The Sunday Papers

Actually we play something unreleased.

Sundays are for spinning the wheel of games: do we play Transistor? Wolfenstein? Elite: Dangerous? Blade Symphony? FIFA World? Too many choices. Best read some articles while I decide.

  • Speaking of too many choices, the indie bubble is popping. So says Jeff Vogel, creator of many fine, niche indie RPGs. This is a long read, going step by step, and I find it hard to disagree. I suppose my hope is that it’s a good thing and that when the bubble and gold rush are gone, what’s left is a healthy, sustainable ecosystem.
  • With so many games out, picking the good ones out of the crowd is a huge job. As far as I can tell, nobody, and I mean nobody, is willing to do it. This is why, despite such a flood of product, so few games have broken out from the crowd so far this year.

    If most of the indie developers went out of business, are we so sure that, outside of the game dev community, people would even notice? Are we so sure a hearty herd thinning isn’t what they secretly want?

  • Rob Fearon gives the most obvious immediate response, then goes further:
  • Look, let’s be blunt here, if you genuinely believe there are too many games, the market is too crowded, we’re at peak videogame and you write and sell videogames then it’s time to put your money where your mouth is and stop ruining it for everyone else. Stop making games and give someone else a chance instead.

    Wait. What? Shut up. It’s fair. One person, one game. You’ve made more than one game? You’re clearly a big part of the problem. A gamehog. Stop hogging. Move along, gamehog. Give the kids a chance, put down your tools and walk away from the computer, it’s someone else’s turn.

  • This is from April, but Kieron left it here in our Sunday Papers Google Doc: why Dark Souls II is the worst game ever made. Because of the fundamental futility of all human endeavour, I guess:
  • I learned all this and more, too much more. It took hours, and days, and weeks, and even now, after 150 hours of play, I have only just started to unravel the most arcane parts of the game. Why? This is less an education than a massive structure of enforced compliance, insisting on obedience to illogic by dressing it up as a fantasy diversion, and counterposing curiosity with swift and punishing traps that reset major progress, a kind of negative reinforcement that’s long been established as the least effective form of instruction possible. This fusion of the worst possible teaching method with the least worthwhile knowledge become insidious when applied to a play structure designed for endless repetition, in which the next goal is always moving farther away.

  • Julian Benson went to the Ukraine for PCGamesN to talk to esports players and game developers about how they’ve survived corruption, taxes and revolution. This is part one:
  • I’m with Vitalli ‘V1lat’ Volochai, a prominent Russian-speaking eSports caster, and Iegven Dubravin, manager of Na’vi’s Dota 2 team. They’re trying to explain how they ran their business whilst their country was embroiled in a revolution.

    “It exploded on the dates of the tournament,” says Iegven.

    “We had to hire an armoured vehicle with [bodyguards] and they were riding from here to the airport with teams because they wanted to stay safe.” Vitalli says.

  • This Spectator piece is unfair but interesting, and I like its conclusion. What makes art art? And why you probably shouldn’t want to be it:
  • The gallery eventually replaced the church, but our notions of art have largely remained in obeisance to art’s dual Renaissance function: work that worships God – or latterly some numinous quality – but also invokes the artist as God-like. And even when, in the 60s, artists escaped the confines of the gallery, they largely took that notion with them. Like a bad cold it lingered for a seeming eternity, persisting in the person of (male) artists such as Joseph Beuys or land artist Robert Smithson, both of whom, in different ways, are still mythologised. This is why it feels like apostasy to dismiss some artists in the 20th century canon. Art never stopped being synonymous with religion, nor the artist with God.

  • Keith Stuart writes in the Guardian, why do we find simple games like Angry Birds so compulsive?
  • Writing in Psychology Today, Michael Chorost once listed the four main reasons for the game’s success: the interface is completely intuitive so there’s no barrier to inhibit compulsion; there is disproportionate feedback when the bird hits the pig building (glass shatters, logs fall, stone crumbles); it’s funny and different everytime so there’s suspense; it’s based on authentic physics, so we feel we can apply real-world skills to the game, making skill feel more ‘legitimate’.

    Chorost centres on the delicious delay between firing the catapult and seeing the results – it is nectar to our primal pleasure centres.

  • Stick with the Guardian for Thomas McMullan’s look at how theatre is taking cues from from videogames. I’ve not been to Punchdrunk’s Drowned Man, but can recommend Sleep No More should you ever be in New York. P.S. Fuck crossheads.
  • Under the arches of London Bridge two policemen pursue a murder suspect. The man gasps for breath, desperately searching for an escape route as the cops close in. Meanwhile, some place not far away, a crowbar-wielding physicist lunges desperately at a reanimated corpse. An experiment has gone wrong, opening a portal to a savage alien world. Chaos ensues.

    Both of the above are performances of sorts; in the first, the suspect is an audience member in an immersive theatre production; in the latter, the physicist is a gamer. At first glance, theatre and games seem like opposing artforms – one steeped in hundreds of years of convention; the other technologically advanced and obessively forward-looking. But beneath the surface there are many similarities; they can play with us in ways that film and TV cannot. And increasingly they are moving closer together.

  • Eurogamer speak to the players vying for world records in Spelunky, the procedurally generated platformer. I love Spelunky and I love obsession and so:
  • “Remember, you saw the one that worked out!” he says. “But there is a natural path to the exit on every single level. Certain patterns reoccur. For example, if you start on the very right side of a Mines level, and to your left is a snake pit, the exit has to be straight down. That’s how the levels are generated.”

    This is the kind of knowledge that only comes with over a thousand hours of playtime. “There are a lot of other little things you just have to process fast,” he says.

  • Then dive across EG to Tony Coles’ love letter to the original Ridge Racer, a game since obscured by inferior sequels and internet memes.
  • When Sony announced that its mystical new console would launch with Ridge Racer as a flagship title, the arcade came home for a second time. We’d waited five or six years between 16-bit arcades and 16-bit consoles, but Ridge Racer took just a year to bring the cutting edge of the arcade into our houses. We didn’t know that this time it was to stay, but we should have realised that a console built specifically to deliver realtime 3D polygons would be truly revolutionary. With Ridge Racer leading the charge, it finally became a game to master. And what a tight little gem it was! So tight, in fact, the entire game famously fitted into the PlayStation’s meagre 4MB RAM, allowing the trick of popping the CD out and racing to your own soundtrack. It’s a shame that this is (pretty much) the sole thing people recall about Ridge Racer now. As a game, it’s actually a thrilling and wonderfully unfussy delight.

  • Gamasutra has a long, detailed post-mortem on the creation of Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, which split opinions. The “What went wrong” section begins on page four:
  • The game’s puzzle scenario design and indeed all of the main issues that are discussed in this part of the postmortem stem from poor project scheduling and a mishandled prototyping phase of the project.

    While FG provided TCR with a high degree of creative freedom in terms of the game’s content and design direction, the deliverable milestones requested were much less flexible. The first deliverable FG requested was a near-complete version of the game’s Cellar level (the third level in the final game), which would demonstrate all of the major components of the game, such as puzzle design, enemy encounters, art direction, the infection system and narrative delivery.

    Music this week is some summertime jams, no matter what the weather.


    1. AngoraFish says:

      As I see the Kickstarter fallout, there are a bunch of talented people, and a bit of dross, currently getting a pretty good education in game development.

      It’s worth noting that total number of games is not the same as the total number of people making games. We know that inertia in any technology is towards consolidation and there’s no reason why everyone with any talent currently working on ‘indie’ games can’t have some sort of long term career in some aspect of game development.

      The slackers and no-talents will fall off soon enough and the rest, they’ll mostly either join larger game development companies or consolidate their efforts into medium sized studios.

      One to four person operations will always be niche, and there’ll always be talented students and disenchanted refugees from the big companies trying their luck, and they’ll mostly not get rich but the good ones will have a decent fan base and a steady income for the rest of their indie career if they want it.

      Bundles aren’t as much of a symptom of oversupply as implied. Most are padded with games up to a decade old, and while the volume is there most people can see straight up that they’re getting a bunch of recycled dross. It wouldn’t surprise me if the bulk of the bundle market is game collectors and people filling one or two gaps in their collection. In any case, if the current run of Humble specials and dredging the bottom of the barrel alternatives are anything to go by, the bundle market is breathing its last few gasps of air as we speak.

      • Henson says:

        But as the slackers and no-talents fall off, will they be replaced by an equal number of new slackers and no-talents?

        • LionsPhil says:

          Not if the gold rush mentality dies. And that’s been the real harmful part: people piling in wanting to get rich quick.

          • Shuck says:

            Outside of perhaps mobile, I don’t know that there really is any sort of gold rush. Anyone familiar with the industry knows it’s not an industry amenable to get-rich schemes, and if you’re looking to make money, it’s a bad industry in which to work. Most of the cynical cash-grabs I see are actually by more experienced developers who have gone down dark paths in a desperate attempt at sustainable development.

            • PopeRatzo says:

              The gold rush is Kickstarter.

              I don’t know if any of you own a house and have ever hired a contractor, but if they ask for the money up front, you should always say no, even if they offer you a t-shirt and “good vibes”.

              If somebody wants to make a commercial product and needs money, they should either, 1) sell shares of stock or 2) get a loan where they pay points or 3) go to their parents. Asking people with whom you have no personal relationship to give you money to make a commercial product with no strings attached is unseemly and has actually lowered the overall quality of the games that have been released during the Kickstarter era.

              Also, “early access” which is an abomination.

            • Kitsunin says:

              The thing about the market is that you can make something great and sometimes, nobody cares. If you take a loan and that happens to you then your entire life can be ruined, but if you fail with a Kickstarter you can just quit, if you can’t risk a commercial failure after you’ve put year(s) into development of a game. I understand that you should put your money where your mouth is and make something if you think it is going to be great, but sometimes, the market just doesn’t want your fantastic game. I can understand it.

              That said, you should have created something else first so people know you can actually make the game you’re claiming you can. A fancy campaign by a nobody shouldn’t succeed by smart consumers.

            • The Random One says:

              @PopeRatzo: Yeah, and if people want to have money, they should hold on to precious metals! Paper money is stupid because how do you know your government will honour it?

              Those methods you mentioned were the only ways to get money in the past. The internet, and Kickstarter through it, allow people to get money through other means. It’s not even that different than getting the money from a publisher; it’s just that the method of payment is different, and the burden on each financial backer is greatly dimished.

