the dwarves and gnomes, a racial war broke out between the dwarves and elves; with both sides eventually calling a truce and settling in different regions. The elves settled in the plains and forests, the dwarves settled in the hills and mountains and gnomes took the spaces that were left, mainly coastal areas. Roughly 500 years before the first book, humans sailed across the sea and decided to settle on the continent. When humanity arrived, as per usual, they started a war against the indigenous populations and emerged victorious. With the elves, dwarves and gnomes now classified as second class citizens, they live in small ghettos in the shadows on the great cities that the humans built. While the cities are relatively safe for habitation most of the wilderness still remains unclaimed with various beasts and factions residing there.  After a magical event known as the “Conjunction of the Spheres” various supernatural beasts (werewolves, vampires, etc) arrived on the continent and began cutting a bloody path through the wilderness.

Gwent_art_Charge_of_the_Nauzicaa

While the humans defeated the other races to become the dominant species, they were unable to stay united in their beliefs. In the centuries leading up to the start of the series, the southern regions of the continent have come under the control of the Nilfgaard Empire, while the Northern regions have united as the Northern Kingdoms. They went to war in a brutal and bloody conflict that cost millions of lives and accomplished nothing, which is where the first book picks up, immediately following the end of the first war.

CHARACTERS

GERALT – The Main Character for the saga is Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a human male that was taken when he was born by the “Law of Surprise” which dictates that if someone cannot pay for the witcher’s services, that witcher may take something the debtor does not know they have. This law was what allowed for the witcher who performed the service for the parents of Geralt, to claim their first born child as his payment, making Geralt a witcher candidate. Forcing his parents to take him, as a new born baby, to Kaer Morhen to be trained as a witcher. As he grew up at Kaer Morhen (the witcher school for the Order of the Wolf) Geralt exhibited skills beyond his age which allowed him to take the trial of grasses early. The trial of grasses is a procedure during which the recruits are exposed to mutagens and procedures to enhance their senses to allow them to become full witchers. This trial is not without its risks, as roughly 25 – 40% of recruits can perish from these mutations. Geralt took to the mutations so well, that additional mutagens were used giving him near superhuman abilities. As a result of his mutations, his skin pigment was destroyed as was the pigment in his hair which caused his skin to become very pale and his hair to go white, earning him the nickname “The White Wolf”.

Geralt

YENNEFER OF VENGERBERG – A powerful Sorceress and the “true love” of Geralt’s life. She was born in the kingdom of Aedirn, which was one of the most heavily human colonized areas of the continent. Due to her aptitude in magical arts, she was the youngest member of the Brotherhood of Sorcerers  and was eventually courted for membership by the Lodge of Sorceresses as well. She was the magical advisor to king Demavand III and the surrogate mother to Ciri. She was known for wearing black and white garments and using Lavender as her signature fragrance. Like all sorceresses and magic users, she was born sterile, and thus was never able to have children of her own, hence why she took such a liking to Ciri and helped raise her as her surrogate mother.  She participated in several major battles and helped to bring Geralt’s memory back to him after he lost it following his apparent death.

CIRILLA FIONA ELEN RIANNON (CIRI) – Is a powerful Witcheress and the surrogate daughter of Geralt and Yennefer. Having been given to Geralt by the Law of Surprise, Ciri never really knew her parents as they were killed at sea by a storm. She was raised by her grandmother and uncle on Skellige and in Cintra for the first few years of her life. Ciri is of Elder Blood descent which allows her for some impressive abilities of travelling through time and across different planes of existence at will. Having been raised at Kaer Morhen by Geralt and Yennefer as their surrogate daughter, she developed a strong bond with the Witcher and the Sorceress. She is constantly pursued by nefarious enemies for both her Elder Blood abilities and her inheritance to the throne of Cintra. Ciri is one of the main characters in the Witcher III : The Wild Hunt game as well as in the book series.

