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!

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My Most Anticipated Games of 2019

This week I decided to take a bit of break from the usual comic or sci-fi posts and focus on something that I’ve been watching closely, the upcoming games of 2019. With greats like God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Red Dead Redemption 2 having come out this past year, it’s going to take some serious mojo to top that list.

Let’s dive right into the list!

1.BioWare – Anthem

You’ll probably need to live under a rock to have not heard anything about this game. Produced by BioWare (of Dragon Age and Mass Effect fame) this upcoming “shared shooter RPG” is making massive waves as we near its release date of mid February. Having taken some bad press recently with their follies (Mass Effect: Andromeda to be specific), BioWare went through a complete restructuring of their development team before production on this began. The game focuses on your playable character as a member of Fort Tarsis on an alien planet sometime in the near future. In order to explore the wilds of the planet and defend the people of the fort, your character uses a Javelin. Javelins are exosuits that allow for intense combat, flight, and even underwater exploration. There are 4 main classes of Javelin: The Ranger (all around suit), The Colossus (The “tank” suit), The Storm (Wizard-like suit that hovers and uses elemental attacks), and the Interceptor (Quick and up close damage expert). Each Javelin is reportedly customizable to an extent and each player can have multiple Javelin suits of varying levels.

I personally am very excited for this game, but I, like many, have some very big reservations about a game BioWare puts out. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from Andromeda… That being said, this is probably going to be the biggest game of the first quarter and doesn’t look to have much direct competition, which will help it out immensely.

2. 4A Games – Metro: Exodus

Set to release a week before Anthem, this single-player first person shooter is the next chapter in the Metro continuity. It, like it’s predecessors (Metro 2033 & Metro: Last Light), rely heavily on horror and stealth while implementing survival components to add an extra level of difficulty. Developed from the Metro novels by Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky, Glukhovsky actually worked on the second game, Last Light, (having helped write the storyline) and as sole writer for Exodus. The games take place in a post-apocalyptic near future where nuclear war has devastated the globe. The population of Russia has taken refuge in the Metro and has built a vast underground civilization using the metro tunnels. A special branch of the military known as Rangers, are responsible for scouting the surface and some of the deeper tunnels which are home to some nightmarish creatures. One of the really unique points of the games is that because the people are forced to live in the metro, good ammunition is hard to come by. Due to the shortage of good ammunition, military grade ammunition is your currency; however, in a tight spot, you can load your weapons with the military ammunition to deal more damage than the sub par readily available bullets.

I’ve been a fan of this series since I bought the first game for the Xbox 360 back in 2010. I like the expansive world that Glukhovsky has built and the alternate history it contains, for example, in Last Light (the second game) you have to sneak through the front lines of a still raging Eastern front of WWII. The main character, Artyom, is also a very relatable person, he was a young 18 year old kid when he started and has since become a type of leader and hero to the people of the Metro. I’m very much looking forward to this game and hope that it will serve as an epic third chapter in a great series.

3. Ubisoft – The Division 2

Say what you will about the first game, but Ubisoft has a habit of taking something that was sub par on release and by commitment to the fan base, turning it around and making it great. They did it with Rainbow Six Siege and they did it with the Division. The first game was released to some very sub par reviews citing it as repetitive and barren as well as having a “fractured progression system”. This didn’t hinder what I thought to be a great story, which is made all the better by how plausible it is (to an extent). The story is an eco-terrorist was able to obtain a sample of the smallpox virus which he then mutated in such a way that our vaccinations wouldn’t work against it. The virus was then sprayed onto $1 bills and distributed around Manhattan on Black Friday. The virus moved its way through the city killing hundreds of thousands and forcing the government to quarantine the city. The President then activates “The Division” which is a top secret branch of the military to enter the city and find a cure while maintaining order in the streets. One of the best aspects of the game was what they called the “Dark Zone”. This was a walled off area in the center of the city that served as the PVP/PVE area. While there were high level enemies in this area, other players could also help you or try and kill you to steal your loot. Your character was only able to carry so much loot on them before having to call in an air evac. This air evac was visible to EVERYONE in the Dark Zone and attracted a lot of enemies that you would have to hold off until the evac arrived.

Division 2 is supposedly set 7 months after the first game and takes place in Washington D.C., where a civil war has broken out between the survivors and “villainous bands of marauders”.

I was a huge fan of the original game but after you got to a certain point there was a definite lull. You would be too strong to do any of the missions without difficulty and the Dark Zone was only viable if you had a fireteam; however, without the powerful gear from the Dark Zone, you couldn’t do any of the incursions because they were too difficult. I’m really hoping they’ve addressed this issue in the new game as it was one of the main criticisms of fans. From the looks of the trailer they released, it heavily resembles the first game with some notable improvements and it appears they added new weapons one of which is a crossbow.

4. id Software/Bathesda Softworks – Doom Eternal

Coming off their massive hit’s success in 2016, Bathesda/id Software’s next project is coming to consoles later this year. Coming in as the fifth main title in the Doom game series, this game serves as a continuation of the story from 2016’s Doom which in itself was a sequel to Doom 64 from 1997. At the conclusion of the 2016 game, the Doom Marine has been tricked by the Cyborg Samuel Hayden, leader of he UAC facility on Mars, and teleported away to an unknown location. Eternal will pick up after the first game with the forces of Hell invading Earth and the UAC being unable to stop the invasion. The original development team will return to create Eternal helping to ensure direct continuity with the original. One thing that I do hope they continue with is having the Easter eggs to the original games. I remember one spot in particular where you enter a door and are put in a portion of one of the old school levels with the 8bit graphics and musical score. It was a great homage to the originals that helped to pioneer the first person shooter genre. This series is known for its excessive gore and frightening monsters, something that the new series has leaned into heavily. Whether they’re Hell Knights, Barons of Hell, or possessed UAC personal, the enemies are varied and offer unique challenges to defeating each one.