              There was a gold rush on Kickstarter, but it was not prompted by the service itself, but rather by Double Fine’s Kickstarter. Kickstarter had existed for a long time before (and it is a shame that The Unconcerned was pitched during that time, as I’m certain it’d have succeeded post-DFA) and I’d argue the gold rush is over, but there still exist games on Kickstarter – they just don’t have as easy of a time getting funds. Now, people are starting to realize that crowd-funding first is madness – if you can’t secure traditional funding, you can still try to go to Kickstarter, but if you’ve failed Kickstarter, traditional backers will say that the public isn’t interested in your game. But crowd funding still exists, and is as legitimate a way to get funds as any other.

            • Leaufai says:

              Also, “early access” which is an abomination. Bad early access games are an abomination. Just like there’s crappy DLC à la Horse Armor, there’s great DLC that you wouldn’t have had without the model: Lair of the Shadow Broker (ME2), The Old Gods (CK2). ,Burial At Sea (BI). Same goes for early access games with that utterly broken game covered by Jimquistiion recently vs. something amazing like Kerbal Space Program.

      • Shuck says:

        The problem is that I think we’re at the point now where being a game developer is like being an author – there are more people who want to do it for a living than can be supported by the market.
        When publishers were acting as gate-keepers for game distribution, getting into the industry was very difficult. (It’s still not easy to get a job at a studio.) There was a certain amount of equilibrium : people got burnt out and left the industry, to be replaced by eager naive youngsters; games failed, but some were successful enough to pay for the failures, studios shut down but new ones opened up. Outside of crashes, the industry was roughly producing what the market would support, even if the money wasn’t evenly distributed.
        Thanks to better, more accessible tools and the ability to self-publish, there are no barriers to entry anymore. There’s a flood of games, a race to the bottom in terms of pricing in part due to that, but also because of the hobbyist/amateur developers who aren’t even thinking about sustainable pricing. Even if the bundles go away, the fundamental problem of oversupply will remain, as there’s a never-ending stream of would-be developers who will discover they can’t make a living at it the hard way.

        • AngoraFish says:

          It’s true that breaking into the industry is going to be different. As the barriers to entry come down for some games (Android, I’m looking at you) the industry changes to finding more ways to get yourself noticed.

          Still, the smart indie developers will get a bit more sophisticated with their marketing, including developing relationships with the media, carefully curated and targeted email distribution lists, tie-ins with other developers, award submissions and the like.

          Competition in creative industries sure ain’t something new, think musicians, wannabe movie directors (YouTube), painters or, (heaven forbid!) games journalists – hell, try differentiating yourself as a new plumbing business when the Yellow Pages is full of a couple of dozen pages of them.

          And then I think back to when indie developers, in a time before digital distribution, were making do by driving around the city getting electronics stores to stock their Commodore 64 computer tape text adventures, selling into a tiny niche market of consumers, and I can’t help but think that things can’t be all that bad for the industry we see today when your niche can be anywhere in a world of seven billion people.

    2. drinniol says:

      Rob Fearon completely misses the point of Jeff’s article. It’s not that it’s a problem there is too many games, rather developers should be planning accordingly and not betting the farm on Steam earning them big bucks.

      • pullthewires says:

        I have to agree with this, and more than being uninsightful it’s got a very unpleasant tone.

      • SuddenSight says:

        I disagree with Jeff and agree with Rob Fearon.

        I find Jeff’s article unnecessarily gloomy. If you read past the introduction of Fearon’s article, which is way too aggressive, he points out how many times this claim of industry-wide failure has been made.

        What is the real point of Jeff’s article? Boring, undifferentiated crap won’t sell. It never sold! That’s why the whole “indie bubble” formed in the first place. Not that it did form. There is no such thing as an “indie bubble.”

        If there is a bubble, what is going to change after it pops? Will everyone go back to big AAA development? I should think not. The AAA model is just as difficult to pursue now as it was 5 years ago, and it’s only going to get harder.

        A lot of indie developers will probably go out of business in the next couple years. That is sad, but not worth predicting the end of the world over. This is the entertainment industry – it has always been hard to get your name noticed. Looking back at the past few years it may seem like there was a brief time when it was easier – and maybe it was – but we so easily forget all the developers who didn’t make it big back then. It’s easy to look back and say “Braid did really well, so developers were doing well back then.” But they weren’t, there have always been hundreds or thousands of developers out there not doing well.

        There are some real changes, of course. The Steam Greenlight bubble might be popping. There are enough games on Steam now that being featured there isn’t a very unique achievement. But don’t conflate the diminishing relevance of the Steam storefront with an industry-wide deterioration.

        • LionsPhil says:

          This is a much more considered counterargument.

        • InternetBatman says:

          That’s true, but if the effective perception of how easy it is to get money changes, then less people are going to enter the market.

          Also, I think you’re confusing this piece as something written for gamers. Changes in the market only impact gamers when prices go up, quality goes down, or their demand isn’t being met. So yes, the article is relatively meaningless for gamers, because it probably won’t have an impact on prices or quality in the short and midterms. It may actually increase average quality as some mediocre studios dissolve.

          For developers though, it’s basically saying “Rough times are ahead. Make sure you know what you’re doing.” That’s a pretty valuable weather forecast.

          • SuddenSight says:

            Perhaps. I’m not a developer, so I am in no position to make real predictions there.

            But I’m not sure the advice is that great for developers either. It isn’t helpful for people within the games industry who want to stay there, and it isn’t really helpful for people outside the industry, unless there is honestly a large group of people who believe getting rich in video games is easy money. That has never once been the case, even at the peak of this supposed “indie bubble,” so this advice isn’t a timely warning so much as a reminder of how harsh the industry is.

            • InternetBatman says:

              An anecdote from Wadjet Eye in the comments would indicate differently:
              I gave a talk about this very subject at a conference a few months ago. One thing I learned: getting up on a podium and telling a bunch of young recently-greenlit developers that this is actually a PROBLEM was not a way to earn friends. :) These guys were SO excited about being on Steam, and they all figured they had finally “made it” and success and riches would soon follow. And I came along and rained on their parade. Oops. Jeff explained it much better then I did.

            • SuddenSight says:

              Hmm… You are probably correct about the difficulties involved in talking to young developers. But I still don’t see how this connects to the existence of an indie bubble, or the bursting thereof. The bursting of a Steam Bubble mayhaps, but it is ridiculous to conflate Steam with all of indie game development.

            • HadToLogin says:

              Seeing how most PC-gamers become console-minded (many of them say “PS4/XB1 or no sale”, we say “Steam or no sale”) burst of Steam-bubble might really be a big problem.

            • Jac says:

              More people are playing and making games than ever before. What we are seeing now is the medium maturing and tbh I don’t think the dross will ever die out now in the world of non-curation. The consoles I grew up playing had Nintendo / Sega as the curators with a high entrance fee of quality and funding needed to even get a game made. This has changed and is healthy for the informed.

              Making a film of any quality used to require a budget until the tools became available to the masses. Same happening with games now. Not everyone in an industry is a CEO and so it shall be with games. Football (soccer for the uncooth and foot-to-ball for the cooth) as an industry is a great analogy when you look at the distribution of wealth, talent, and the hundreds of thousands more striving for a piece of the pie. I consider some of the greenlight inexperienced studios as the kid who gets a massive payday at a big club, thinks they’ve made it only to fade into obscurity to be replaced by another giddy hopeful. Some of course will be amazing and will make it.

            • The Random One says:

              It’s also interesting to net that even with, as Jac notes, Sega and Nintendo serving as curators and gatekeepers for their consoles, there still was a lot of dross that got in. That, to me, is even worse. Germs in a cup of water from the river are much more likely to infect you than germs that somehow got in a cup of filtered water, because you know water from the river is filthy and won’t drink it without purifying it.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yeah, it’s a very weak rebuttal. All fury and little content, while Vogel’s piece is much more thoughtful and tries expressly not to get into the very blame game Rob ascribes to it

      • InternetBatman says:

        The two are a pretty interesting contrast. Jeff describes the way markets work. Supply is increasing faster than demand, developers are going to make less money, and some will leave or fail to enter because of this. Rob Fearon responds with inscrutable and bombastic word vomit. It sums up to “screw you old man, I’m ok with being poor and the games market will keep growing forever.” I wonder if some of the difference in perspective has to do with the country of the writers; Britain is far kinder to its poor than America.

        Anyways, a lot of Rob’s response could have been avoided if Jeff had avoided talking about money in constants. Gamers don’t have a fixed pool of money; it grows over time due to inflation and population growth (and shrinks in bad economies, but not by a ton). If gamer demand hasn’t been met in a long time, the pool grows even larger, as the effective price of a genre goes up. The pool of developers also grows and shrinks (or grows more slowly) over time based on how easy that money will be to obtain, especially compared to the lucrative IT jobs that many can take. It’s not that there’s a fixed amount of money, its just that supply has been increasing dramatically more rapidly than demand.

        In 2007 the pool of developers was drastically mismatched compared to the pool of money, hence a few developers made a lot of money. Since then, a metric crapton of new developers have entered, hence they’ll make less money. When the amount of money goes down, some people will leave and others will have a harder time getting by. Less will enter as well. The total number of developers or games may never shrink, but it will almost certainly grow more slowly. It’s like the games market is driving along, and hits a huge stretch of open road so it speeds up, but then more people get on the road and everyone wants to keep following distance so the speed slows down.

        This only makes sense. You ask someone if they’ll clean toilets for a living and they’ll say maybe. You ask someone if they’ll clean toilets for $1m a year, and they’ll definitely do it.

        Rob Fearon is pissing in the wind when he says this isn’t the case.

      • RobF says:

        Hello! I wouldn’t say I’m missing the point as essentially disagreeing with the most basic premise of Jeff’s article and being a smart arse over it. Is it going to be harder for some developers on Steam? Well, wait up. First we have to assume that for the majority of developers it’s easy and that’s simply not the case. We have to assume that people already can and have been able to rely on “just Steam” and that’s a distortion at best (even in Jeff’s case, his success isn’t because Steam handed him a golden ticket it’s because he put years of work into making Spiderweb a success and that meant when he got on Steam and could find more of his audience, he got his success. There’s hundreds of developers on Steam who don’t share that narrative). And we have to assume certain constants for the duration of the indie bubble/golden age/whatever you want to call it.

        (There’s a third piece I put up yesterday about that contrasting with comments over the past few years from Jon Hare on how the market today is ruined compared to his time in the sun, these stories are as old as game dev).

        The market hasn’t sat still for as long as I’ve been around videogames, it’s in a constant state of flux and evolution. Even the golden goose itself, Steam, has changed excessively and has done year on year (it’s gone from a store to a store with a community to selling Mac games to Big Picture to Software to Linux and Early Access and…). You’re looking at developers who’ve found success at a certain time setting the narrative that it’s going to be harder for the next set and that’s not necessarily a truth, it’s going to be different but then it’s always different and in stark contrast to the narrative Jeff’s selling, it’s always hard to get a break or get some money.