TRISS MERIGOLD – A Powerful Sorceress and constant ally of Geralt and Yennefer throughout the games and the novels. She was born in the land of Temeria and became an extremely powerful sorceress before meeting Geralt and Yennefer. She lived at Kaer Morhen with Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri acting as an older sister to Ciri through her formative years. Along with being a gifted Sorceress she was also a talented healer and carried quite a few healing potions on her person to help others in need. She was the one responsible for stopping several of the hormonal mutagens used on the Witchers from being applied to Ciri, thus saving some of her secondary gender traits. Triss was in love with Geralt even though he never reciprocated the feeling, him being in love with Yennefer and all.

DANDELION – Also known by his birth name of Julian Alfred Pankratz, was a bard, poet, minstrel and close friend of Geralt. Not much is known of Dandelion’s past, except that he was of noble birth and that he started into poetry at age 19 thanks to his infatuation with Countess de Stael. He was educated at Oxenfurt University where he eventually became a professor. He taught for just over a year before deciding to put some miles on his soul by travelling and playing for the people. Within several months he was known as one of the best minstrels in the Northern Kingdoms with his most famous ballad, The Lion Cub of Cintra, being requested frequently.  He met Geralt in the small town of Upper Posada where Geralt was dealing with a particularly mischievous Sylvan (Goat man).  Since their first encounter Geralt and Dandelion have become close friends and allies.

THE SHOW

In early of 2017, it was announced that Netflix had picked up the rights to make a Witcher show based on the original works of Andrzej Sapkowski. Lauren Schmidt Hissrich was named showrunner for her previous work on Daredevil and The Defenders Netflix series. The show will take place over 13 episodes, each an hour and length and tell the tale of Geralt the monster Hunter as he makes a name for himself on the continent amidst a war.

Netflix

I started playing the Witcher game series with the second installment, Assassin of Kings, and as someone who has never played a game of that scope before, I was blown away. CD Projekt Red really delivered something wholly unique with that installment, at least to me. I was never a fan of the Final Fantasy games so having a game that took place over 4 different discs was a pretty daunting task for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the game even if i wasn’t that good at it. I found myself waiting expectantly for the next game which turned out to be Witcher III: Wild Hunt. I pre-ordered Wild Hunt and the day it downloaded on to my Xbox I sunk probably 8 hours into the story. Coming off a gap of several years without playing a Witcher game, I was a little rusty at first and died numerous times before I finally got the hang of the combat system. The story for the show is said to be wholly original but take heavy influences from both the original novels and the games themselves.

While originally Sapkowski was attached to act as creative consultant for the project, in early of 2018 he denied any involvement whatsoever with the series. The Witcher saga has been made into a film and mini series in Poland already, taking on the title of The Hexer. While Sapkowski was not a fan of with adaptation, it was met with some commercial success in the home country. This will mark the first time that a Witcher series has been attempted by someone outside of Poland and will also serve as a beginning to an ongoing series for Netflix.

Netflix has had some very recent hits and misses when it comes to their original content. Some of it is very spot on, Daredevil, Stranger Things and Orange is the New Black being prime examples; while some is a hard miss with Iron Fist (which I still enjoyed), Disjointed and Friends From College sitting firmly in that category. While not every show can be a perfect adaptation, there are several examples of shows taking some liberties with the source material while still remaining faithful to the fan base, Castlevania, Lost in Space and Daredevil are perfect examples of this. I’m hoping that the Witcher is going to the the latter and open as a great show a la Game of Thrones, while still retaining the magic that separates it from other high fantasy stories. Warring kings and mythical beasts is nothing new for a show or even movie, but doing it well is something that several studios have struggled with. HBO has made sure to lock in a spot in history with Game of Thrones but other shows like Camelot, Merlin and Vikings, while still good, don’t have the same effect.

I’m hoping the Witcher series will provide us with a much needed surrogate to the ever successful Game of Thrones (which ends next year), while remaining as its own entity that will hold it’s own spot as one of the great shows to come from the streaming service.

The Last Wish