I personally can’t wait for this game. I was a massive fan of the original and play it if i ever just need a game to zone out to and not think. The one thing that really captured me with this new series was the score. While most FPS games use orchestras and ambient music to generate their atmosphere, Doom lends more towards creepy Halloween style environment music blended with sci-fi and heavy metal for the action sequences. There’s nothing quite like picking up that double barrel shotgun and loading it for the first time to a massive heavy metal “dun dun… dun dun” on an electric guitar with heavy distortion.

5. CD Projekt Red – Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 is an interesting prospect for this upcoming year to say the least. Coming from Studio Projekt Red who are known for the Witcher game series, this is a far cry from their medieval and magical world they got famous on. This game centers in the world 2077 wherein cybernetic modifications are the norm for most citizens. The player takes control of the character known only as “V”. V is a completely customizable character from clothing and modifications right down to eye colour and sex. While it is an RPG style of game, there are base classes that a player can choose: NetRunner (centers on Hacking), Techie (centers on Machinery) and Solo (centers on Combat). The game takes place in a city called “Night City” which is located somewhere in California. Night City is divided into six different districts that each have their own aesthetic and atmosphere. In true CD Projekt Red fashion, there will be multiple endings to the game and players actions and choices throughout the game will determine which ending they receive. The game will feature heavily on robotics, cybernetics, body modifications as well as autonomous technology.

This is one game I’ve had my eye on ever since they released a teaser trailer back in January of 2013. E3 2018, was where they showcased the first actual footage of the gameplay and it looked amazing. It blends the intricate gameplay that the studio is known for, with a distinct setting that hasn’t been touched on much, Detroit Become Human could be seen as the exception. With so much riding on this game and it being the studio’s first attempt at something other than the Witcher, this could be a make or break for CD Projekt Red.

6. Ubisoft – Skull and Bones

Alright, I’m going to be blunt with you, I love pirates. There are very few eras in history that I really enjoy and the classical pirate age is one of them. Yes, I know that piracy has been around for hundreds of years, but I’m specifically talking about the classic Pirate Lords like Captain Morgan, Charles Vance, Jack Rackham, etc. This game is centered in the Indian ocean and details the exploits of the East India Trading Company. Players assume control of a Pirate captain of their own design and set sail across the Indian ocean in a single player campaign and can take on other players in the “Disputed Waters”. Originally showcased at E3 2017, the game was then slated for a Q4 2018 release. The release date was pushed back to 2019 in order to accommodate bug fixes and 4K upscaling. Not much is known about the story of what the game will entail. The developers have stated that it will be possible to acquire other ships throughout the story in addition to the one you start with, as well as customizing the weapon loadout of your ship.

As someone who was a HUGE fan of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, I’ve been longing for a good pirate game ever since. I was extremely tempted to buy into Microsoft’s exclusive Sea of Thieves, but thanks to some very observant friends who scour review sites, I did not. I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed when this game got delayed, but as my friend Theo points out “If they delay it, that means they’re fixing broken things. So I’m okay with it”.

7. Capcom – Resident Evil 2 Remake

Much like what I said for Anthem, you literally have to live under a rock to have not heard of Resident Evil. Whether it’s the immense game franchise or the movie series that has been going downhill since the first one… everyone knows of this franchise that helped to pioneer the survival horror genre. At E3 2018, gaming giant Capcom surprised everyone by announcing they would be remaking Resident Evil 2 and releasing it on modern consoles. They showed a brief video of the gameplay that we can expect and it looked amazing. Serving as a direct remake of the 1998 classic for the original Playstation, Resident Evil 2 is going to bring us back to the first T- Virus outbreak in Raccoon City. Claire Redfield and Leon S. Kennedy are the main playable characters and their Character models have been updated to coincide with some of their more modern interpretations. The main change that Capcom implemented for this remake is to change the style of camera and controls. Originally sporting “tank controls” (moving the character relative to where they are looking not the camera angle) and fixed camera angles, they have updated the interface to work with an over the shoulder third person style of movement.

When I heard that this game was getting a remake for modern consoles I was ecstatic! This is one of the few Resident Evil games that I was never able to play. It came out when I was 7 years old and I remember seeing a cardboard cutout for it at Microplay and asking my mom if I could get it. She took one look at the cutout and said “Absolutely not! Are you crazy?!” solid call on that one mom… That being said I am no longer 7 years old, so bring on the gory zombie mayhem!

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Mortal Kombat 11, Rage 2, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, and Biomutant.

I feel like I should include Halo: Infinite on this list, but apart from a short video showcasing the new Slipspace engine that 343 built to run the game, we haven’t heard anything about it. The most recent information we have is that it will allow for 4 player single console co-op and have Halo: Reach style customization. I keep my ears and eyes peeled for any information on the upcoming Halo: Infinite but my guess is that it will be announced at E3 2019 for a 2020 release date.

There you have it! Those are my most anticipated games of 2019. Are there any you think I missed? See you next time!