        There were devs who were there at the start of XBLA whose fortunes declined when XBLA shifted it’s focus and for them, by 2007 it was harder. Those signed in 2007/2008 would have found that harder still in the main with only a few breakout hits.

        Was that the sound of everything going wrong? No, it’s business as usual in games. You might read that and think, well Rob, you’re proving Jeff’s point. Except, the crucial thing about our evolution to date is that these changes come at the expense of the few if at all. With each step up, more devs, sometimes different devs, are getting a shake at success. When J2ME was no longer cool (was never cool?) and it was all about the App Store, more devs got a shot at making money and it turned out there was still more people to buy games. When XBLA dipped and Steam stepped up their game in 2009, more devs got a shake at the money but despite the narrative, XBLIG made millionaires too but we don’t speak of that, with Sony’s new policies more devs are getting a shake at (and finding) the money, when Android appeared, more devs got a shake at some money. Around 2006 at the arse end of casual when people started broadening the kind of games available for download to the public, more devs got a shake of the whip. And each time, there’s been breakout hits abound. One of the big things now is, because we all tend to buy from one of three or four places, a lot of the successes are more visible. There was insane amounts of money floating round during the casual heyday, right? But who were those guys?

        Even in Jeff’s golden age period, before 2009 Steam had very few indie games, 2010 saw the first real major rush. Before then, it was on consoles. Why didn’t this golden age end when XBLA/PSN dipped? Why only Steam? And why Steam when they only really started pushing indie 4 years ago? And were the small amount of games on there like Audiosurf, Rag Doll Kung Fu doomed by the influx of new indies in 2009? Did those suffer because Jeff and his peers arrived on Steam? Why now? What’s so special about now? All Jeff has is “there’s too many games, not enough money” for that and well, come on. There isn’t, as much as it’s attractive to believe, a bunch of indies hitting the limits of how much money or how many customers there are to go around, all signs and numbers point to the opposite and the real problem being indies having trouble -reaching the people who would give them money for what they do- as an increasing amount of niche games become viable. Of course, they were always wanted but no-one really knew how to reach all the people who might want them.

        We’re not just “expanding” the market but we’re back at a place where people who were pushed out as we narrowed things for a brief while are being brought back in to buy stuff they used to want to buy but only people like Jeff offered it…

        Valve know this, this is why they’re talking up what Steam will be as they have been. The next step is to help niche devs find their audience easier. In one way, Kickstarter does this really well but that’s not a solution to anything, it’s part but not all. We need more. What Valve are aiming for isn’t to bring Jeff’s purported golden age to an end, it’s to make more Jeff Vogels.

        Are there casualties? Will some devs find it hard? Yes. This is the normal state of selling videogames. But the majority of developers already find it hard, many near impossibly so. For many of them, this isn’t going to be the end, this will be their time, their chance to shine. And that’s not the end of all things, the end of a bubble or the end of Steam as a useful way to sell (certainly from what I’ve heard of the redesign coming, it’s going to be quite the opposite), it’s just going to be different and more people will get a shake. Just like it was different when Steam opened the doors to a couple of indies in 2006 and when they opened their door to more in 2009 (and we had this EXACT same discussion in 2010 with the same “end of a golden era” stuff as I’m reading now).

        Because this is the key premise behind Jeff’s argument, it’s going to be useless because there’s too many games in a small space. It’s a fun argument but over the past ten years we’ve hit that repeatedly, Steam has been there twice where capacity hit the limits of what the store could sensibly display and come out the other side because things change, things always change. And that’s great as far as I’m concerned because as much as I like, respect and appreciate Jeff and his work, as much as I like, respect and appreciate many of my peers making games successfully, I don’t want them to be the only ones with the keys to the kingdom.

        And it’s no coincidence that Jeff’s article is coming at a time when those keys are going to be copied and shared around.

        • drinniol says:

          You should have posted that on your blog, dude, if you haven’t already. A much better rebuttal, thanks for clarifying.

    3. hatseflats says:

      The indie “bubble” is a rather complicated phenomenon. There are many factors to it, which need to be separated to understand what is happening. Note: I’m not a developer, but I am a gamer and reading for an economics masters.

      Around 2008, 2009, the world saw the first big indie breakthroughs. Minecraft, Mount & Blade, Braid, Machinarium &c. All of these were commercially successful, some more than others. What makes them significant in my opinion is that they were different. By 2008, I had gotten bored of games. The increasingly simple AAA games had moved towards less player input in favour of epic setpieces and were either FPS, western RPG or racing/sports games. Indie games saved me as a gamer. When the first indie games were released, they were not just good games, they were a refreshing change, different from everything available at the time, and faced essentially no competition. They had their own niche, and hence were commercially successful.

      After the first success stories, more and more people started developing and releasing games. Developers switched from AAA to indie. In the beginning, this was not an issue. The supply of indie games was still low, and there was great demand for games different from AAA titles. Bundles further contributed to bring attention to these new games and earn their makers a nice return. As the indie scene became more well known, tools became ever more accessible, and more and more people started developing games.

      One or two years ago, the first complaints about the scene started to emerge on blogs and in interviews. Some developers complained about low sales for games they had put years of effort in, games which were well-made and received positive reviews.
      In the meantime, the number of indie releases kept growing steadily, while Kickstarter provided a new way to fund development, Steam Greenlight made wide distribution accessible to more developers, and Early Access provided yet another means to obtain funding.
      As the number of releases grew further, the number of complaints by developers about low sales grew proportionally.

      The question is whether those complaints are justified. I bought virtually every single “first generation” indie game because they offered an exciting alternative to the stale AAA genre. In my opinion, after the first few years, indie games became stale as well. At some point, whenever I read the words “indie tower defense” or “indie platformer” on a gaming website, especially if those words were followed by “with a twist”, I skipped reading. Nobody apart from some hardcore genre fans could keep up with the number of releases of “tight” platformers and puzzle games.

      But that doesn’t mean there is necessarily a problem with the amount of supply. The problem is that developers still seem to think that indie is niche, and that hence any quality release should make money. The first generation had a niche. But “indie games’ is in itself not a niche in the economic sense. The scene is furthermore very sensitive to trends, be they tower defense games, or games involving zombies or space. But this means that at any given time, the number of releases of games following those trends is very high, which generates fierce competition. In the market for games, it doesn’t matter whether your game is good, it has to be the best.

      One aspect of the market which factors into this is that software is has a zero marginal cost. With physical products, a product which is generally perceived as being less desirable can still make money: as long as its costs are lower, or if total supply of the alternative is constrained, the product can still be a commercial success if its price is lower. But there is no limit to supply for any individual game. Hence, if there is a better game in the same genre, that game will capture virtually the entire market. Worse, new releases are even competing with releases of some years ago, which are often priced much lower. The only market left to releases which are not the single best in their genre are gamers which cannot get enough of the same type of game. Most gamers, however, don’t solely play zombie/platformer/tower defense/adventure games, so this is not an attractive commercial prospect.

      This is an example of the “superstar” dynamics seen more generally in modern economies. Machines are increasingly capable of replacing humans when doing simple tasks, and increased possibilities of distribution enables a small group of people, those who are the most creative/intelligent/original, can serve almost the entire market.

      I disagree with the conclusion of Jeff Vogel that mid-tier games are the ones which are to lose out. Markets do not work in the way he describes, where gamers have a fixed budget to spend on games. Consumers have a disposable income to spend on all sorts of goods, and what every developer has to do is convince consumers to spend their money on their game rather than any other good, be that a different game or beer or a hamburger. The first generation indie games did just that by offering an exciting alternative to AAA games, but many newer releases have a hard time competing with similar games people have already bought and not even played yet.

      The solution is not to follow the trends, even though the successes of individual developers seem to suggest that’s where the money is, but to try and find gaps in the market and to find a a niche for which there is unmet demand, i.e. a niche for which few games have yet been released.

      I think medium-sized-budget games are another option. If we compare the games market to the music and film industry, there is a distinct lack of mid-tier games. Music releases range between anything from “recorded in basement” to Justin Bieber. Films similarly range from $1000 budgets to budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, and anything in between.

      In games, before Double Fine’s Kickstarter and the following Wasteland, Planescape &c. crowdfunding, virtually all games were either triple A with budgets of sometimes $100 million or indies without any formal budget. But it is precisely games with medium budgets which can differentiate themselves. With higher budgets than indies, they are more capable of benefiting from technological advances, which reduces competition from older games. Higher budgets also means fewer games will be made, which implies less cut-throat competition, especially if developers choose their niches wisely. The development of these games can also soak up some of the developing talent of small indies, reducing competition in that sector, too. It is the way forward, and I see no reason why the market would not move in that direction.

      • elderman says:

        I haven’t studied economics since school but the idea of a indie games bubble doesn’t seem right to me. In a bubble, isn’t the problem that prices are unsustainably high? What we’re seeing now is low prices and high quantities sold. Can there be a bubble based on a high volume of sales? How would such a bubble pop? I’m not understanding it, don’t think it’s the right economic idea to describe the situation.

        I can think of plenty of reasons why the future might be bright for developers. I’d think there’s a lot of growing room for the market as the online population increases. Audiences might turn to gaming instead of other entertainment activities, play more games and go to the cinema less often. It’s an industry that appeals young people, and they may want to collect the best games of the last twenty years. And then, I could see a growing market for localisations, for secondary services like streaming, for gatekeepers and reviewers and curators. Failed developers can find other jobs in the industry doing related work.

        Maybe the data says differently: that the market is growing more slowly and there’s limited space for an ecosystem of complementary services, but à priori I don’t see why the bundles, the proliferation of independent developers, and the crowded marketplace will lead inevitably to a violent market correction. I also don’t see the mechanism for the correction. Prices aren’t going to plummet surely.

        • InternetBatman says:

          A bubble is a loosely defined and over-used buzzword anyways. The basic idea behind it is that people keep buying something because they think it will grow in value in the future. Eventually very few people that are actually interested in owning the good are the ones buying it. Then speculators realize they’ll lose their money if they don’t leave, so everyone races for the doors and tries to sell. Since everyone is selling, the good loses its value, and most of the people who bought it lose their money.

          It doesn’t really fit here, but it’s become a buzzword for any kind of negative market adjustment.

          • elderman says:

            Anyway, here’s a link [] I found to jog my memory. I’m sharing it in case someone else wants a quick primer on the topic of economic bubbles, and it points toward some further reading, for those with too much time on their hands.

            [removed my pointless, nit-pick-y, off-topic disagreement with parent]

          • drewski says:

            Well, abstractly the point of the bubble analogy is that new actors continually inflate the bubble by joining whatever market is “bubbling” in the expectation of profit. Traditionally this has been buyers inflating prices, but there’s not really any reason you can’t flip the analogy to suppliers inflating quantity.

        • Danley says:

          There’s also the matter of low confidence we have in our current economy (which I’m going to stuff all the markets into, because there’s not a huge difference between our attitude towards a dollar and a euro). Inflation, deregulation and inequality. Specifically, if you’re willing to be a financial services mobster, you get free money, a lot of it. The current state of things is bullshit, because nothing we learned about business or Capitalism is actually how that system is operating, and so for 99% of people that motivation is quickly deteriorating.

          If you’re in the ocean with a briefcase that floats because it’s empty, and one that sinks because it’s full of gold bars, every part of our logical brain says dump the gold; money only matters in terms of how it contributes to our life. And yet almost every attitude in the business world is “fuck people, make more money.” If the string of people getting offed in the banking industry because their companies have multi-million dollar life insurance policies isn’t a blatant example, I don’t know what is. (Wal-mart does it with their employees on a smaller scale.) From the most meager business ethic to the largest corporate power play, the delusion of a money based on speculation rather than production has destroyed our confidence in not only this system, but the need for economies in general. Especially when 100 people make enough money in a single year to lift the world out of poverty seven times over, or when the US throws away 40% of its food, or when there are four times as many vacant homes as there are recorded homeless people, or when we spend an average of $47,000 a year on prison inmates, yet they can’t find a job for $20,000 when they get out.

          So, if the ‘indie bubble’ is an economic analogy, then he’s probably right. If it hasn’t burst already, it will. But not because it’s not the best time ever to be a consumer of video games given all the choices and how easy it is to approach making them yourself. Because some people are still basing the justification for doing things in our lives on making money, when the kind of money we have is literally destroying our ability to live.

      • InternetBatman says:

        I think the fact that there are complaints, especially if there are a large number of them, is more important than whether or not they are justified. The complaints themselves indicative of unmet expectations, which itself indicates an upcoming supply shift regardless of whether or not they are justified.

      • Josh W says:

        That point about mass production and a “winner takes all” economy is a good one, the more that games are dominated by fashion, the more that a few people will make money and no-one else will be able to.

        Then there’s the problem that this overdominance leads to a restriction of variety, and eventually damages that particular type of game. You could call it the street fighter problem.

        But fighting games seem to have made a bit of a comeback, some kind of equilibrium of variety that they can afford to keep making them.

        Anyway, more generally, this is one of those daft problems of technology making our lives better in a way that economics subverts; we have more games, awesome! But people can’t afford to live while making them, boo!

        It’s the same problem that writers face, just to a lesser extent, that the very diversity of writing that makes the internet so wonderful means it’s hard to get people to pay for any specific bit of it, and it’s for some reason getting funded by adverts for [checks] in this case broadband itself.

    4. Casimir's Blake says:

      So, Michael Thomsen’s Dark Souls 2 article. Flamebait or considered criticism? I have my own thoughts on the game but I would sooner suggest that Thomsen’s arguments describe the experience of most MMO RPGs than DkS2. Many games enforce abstract systems upon the player in order to allow progress, that is a fundamental element of “gaming”. Though mainstream gaming culture has dulled this to the point where only tremendously simplistic “gameplay” is featured in many AAA games. Perhaps Thomsen is weary of such challenges.

      Dark Souls 2 has a variety of issues but the worst offenders are: a) its incongruous and unconvincing attempts at world-building compared to its predecessors and in its own right – to the point of breaking immersion – and b) many areas of the game featuring far too many heavily armoured enemies clustered together, leading to many protracted battles. The “fun” disappears. The combat system favours one on one combat, not one-on-three or more. And no, it isn’t possible to lure every enemy in the game one at a time, many pull in clusters.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        The first two paragraph are an admission of his utmost failure, but he tries to pass them up as “evil game design”. Sure. That dragon is though, but not as such.

        And it’s optional.

        Bait him into the standing firebreath, proceed to whack him, save stamina for the upcoming run-for-it while learning the clues that are always readable. It’s a pretty decent telegraph.

        The first time i killed it was frustrating, the second not so much. It’s not a great boss, not exciting, not as unique as, say, the Looking Glass Knight with his own summoning of actual people, but it’s a decent statement of Dark Soul’s essence, a game about deliberate and precise moves.

        If anything fails, the fire can be tanked, but that off course needs a lot of resistance and HP. It’s an optional end game boss, it needs some homework done, it checks if you’ve just dragged your feet the whole time up to that point or not.

        I could read the rest of the article but it did not start very well. I don’t want to be that “get gud” average YouTube guy, but you can’t just blame the game for everything.

      • GameCat says:

        He is wrong on many levels.
        Not every game must have completely transparent mechanics, but in this case Dark Souls II is much more transparent than DS. (I would even say that Dark Souls would be much better game if it wouldn’t have any form of number based information, maybe except of how much souls and certain items you have, but that’s just me.)

        Second thing – his bragging about how this game is nothing more than killing monsters to proceed further.
        Unreal Tournament is a bad game, all you do is just shooting and killing other players. What a boring piece of shit. MegaMan – all you do is just shooting and jumping. What a turd. Yeah, these statement are very sane.

        If Dark Souls II is the worst game ever then we never had any good games at all.

        And about that dragon – yes, he is optional and he’s a goddamn DRAGON. Almost all other dragons were defeated in huge battle. Ha can’t be an ordinary weakling.

        • Shieldmaiden says:

          I actually agree about the numbers. Dark Souls is very disjointed in how it has very logical, naturalistic weapon and armour systems, but then piles loads of arcane and unintuitive stats on them. I love how the weight of your gear alters your character’s movement and gives you a genuine protection/mobility trade-off. I love how each weapon handles differently and choosing between them is a matter of preference. It would have been brilliant if they’d taken it a step further and removed all the stats, at least in that explicit, player-facing, pen ‘n’ paper RPG way. To me, that makes for a much more immersive game, because all the decisions being made are in-character decisions that my character would make, not the decisions of me as a game player. “I prefer the long sword to the bastard sword because of how it handles” or “I’m imbuing my spear with this special material because it allows me to channel the power of my faith” are much more interesting choices than “I’m using this sword now because it does +2 damage versus smurfs.”

          That said, I don’t know how well people would cope with that. I remember reading in the early days of Fable that they’d completely dumped all the levelling stuff, so your character just got better at the things you did, with the visual changes reflecting your growing power. Apparently, people didn’t like not having that explicit “ding” moment, so they added in obvious, staged levelling.

          • Danley says:

            But maybe we haven’t had any good games. Not that we haven’t had fun games or novel or interesting games, but given the leaps forward in resources, mechanics and aesthetics just this last half-decade, we might all look back at the games of this period as being nowhere close to what they could be. Especially MMOs or games like Dark Souls that present a challenge through repetition and grind with only a passing narrative mechanic to justify it. What if dying in Dark Souls took you to a deeper pit of the universe, and digging yourself out just to get back you died (only to die again) was itself a different part of the game instead of the same damn thing over and over until you get it “right.”

      • SuddenSight says:


        Seriously, I can make those kinds of complaints about anything.

        War and Peace is the worst book ever written. Sure, there are long sections exploring the odd social hierarchy of Russian aristocrats and the callousness with which human life is considered, but these things are not properly questioned. Where is the section in which Pyotr realizes the stupidity inherent in land ownership and frees his serfs? Where is the section wherein Prince Andrei is finally recognized for his talents and promoted like he should be? The book does nothing but teach the reader an archaic system of interaction that has long since been superseded.

      • AngelTear says:

        I also strongly disagree with that article, even though it’s pointed by accurate, if isolated, points of analysis.. There’s a number of things he’s doing wrong in his description of the game, in my opinion: first of all, he’s being extremely reductionist of the game in terms of pure mechanics and min-maxing builds. I mean, if you describe games like that, every game is the “Worst videogame ever”, except maybe Gone Home and other very similar ones with next to no mechanics. I hope he never plays an MMO, or a Facebook game, or Angry Birds, or one of those huge RPGs, because, what would he do then?

        Secondly, most of his criticism of the game only makes sense because he’s obsessed with the game, as in, he clearly wants to play it, so part of him enjoys something about it, even while another part of him tells him it’s a waste of time. This is more of a view against entertainment generally than against the game in particular. It happened to him in his experience with DS because he found that particular game more compelling than others, not because, in those regards, it does anything different than most.

        Thirdly, I think he places his attention on the wrong things: it’s as if I read the Lord of the Rings, read and memorized all the family trees, and then asked why I had to read them, why i had to learn them. DS doesn’t communicate its plot or its message in clear words, it’s not a collection of parables, if you want to learn something from the game, it’s something much more subtle that you are going to get. For instance, when playing, I learn about myself, my own perseverance against challenges, my own growth in the game matching my possible growth in real life, trying hard and then trying again, dying (failing) but not losing hope, not losing my “humanity” (I like to think that the player character never goes completely Hollow because s/he keeps trying, and you only go Hollow when you stop playing, when you stop trying, you give up, you lose hope), and then eventually succeeding through hard work, either by learning to play better or through sheer grinding. Given my personal, psychological issues I can strongly relate to all these things and more.

        There’s a lot more that could be said about what DS is communicating, but he seems to be missing most of it.

        • baozi says:

          I mainly agree with him that the only thing Dark Souls »teaches« you is about itself, because I don’t think that bit about perseverance translates into real life. Video gamers would be the most accomplished people there are!

          On the flip side, you could say that teaching bit about any challenging game that is more about skill than grinding. It’s hardly unique to Dark Souls.

          • pilouuuu says:

            Aren’t they? Gaming has taught me a lot about patience and persistence, especially adventure games. I think gamers should have much more skills than non-gamers, at least relating to computer usage.

      • fish99 says:

        I read a bit of that Dark Souls 2 article, enough to find out that the guy thought Dark Soul 1 was the worst game ever, essentially because he played it over and over, to the point where he could finish it in 3 hours (which took him 300 hours). Play any game that much and it will lose it’s magic and you’ll see nothing but the numbers. No one forced him to do that. Why would you even bother if you weren’t enjoying it?

        When I beat NG+ in Dark Souls, I knew I’d had enough and I knew I’d get sick of it if I played anymore. He sat there playing + games over and over and then complains about the pointlessness of playing + games. The only reason to play a + game in any game is if you’re still enjoying it and want to play more.

        I stopped reading at that point.

        • Fiyenyaa says:

          If someone can play a game for 300 hours and claim it’s the worst game ever then they are either engaged in the most absurd hyperbole or they are engaged in the most absurd self-destruction. Crazy article, that.

      • Blackcompany says:

        I sincerely hope the Forbes author who penned this article seeks help. No sarcasm; I don’t mean to insult this person. My sincerest wish regarding this person is that they are able to find help with their problem/challenge/condition.

        I say this because: Any person sufficiently well schooled in psychology to see “through” a game and so deeply into the ‘hooks’ a game uses to keep people coming back, who allows themselves to play a game they don’t like for so long that they begin to experience self loathing for allowing themselves to be hooked, needs to seek help.

        There exists no valid reason to play a game you do not like. None. Life is too short to punish yourself for living. And this, essentially, what the author does here by forcing themselves to participate in a completely optional activity they admittedly do not enjoy. And then they do so to the point of self loathing.

        At first I thought the author came off as a bitter gamer who had played a single game far too long. Past the burn out stage. I think we have all been there; I did it with Skyrim and once the rose colored glasses came off…well, the less said about those months of bitterness, the better. But I was wrong, about the author.

        They don’t sound like a whining gamer past the point of burnout and embittered about a game that’s become little more than rote memorization and repetition. No; this is far worse, though unfortunately one I still recognize.

        They sound like an addict. And worse, an addict that’s not so far gone yet that they are unable to recognize the addiction. They sound like that addict who has just awoken to the realization of how hooked they are and who as yet still possesses enough self worth and coherence to know how bad off they are. Its an ugly thing – I know because I’ve seen it in people I know – and one with which I hope they seek help.

        I will close by leaving this disclaimer: I believe video games have the potential to addict. Just as a (relatively) small subset of people cannot control their behavior where alcohol or drugs or pain killers are concerned, I believe that there exists a small subset of people that suffer the same problems with video games. As with other potentially addicting things in life, there people – perhaps certain personality types or people whose brains handle neurotransmitters differently – who simply cannot regulate their playing time. And I believe the Souls games are built in a way that – while not intended to addict players – will really appeal to the addiction prone gamer among us, with their pattern recognition and their ‘just one more time, I know I can do it’ setup.

        This said I in no way would ever advocate for any sort of regulation for video games. In fact I think the current rating systems and the censorship they engender are so patently ridiculous as to be embarrassing for any adult who endorses them. Far more so than the games they censor, in fact.

        tl;dr: The gamer who forced themselves to play a game they loathed for so long that self loathing set in should seek help. There addiction prone gamers just as there are drinkers and drug users, and the Souls games – while not meaning to – probably are among the most likely games to addict those individuals. This does not mean we should regulate games; society needs to address addiction, not punish everyone because they can’t be bothered to address real problems at their root. And while we are it – stop censoring games, your efforts are more ridiculous and absurd than the games you censor with your meaningless rating systems.

      • Mman says:

        “So, Michael Thomsen’s Dark Souls 2 article. Flamebait”

        It’s this.

        To bring your own issues with Dark Souls 2 as a sequel into the context of this mess of an article does nothing but take away from your argument.

        • Casimir's Blake says:

          Perhaps it isn’t obvious, but at no point did I say I agreed with that article. Nor am I comparing my opinions with his, just giving some of my own.

        • onyhow says:

          You think that article is flamebait? Read link to

          • SuddenSight says:

            Michael Thomsen seems to have an almost irrational hatred of rules and authority.

          • Deadly Sinner says:

            Wow. It’s clear that the guy loathes videogames and Forbes is forcing him to write about them.

            • Danley says:

              He played 400 hours in Dark Souls and is pretty active replying to comments. He’s just a contributor, and may or may not have ever set foot in Forbes’ offices. So I can’t jump to the same conclusion.

              That Forbes decided to publish it, though, may mean the editor of the contributor pieces might loathe them, though.

      • Danley says:

        But I don’t think he’s being unfair if you read his experience as frustration with taking the bait and wasting hundreds of hours on what’s essentially a Sisyphusian futility, regret that he did it the first time, only to do it again. I played Demon’s Souls for an extended period of time, but when it came to Dark Souls, I died a dozen or so times to the second boss then quit, because I wasn’t going to spend the amount of time getting good enough to progress. Not when there are a hundred other games I’d rather play. Is this my failure? Sure. Is this failure what makes a lot of people enthusiastic about the game? Sure, and that’s fine. But that doesn’t make any of our experiences any less meaningful (because they might all be equally meaningless).

        I agree that he was very much describing MMOs, which are perhaps even more frustrating because at least you can be skillful at Dark Souls and proceed at a faster pace. If you have to kill 10,000 mobs that each take 30 seconds to kill just to get to the next part of the game, it starts to feel like a total rip off of your time. When I heard about EverQuest years ago, I expected it to be this giant world driven by geeky people role-playing, always in character, playing out the narrative and economy of the world and producing their own narrative, not the one-size-fits-all grindfest it is. And with the exception of EVE or Lineage, more or less, there still isn’t a single one of them that provides that. The only server I ever played WoW on was a PvP RP server. Which it most definitely was not.

        (If anyone ever wants to take over an MMO in-character with me, though, I’d do it in a second.)

        As I said in my reply on Forbes, though, if it’s such a frustrating experience, it’s our fault for going through with it.

        • Nate says:

          I think that’s insightful– “Sisyphusean futility”– because I think, in a way, the expression of that is part of the point of the DS series. The games seem heavily inspired by certain Buddhist notions, especially the recognition of the futility of strife, and an attempt to escape the cycle of death and rebirth.

          A lot of people probably believe that sounds like no fun, and maybe it would be, for them. DS, to me, is enjoyable in the way a deeply disturbing art or horror film is “enjoyable”. The popularity of the series has been a relief for me as I’ve discovered I’m not quite as weird as I once feared :)

      • Baffle Mint says:

        I would sooner suggest that Thomsen’s arguments describe the experience of most MMO RPGs than DkS2.

        The first thing that came to my mind was those old Sierra Adventure Games that would kill you because you didn’t bring a pie to throw at the yeti or whatever. Old Adventure games in general definitely had hugely obtuse goals that you could never guess ahead of time, which punished you for dying, and which taught you nothing but how to beat the game.

        Then I thought of all of those mid-tier NES games that were way too hard and never told you what to do, but you kept working endlessly on them, even knowing that all that awaited you was a single misspelled “congratulations!” screen.

        Then I thought of Final Fantasy 6, which has a character named Gau, who has potentially the best abilities in the game, but in order to unlock them you have to deal with a set of mechanics that are so obtuse that no sane person could ever decipher them.

        Or, hell, Pac-Man, with the way the increasing speed of the ghosts keeps creating new games out of the same maze and enemies. Heck, people even responded to Pac-Man in the same way, creating and sharing elaborate patterns based on split-second timing to beat the later levels.

        I haven’t played Dark Souls II, but I’m not clear from this article on how it fundamentally differs from, well, the entire history of games.

        • Shieldmaiden says:

          Well, there’s a reason we don’t tend to have random insta-death in adventures any more: it’s just bad game design, plain and simple. The Souls series contains a few examples of absolutely terrible game design, albeit massively outweighed by the good, however it’s rather difficult to discuss them without the games’ cult-like following insisting that it’s “hardcore” and that you just don’t get it.

          Seriously, anyone who thinks that not including checkpoints immediately before bosses which absolutely require trial-and-error learning of attacks to defeat isn’t bad game design really needs to see someone about their masochistic tendencies.

        • Arglebargle says:

          Dark Souls, etc: Bad UI and port to computer. Bad checkpoint saving. Rinse and repeat die-til-you-figure-out-the-trick gameplay.

          I don’t play those sorts of games anymore, no matter what else they may bring to the table. Especially in concert, as in DS.

          Hated that old asshole Sierra Games crap. I actually cut up my floppy of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy after an extended episode of ‘Guess the EXACT verb!’. That was the best part of the game for me…..

          • Fiyenyaa says:

            Dark Souls saves after pretty much any action you ever take. If you quit, it saves too. You don’t save at a bonfire – you save all the time. That ain’t no checkpointing.

            • Shieldmaiden says:

              I’m assuming he means bad positioning of save points. Like, for example, not having them right before bosses that require trial and error to figure out. It’s bad enough that a game with such a high reliance on trial and error has such a stiff death penalty (especially if you’re trying not to be Hollow all the time, which is apparently how the devs intended it to be played) but forcing you to run through a lengthy chunk of the level each time you die is despicable.

            • fish99 says:

              Actually I always got the impression you’re expected to be Hollow for most of the game. Why do I say that – well because the number of items that reverse Hollowing is small (yes they are farmable, but it’s tedious) compared to the number of times the average player will die, so therefore it’s impossible to be alive most of the time unless you are amazingly good at the game. Being alive was even rarer in Demon’s Souls.

              As for bad bonfire placement, yes there could be a bonfire before every boss, but TBH the runbacks aren’t that long or that hard, and they’ve become a lot easier and quicker over the course of the 3 games. Generally speaking you can run past all the enemies and the longest run is about a minute I would say. The runback also helps build tension for your next try at the boss.

          • Llewyn says:

            The Guide was an Infocom game, not Sierra, and verb guessing was generally down to either technical limitations with their parser or simple oversights rather than being a trial-and-error design decision.*

            *That said, I haven’t replayed it in the last 20ish years so there might be a specific section you’re referring to that I’ve forgotten.

            • Baffle Mint says:

              Infocom and Sierra did often share the design philosophy of punishing you for experimenting by killing you or, even worse, letting you destroy an item you’d need later.

              I went on a huge text adventure kick in the 2000s, and what always killed me about the parsers was that they never had the verb “Use”.

              There were quite a few times where I’d come across something odd and have a hell of a time playing “guess the verb”. Like, if you find a genetically engineered alien larva that crates an anti-gravity field, it’s not clear what verb you need to activate it, especially when the generic verbs like “use” and “activate” don’t work.

    5. Chaz says:

      Urg! A link to Forbes. Some of the biggest douche bags in the world seem to write for them.

      • Harlander says:

        Some pretty good candidates for the title in the comment thread there, too.

    6. Viroso says:

      So what happens when this bubble pops? People who thought they’d make money with games don’t? Then less people make games? I don’t think that sounds like a sudden, damaging collapse of whatever it is that the indie bubble is supposed to be. I don’t think there’s an indie bubble.

      There’s just a lot of games, fast expansion doesn’t mean bubble. When talking about bubbles, we’re talking about the bubble bursting. You know Desura has been sitting there for a long time, with a tiny share of the market, selling games that barely get any coverage anywhere, but it’s still there and it has been there for a while.

      An indie bubble burst would happen if people suddenly lost interest in indie games, and that’s a crazy idea, indie games aren’t a genre.

      • Casimir's Blake says:

        As a musician struggling to get his voice heard amongst the crowd, I can already see where the indie gaming market is going: in precisely the same direction. It has happened with music – anyone can start a bandcamp page – and now it is happening with indie games: anyone can release a game on Desura, and – soon – Steam. This “bubble” would only burst if demand receded, but indie games have credibility again. This seemed to disappear for a while with the end of the shareware industry, and the desire for gaming to “go mainstream”.

        The issue developers (and musicians, as it happens) face now is that they cannot rely upon an online store to advertise their game, they will have to find other means to do so (Youtube is a good start). But considering the medium, it should be more reasonable to expect demos of indie games than AAA releases, so one shouldn’t have to rely upon RPS (or other sites) to provide an opinion on a game: go try it yourself.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        I’ve seen the word bubble popping up so often and used for so many things that I feel the world bubble is experiencing a bubble itself. I’m sure pop will eat itself soon as well.

      • Shuck says:

        “So what happens when this bubble pops? People who thought they’d make money with games don’t? Then less people make games?”
        What will happen is that most of the people who do game development won’t make enough money to do it for a living. Rather like artists, writers and musicians now.

        • RobF says:

          “What will happen is that most of the people who do game development won’t make enough money to do it for a living. Rather like artists, writers and musicians now.”

          That is EXACTLY how it already is.

          • Shuck says:

            And it didn’t used to be that way, at least not for the strata of developer that Vogel is talking about.

            • RobF says:

              I don’t really believe that’s ever been the case. It’s an almost romanticised look at the way the past few years have played out and I’m sorta uncomfortable with how that narrative is formed, never mind spoken of.

            • Shuck says:

              Well, indie game developers have always been scraping by in the margins, and as a result, traditionally, they were a minority of developers. But the shift that’s occurred with the move to digital distribution and the consolidation of AAA has exploded the number of indie developers and made the positions of the majority of developers precarious. So looking at just the last few years is far too short-sighted, you miss out on all the actually new developments.
              There were two issues that Vogel talked about, one of which you spent time battering a collection of straw men rather than address: the first is the short-lived bubble that happened during the time between the point when Steam let indies in but before the floodgates opened up. Yeah, you’re right, that was something temporary, part of the vagaries of the game market. (I don’t think Vogel would disagree with that.) Vogel just made the point that developers foolishly started to count on it being how it briefly was rather than how it now is. But the bigger issue is the flood of games, and this is absolutely something new and unprecedented. Vogel’s right – there’s supply without demand. People are still buying games, but largely as some vestigial reflex action – buying games they’re not going to play. That’s going to catch up with the PC games industry as a whole, even if it takes a while for the money flows to catch up with consumer spending, and consumer spending to catch up with the fact that everyone now has enormous libraries of unplayed games. (Personally, as a gamer, I simply no longer buy games. I have accumulated, just in the last couple of years, enough of a backlog that it could, quite literally, last me the rest of my life. The only reason I buy games now is because I’m a designer, and as a developer, I buy games for what amount to research purposes, not for fun.) All your examples denying this were (deliberately?) the wrong ones – comparing this to previous changes in the game industry aren’t helpful because, unlike changes that happened in the ’80s and ’90s, there’s no longer any barrier to entry and no gatekeepers in publishing. This isn’t zines vs. magazines, it’s magazines vs. the web, and the web’s destroying magazines. (Or, in the US, newspapers vs. the web. The newspaper industry is completely fucked, now, and the vestiges are barely holding on.) For the same reason, too: too much content per eyeball. It becomes unsustainable.

            • Baffle Mint says:

              there’s no longer any barrier to entry and no gatekeepers in publishing.

              The big problem I’ve always had is that I don’t actually want what the gatekeepers say I should.

              I’m only happy in a comic book store if I can buy something that isn’t published by Marvel or DC. I don’t play Pathfinder, D&D or Magic: The Gathering. I don’t care about the latest Avengers movie.

              I will pay more for the next Christine Love visual novel than I will for the next GTA sequel because I know I’ll enjoy it more.

              Now, obviously, I’m in the minority. But there are a few other people out there, and if you backslide into a place where a few gatekeepers decide what gets published, the main result is that I just leave the market entirely.

            • SuddenSight says:

              “Vogel’s right – there’s supply without demand. People are still buying games, but largely as some vestigial reflex action – buying games they’re not going to play.”

              This is ridiculous and untrue. Not the part about having more games to play than anyone could ever finish – that part is true. The idea that existing games somehow diminish the desire for new games.

              Video games are a creative medium. If it was simply a question of quantity, we would have stopped making games years ago. Look at the GOG catalog. Those games are insanely cheap before the sales and have tons of content – you could live your whole life only playing games from the 90s. But you will probably point out that you don’t want to. The graphics have improved, game design has improved, everything has improved.

              Beyond that, games are unique expressions of design. When I think about the games I play, they are beautiful little snowflakes. Frozen Synapse is unique (though it bears similarities with Laser Squad Nemesis). CKII is unique. Civ V plays very differently from Civ IV, and those are the same franchise. Mario Galaxy is unique. Each game has something specific to recommend it. And there are so many facets of video games left to explore.

              Consider Transistor. While it does some relatively new things mechanically, no one was talking about that during release. Everyone was hyped over the soundtrack, the look, the story.

              There are so many things that make games unique, and there is so much space in game design left to explore, it is ridiculous to say we won’t continue buying games simply because we have a large backlog.

              Of course, the new games will have to be new and interesting to differentiate themselves, but that was always the case, even before Steam. Otherwise we would all be playing Super Mario Brothers and World of Warcraft until the end of time. But people like new things, interesting things, ideas that are exciting and worth exploring.

              As long as developers can continue to make quality games with interesting elements, there will be people to buy them.

            • RobF says:

              I apologise for quote cutting here but there’s a lot to cover and it’s easier if I can break it up a bit…

              “Well, indie game developers have always been scraping by in the margins, and as a result, traditionally, they were a minority of developers”

              I’d disagree with this. For the most part of videogame history, small development teams were the norm.

              We have somewhere around a ten year blip where large scale studio dev became necessary because of tech and accesss to tech that sidelined smaller devs BUT they still existed elsewhere. Not in the margins, just supporting other parts of the market. Be that mobile, casual whatever.

              The amount of people buying things here and the amount of money floating round was far from “the margins”, we’re just really good at discounting these people as existing when we look at videogames.

              It is true that PC dev was given over to AAA for a large part of its mainstream life though but even then, there was a vibrant and profitable shareware scene that outstripped AAA in terms of production and amount of developers working on things. There was a point around 5 years ago magazines were running coverdisks with 1,000 shareware titles on each month. Yeah, there was a lot of duplication but that’s a lot of videogames. And that’s without going into the large amount of people who produced freeware for much of the mainstream existence of PCs. I’ve been running a site that looks at just one small segment of that and whilst in our corner the number of games made has dried up, I’ve still got an archive of around 2 or 3 thousand games from 2000-around 2009, that’s not a lot but it’s a really small niche of games alone made by indies.

              I’d say you’re on historically dodgy ground here.

              “But the shift that’s occurred with the move to digital distribution and the consolidation of AAA has exploded the number of indie developers and made the positions of the majority of developers precarious. So looking at just the last few years is far too short-sighted, you miss out on all the actually new developments.”

              This is only a partial piece of the story. The main reason you’re seeing more indie developers now isn’t just down to dd or consolidation of AAA, it’s tech. It’s that the price of a PC is now “affordable” for a lot of people. The price of making a game is “affordable” for many people. It’s an access thing. There is now more access to tech. What this also means, which seems to get ignored for some reason, it’s not just the people who make videogames who have cheaper, more affordable access to tech. It’s the people who buy them too. The result of this? More people are making games, more people have devices that can run games. There’s no evidence of this flatlining any time soon so… figure, right?

              “Vogel just made the point that developers foolishly started to count on it being how it briefly was rather than how it now is”.

              See, I’m going to argue that’s Jeff strawmanning this entirely because I see a lot of developers, I see the odd glimpse of what goes on with bigger developers and there’s few people who really genuinely see Steam as doing the work for them. Maybe it happens but I’ve never once read “if we’re just on Steam, it’ll be alright” without that sort of clarification that where we are now is in a place where no matter what, people want Steam keys and oh, this is a complex thing all in and of itself.

              (I have seen quite a few developers shocked when the Steam sales multiplier does it’s thing but that’s kinda different, I think)

              Most of the big Steam hits have been massively publicised outside of Steam, be it on console, by their developers prior, Jeff has a multiyear legacy to draw on outside Steam himself. They’ve treated this as they did before Steam and as they will should the day Steam go boof. I know folks with games on Steam during this supposed golden period for everyone who are still waiting for this golden period to show up for them. They weren’t actually counting on it, they knew it wasn’t there. They knew Steam wasn’t a magic answer to anything. None of the super successful developers on Steam that I’m aware of have ever saw Steam as the magic golden ticket either, they’ve worked it elsewhere. At shows, in trailers, in the press, with consoles, with Youtubers and on.

              What people do know is that to do business on the PC in 2014, whether you like it or not, Steam is the largest player in that and it’s -harder- to make progress for a lot of developers without being on it. Not impossible, just harder. Which is importantly and fundamentally different to believing Steam is the answer.

              And, of course, developers always count on what they’ve got in front of them. It’s hard to predict where we’re going to be in one or two years. It’s why I’m always going to follow the Cliff route of advocating building buffers outside of stores, sell direct etc…

              “But the bigger issue is the flood of games, and this is absolutely something new and unprecedented. Vogel’s right – there’s supply without demand.”

              At any point in the past 30 years there has been an absolute unprecedented amount of games being made. The amount of people making games, the amount of people enabled to make games has been on an incline as time and technology makes this an easier, more affordable in the main task. It is -not- a new problem. We’ve been dealing with it for years, we’re always dealing with it and I’ve heard these same arguments a thousand times.. When Steam changed in 2010, these exact same conversations appeared and here we are, 4 years later still having the same one like some crazy disappointed doomsday cult. There is nothing I’ve seen that even suggests we’re at peak indie other than doommongering belief, there is no data to suggest we’re hitting a point where supply outstrips demand any more than it ever has. In fact, it points towards the absolute opposite. Does this mean the arse will never fall out of indie? Nope, we could all start making games people do not want at all and that’d screw it all but that’s the sort of thing it’s going to take. Whilst people are making good games that people want to play, people will buy them. It’s fine.

              Are people buying lots of games they don’t play? Yes they are. You know how many fucks I give about that? None. I’ve got more books than I’ve read. I’ve got more movies than I’ve seen. I still buy books, I still buy movies.There’s more music than I can ever humanly hope to listen to (or would want to as well) but I still buy new music. There isn’t a top out on this stuff where it’s now too many. This is a consumer society and we’re always being sold stuff and we’re always buying more stuff than we need. Yet people still support things they want to exist and buy them too. And that’s a thing that will happen as prices spread, as the market grows to include more people. It’s a natural consequence. Assuming that’s somehow the end waiting to catch up and bite people on the arse? No. That’s not how this works. Or it might. But if it does, the collapse will have come from spending squeezes elsewhere long before we get to that point. Or tech made inaccessible again, that could happen again, right? Who knows where we’ll be in a post net-neutrality world (should that happen) for one thing.

              As for the idea of there being no barriers? Well, come on now. That’s fundamentally rubbish. Sure, we don’t have to go to retail now but we’re a million miles away from anything close to open access. Even on the PC where anyone can make and publish a game, it doesn’t matter when no-one knows your game exists. As it ever was. There’s always been zero barrier access somehow, even if it was kinda erm “frowned upon” but we don’t speak about that either, right?

              I’m not strawmanning anything here, if anything, I want someone to come up to me right now with some numbers, some indication beyond this belief that things are going to be terrible for everyone and explain to me why now, why not at any other time in the whole history of games where we’ve faced these same problems, had these same arguments. Why now? And the best I get is “because there’s too many games now and…” and no. Come on now.

            • InternetBatman says:

              “Are people buying lots of games they don’t play? Yes they are. You know how many fucks I give about that? None. I’ve got more books than I’ve read. I’ve got more movies than I’ve seen. I still buy books, I still buy movies.There’s more music than I can ever humanly hope to listen to (or would want to as well) but I still buy new music. There isn’t a top out on this stuff where it’s now too many. This is a consumer society and we’re always being sold stuff and we’re always buying more stuff than we need.”

              And that doesn’t strike you as unsustainable? But the larger issue is this: people are shifting from buying games to buying games they want. That’s good for consumers (kind of), and bad for developers. It’s the same shift that you describe for other media. That behavior will adversely affect a lot of developers with or without gatekeepers.

              And your repeated attacks on Vogel’s piece as a self-interested way to discourage competition discredit your own argument more than his. For one thing, it doesn’t make sense. Jeff has one of the strongest presences outside of established distribution networks. For another, it’s a shitty way to argue; it’s a pretty flagrant and boring ad hominem.

            • RobF says:

              Do you know, I don’t know what’s going to be sustainable and what isn’t. I just know that we’re not about to enter some sort of dark ages and don’t believe there’s going to be a disaster on the horizon for everyone. At least, not in the way Jeff says.

              Maybe bundles will disappear one day, maybe they won’t. Maybe we’ll have to adjust how and when we discount games but we’ve been doing that anyway. Price fluctuations and changes happen all the time. For a brief period people thought launching low was smart, now they try not to. It’s funny like that. We’re always moving the goalposts of what’s needed to sell games. None of it is sustainable, I guess.

              There’s always been plenty of people who’ve bought more games than they’ll ever play, it’s just now more people can play at collecting games too because of the price variance. Yet offering that access is seen as a sign of the end times? Better they’re paying something than pirating them like they used to.

              The idea that people are shifting to some sort of picky (pickier?) scenario when it comes to buying games though?

              Lots of people buy games for lots of reasons. Call Of Duty sells in massive amounts because people want Call Of Duty. Indie games that sell large amounts sell in large amounts because people want to buy them. Deep discounts and bundles pick up stragglers, maybes or people who simply can’t afford to buy games full price or don’t want to. Day 1 sales are up year on year, preorders are increasing. The data points elsewhere!

              You absolutely cannot and will not make a living on deep discounts and bundles alone if you’re selling a videogame. OK, OK, maybe you can but that’s the really hard way to do it and you’ll probably make more money just going to work in McDonalds or something. I wouldn’t advise relying on it anyway. To get into the upper-hundles, you’re going to be already successful (at least currently) anyway! So someone has to buy your game full price in the first place for you to get there, right?

              The money might be down for lesser bundles but that’s more a sort of equalising. When they were a novelty, the sales rocketed. They’re not a novelty anymore and they’ve all found a certain level that rarely fluctuates now (non Hundles, obv).

              Yet! People are buying bundles in general far in excess of what they’ve done before, I don’t know for certain the make up of purchasers but I guess there’s still a fair split between people who buy them for one specific game or just to buy bundles. And anyway, the more prestigious games featured in a bundle, the more the bundle shifts. Sometimes. Cripes, look at the Humble Daily at the time of writing. It’s hardly top bonnet and has pulled in nearly 40k already and that’s more than an Indiegala, Groupees or Royale bundle will do over the course of a fortnight.

              Yer theory doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

              And your repeated attacks on Vogel’s piece as a self-interested way to discourage competition discredit your own argument more than his. For one thing, it doesn’t make sense. Jeff has one of the strongest presences outside of established distribution networks. For another, it’s a shitty way to argue; it’s a pretty flagrant and boring ad hominem.

              No, I’m not for a second suggesting he’s doing it to discourage competition. That’s stupid and not a thing I’ve said. I’m responding to Jeff’s version of how the story of indie has played out from 2008 to now (which in order to tell the story he is, erases largely important parts of the story like Valve not just handing out golden tickets but people having to fight for people like Jeff to be able to be on Steam) and his own given reasons for why he thinks the way he does about stuff.

              I’m saying that it’s no coincidence that he raises this issue just as the keys are about to be handed around because that’s how he can see the writing is on the wall for change. And yes, I do think this is also why he believes the changes are going to hit people hard because he can’t conceive of how things can carry on as they are with more people involved.

              What I’m arguing against is the idea that it’s a ruinous change, doom, gloom and the popping of a bubble. Because placed within any sort of historical context or put up against any of the data we have now about how and why games are selling and what we know/suspect Valves future intentions are, it’s crazytalk. But there’s this weird thing with videogames where everyone always wants to believe the end of something is round the corner, some sort of disaster. Be it no more bundles, deep discounts failing (WORST. STEAM. SALE. EVER. crowd failing to realise they’ve bought all the games they want so it’s not so special anymore despite an abundance of lowest prices ever whilst Valve find themselves with thousands of new Steam users just for the sales), the curious “we’re going to have another videogame crash!” mob and yes, the indie bubble a poppin’ mob.

              I’m also going to flat out say he’s wrong about why people want to be on Steam. They don’t want to be there because they want to emulate success, they want to be there because pretty much the majority of people who buy games want Steam keys for them. Painting that as wanting a golden ticket is hecka disingenuous. It’s pretty much the bare minimum people need now.

              We’ve got lots of problems now and we’ll have lots of new problems in next to no time, I’m sure. The imaginary indie bubble popping isn’t going to factor into that at all. Just things moving along as they always do and most developers barely scraping enough money to survive, which isn’t that different from now, right? Unless you really believe what Jeff says about Steam throwing money at everyone and anyone who’s on it, which if you do, I’ve got a bridge you might want to buy.

            • PikaBot says:

              And that doesn’t strike you as unsustainable?

              No more so than, say, consumer capitalism in general. And if that’s what we’re worries about, we have far more pressing concerns than the indie game market.

              Seriously though this is not a new phenomenon. Look around your house; hell, look around ANYBODY’S house. I guarantee you will find books, purchased with the full intention of reading, for which time was never found. Movies still in the shrinkwrap, completely untouched. Nobody even thinks twice about these consumer artifacts; after a certain point they become invisible, just part of the landscape. And this isn’t particularly sustainable or unsustainable. Ownership itself has it’s pleasure, and particularly for cheap products purchased on impulse, that often is enough to justify the purchase to us.

              Speaking of price, that’s why the 40% of unlaunched games scarequote, which is the only actual evidence Vogel presents at all, is a worthless figure. If that 40% is largely made up of games purchased for two dollars or less, and the remaining sixty percent is made up largely of games purchased for fifteen dollars or more, then who cares. All the number demonstrates is that people will buy cheap shit they don’t need on impulse. How revolutionary. It’s not like there are whole industries based around this principle or anything.

              This is the fundamental problem with Vogel’s writing. It’s not just that he’s pessimistic. It’s that he’s pessimistic without providing any reason for us to care about his pessimism. Being a guy who made some games we like does not actually make him an expert on economics or an authority on the current state of the indie market, and we ought not to treat his missives as though he was.

    7. Horg says:

      I watched the Starladder Lan finals that Julain Benson references. The atmosphere was strange to say the least. In previous years the event was packed out from day one, but this year the crowd was extremely sparse until the final day, despite the competition featuring a global line up for the first time. Na’vi, the home team and crowd favorites, were right off their game. They had made it to every Starladder final and won all but one, but this year it felt like they just didn’t show up. The English casters did a fine job, but there was a still the elephant in the room of the revolution, and watching them try and tip toe around current events was slightly awkward. It was, however, refreshing the see that when a Russian team (Empire) made the final against favorites LGD China, the crowd didn’t hold back cheering for the under dog despite the conflict. Despite all the turmoil, Starladder put on a good show and proved they have the knowledge and technical ability to host the biggest global DotA tournament outside of the international. Here’s hoping next year will be better for them.

      • Artiforg says:

        I thought it was DK that won Starladder against Empire this year, not LGD.

        • Horg says:

          They did, must have been a brainfart from watching the Chinese qualifiers.

    8. fish99 says:


    9. dE says:

      Let me add the Postmortem for Amnesia: A machine for pigs to your list of things to read on this sunday:
      link to

      I found it a quite interesting read, not least of all because I generally don’t get along too well with games from The Chinese Room, and likewise found myself disagreeing with not just some of their opinions about game mechanics, that were written in the postmortem. Regardless of my personal stance on it, it’s an interesting read into the minds of The Chinese Room and their unique approach to the sequel of an influental cult classic turned youtube phenomena videogame title.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        It’s already on the list.

        But yes, an interesting read.

        • dE says:

          What the… I think I checked several times. Guess my glasses need replacement.

    10. morningoil says:

      That Spectator article flagrantly equivocates between art and visual art (for want, culturally, of a better term). As such, it’s of little general application.

      Do people not receive a basic training in argumentation? You’d’ve thought a visual arts critic …


      • morningoil says:

        Also, wow, the hate on that DS2 article! Sure, it could’ve used a little buffing and primping, but it’s a fair reminder that Elitism is Good, ‘cos People are Idiots, and Mean-Spirited To Boot.

        • Casimir's Blake says:

          I would sooner recommend this video critique (not my own, but I broadly agree with it) over that inflammatory Forbes article.

          • PikaBot says:

            While I agree with some of the points he makes, there are others I disagree with quite strongly. Covenants, except perhaps Pilgrims of Dark, are quite well-explained before you join. The cat explains the Company of Champions, the Way of Blue, Blue Sentinels, and Brotherhood of Blood are all explained, and the Bell Keepers and Rat Servants don’t need explanation because the player has already been on the receiving end of those. Also, I found the recurrence of elements from Dark Souls to be one of the more interesting things about the game, and the cyclicality made the world of Dark Souls more interesting.

            He also greatly exaggerates the extent to which character goals are given purpose in DS1. Until you get the Lordvessel there’s absolutely no reason given for why you’re doing anything…and even then, it’s pretty vague. I’d actually forgotten about the Bells of Awakening by the time I made it past Quelagg, and didn’t remember until I’d already pulled the switch and started the bells ringing.

            • Geebs says:

              I’d never managed to finish DkS (got to four kings, died a lot, gave up), but after getting most of the way through an NG+ play through of DkS2 I though I’d give it another try.

              My immediate reaction to the intro movie was “holy shit, who are all these guys? Hey, there’s actually a plot going on here!”. I realised that, on my first attempt, I’d spent so much time slogging up that first hill to Undead Burg that even by the time I’d beaten the boss on the ramparts, I couldn’t remember why I was even there. Guess I must have gone hollow.

              (Btw the original article lists random features of the game and summarily calls them the ‘worst thing ever’ with no real reasoning supplied. Either the author is a moron or it’s a slightly amusing satire)

      • Nate says:

        Can you explain further? It seems as if the cachet that much entertainment longs for has its roots in visual art, even if that cachet has bled into some other fields (dance, music, theater).

        I thought the spectator piece was great– although it, like every similar piece I’ve read, seems to ignore how little consensus on “art” exists… Thankfully, it was ambiguous and meandering enough to get away with it. (A plus in my book.)

    11. AngelTear says:

      As an aside from my criticism of the DS2 article, here is an article about DS2 that I have found far more interesting and well-written.
      link to

    12. Koozer says:

      *cough* It’s just ‘Ukraine’ now. Be about your business.

    13. PikaBot says:

      Can we please stop featuring gloomy Jeff Vogel articles that feature not a shred of actual evidence to support any of his claims? Maybe he’s right but from his writing, we wouldn’t know it.

      • SuddenSight says:

        I second this. This is at least the second such article I’ve seen, and they are always overblown, even when he has a valid point somewhere within his nay-saying.

        • tormos says:

          Jeff is supporting a family on the earnings he gets from his indie game studio. Therefore it makes sense for him to be as pessimistic as reasonably possible about the prospects for the future (because he needs to make sure that even in the most pessimistic case his children still get to eat food). Therefore he publishes articles from a very obvious place of bias.

          • SuddenSight says:

            If the bias is so great, why not put it in the article? Something like, “I’m so worried about the future because I’m a parent and I must make the most pessimistic outlook possible?” If that’s the truth, and people without families to support don’t need to be so pessimistic, then it’s down right dishonest not to include it.

            But I don’t think that’s true. I think Jeff Vogel believes his views because that is how he sees the game market, family or no family. There’s a lot of people with families, and you don’t see hordes of people assuming the worst all the time. Even with a family, there is room for optimism and risk taking. I also think Jeff’s view of the games market is unnecessarily pessimistic.

            It makes me a bit sad, really. Jeff is an amazing games developer whose blog can give fantastic insight into the game development process. But so many of his articles conclude with “and then the games industry dies” that it’s hard to take a lot of it seriously anymore.

            • Malibu Stacey says:

              If the bias is so great, why not put it in the article? Something like, “I’m so worried about the future because I’m a parent and I must make the most pessimistic outlook possible?”

              Because it’s his own personal blog not the fucking 10 o’clock BBC News? It’s hosted on blogger & the URL is link to
              How much more obvious do you want it to be or do you expect everything you read on the internet to be 100% pure unfiltered Guardian level journalism?

    14. Chris D says:

      Probably most of you fine people know this already but, just in case, you’re life is not complete until you’ve watched the latest video from Shut up and Sit Down.

      link to

      It has all the drama of the classic RPS features Gameboys from Hell and the Neptune’s Pride Saga only in moving picture form. I’ve watched it three times already and will probably still watch it again.

      The boys play X-Com for real! (kinda).
      See how Brendan Caldwell wins a Nobel Prize for Engineering!
      Watch the start of Matt Lees inevitable rise to power!

    15. Baffle Mint says:

      On the Jeff Vogel/Rob Fearon stuff:

      Fearon’s responses here make a lot more sense than his blog post does.

      I have two problems with Vogel’s article:

      1. His “There are X gamers, with Y dollars” logic seems, well… wrong. Or at least potentially wrong; I don’t know from economics.

      But it assumes that there’s essentially one audience for games, and that every game is in competition with every other. That as an indie developer, what you’re doing is competing with other indies to get a piece of whatever cash the GTA V audience has left over after they’ve bought GTA V.

      I’m not really convinced that that’s true; certainly there’s going to be overlap, but I don’t see why somebody who really likes GTA is necessarily going to like Analogue: A Hate Story, or vice versa.

      I know that this exact mentality is the default for a lot of nerd industries; A friend working for a comics publisher has told me that pretty much all their business comes from people spending whatever they have left over after buying their monthly stock of Marvel and DC issues, and I’ve seen some articles on starting hobby shops which pretty much say “Your entire sales is going to come from Magic: The Gathering, D&D, and Pathfinder. You have room for maybe 1 other shelf of games in the back, and maybe you’ll sell one or two of them to a Magic player with some extra dough.”

      I wonder how much that mentality pervades less niche industries; Do production companies imagine that the latest Coen Brothers movie is getting whatever money people have left over after they’ve seen the latest Avengers Sequel?

      2. I don’t really see what anybody’s supposed to do about it? Certainly not me as a consumer. I mean, bottom line is I don’t like the AAA titles as much as I like the smaller indie games. I’ll probably pay more for the next Christine Love visual novel than I will for Watchdogs or whatever the next huge thing is.

      So a market that is saturated or near saturated with indie titles is good for me. Basically, it’s hard to see a problem with a slight over-supply of things I actually want.

      • Philomelle says:

        “I’ll probably pay more for the next Christine Love visual novel than I will for Watchdogs or whatever the next huge thing is.”

        But Christine Love is a big game with a lot of respect on the indie market. Vogel’s argument isn’t about her, it’s about all the new indie start-ups who are coming onto the market now, following in their footsteps as they hope to become the next Christine Love, Dave Gilbert, Jeff Vogel, Ed McMillen, Johnathan Blow, Winter Wolves and Klei Entertainment.

        But the thing is, they won’t. They’ve all piled onto Steam with this attitude in mind, they’re all in competition with each other and most of their projects have no personality or hooks. They’re just hasty attempts to jump in on the indie game boom because someone told them that’s where the fame and money are. And the thing is, 90% of them are going to fail loudly, painfully and quite possibly embarrassingly.

        And he’s right in the sense that too many of them blame Steam for their failure when the actual lesson they should be taking away from this is that it doesn’t matter how huge or popular indie games are right now, you still need to make a good game to sell it.

        • ffordesoon says:

          So people coming into a market with a get-rich-quick mentality and nothing much to bring to the table beyond that are going to find that the market is inhospitable to them? That making a puzzle-platformer about that time a girl you liked broke up with you is maybe not the best idea in a market chock-full of puzzle-platformers with similar stories that are way more interesting/polished than your little game? That there are only a few big winners, a few more devs who do alright for themselves, and a lot of losers?

          If that’s the case for the indie games market, then it is definitely a market.

        • Baffle Mint says:

          The thing is, that’s kind of been true for all entertainment media for pretty much the entire history of modern entertainment.

          Not everybody heading into Hollywood with stars in their eyes can make it big; that’s been a Hollywood cliche for as long as there has been a Hollywood. It’s not really a great argument that there is a “Hollywood Bubble” that will have to burst at some point.

          “Markets can’t keep expanding forever” and “There’s no magic ticket to success, just luck and hustle” are, well, always true. It’s not clear that they reflect much of anything about this particular market at this point in time.

      • SuddenSight says:

        This is the problem with entertainment as an industry. Supply and demand don’t work like the number crunchers want them to.

        The number of films I see in a year varies wildly depending on how much I want to see them, and whether my friends want to see them. Some years I don’t go to the theater at all. Two years ago I watch more than 10 films in the theater. If you are selling film A, my decision to see it is only loosely correlated with my decision to see film B. This is in contrast to buying milk, where I will always choose the cheapest brand whose name I trust, every time.

        However, there IS a correlation. I typically give myself a monthly allowance for video games. So at some point I do need to stop and say, “I’m not buying any more this month.” You can also see how developers releasing after certain large games, such as the GTA V launch, report weaker sales.

        But ultimately, looking at game sales as a closed system is a mistake. I don’t much care for Bejewled, for example. If Bejewled and Bejewled clones were the only things available I wouldn’t spend anything on video games at all. There are games that I love, however. I bought Transistor this month, even though I was already over my “games budget.”

        While there are market forces at work, and that can make life hard for developers, it is a mistake to view game sales as a closed system. Video games are a luxury item that people buy because they like them. If more good games are made, more total money will be spent. If shitty games are made, less total money will be spent. So in a sense, a good game will create it’s own space in the market, not simply “steal” it from other games.

    16. ffordesoon says:

      Every time I read or hear about a Michael Thomsen article, I grind my teeth. The guy is the closest thing to Armond White or Rex Reed there is in games criticism. Remember, this is the man who said Metroid Prime was the Citizen Kane of games because you could see Samus’ face in the visor and I’m not even fucking kidding. Or, if that’s not repulsive enough, you could look at this profile of David Cage wherein he all but gives Cage a tongue bath for elevating this poor broken medium to the level of High Art by employing Hollywood actors to make a much dumber version of Firestarter. And his reasoning in every single piece inevitably boils down to the same idiotic conclusion: this game is doing a thing that is a bit like the things a movie (or any medium which Thomsen is not implicitly ashamed to enjoy) would do, ergo it is a masterpiece on that level.

      (Well, that or its equally vapid mirror image, anyway. Said mirror image being: this game is just a videogame and not Important like all that High Art I studied, ergo I am ashamed of it and believe it is bad. His dismissal of the first Dark Souls, in which he argued that he played it for a hundred hours that would have been better spent with Important Works Of Genius Your Professors Might Test You On Later, is a prime example of the latter argument.)

      Sure, Thomsen is entitled to his dumb opinion, but why is anyone still paying attention to him? Look, I’m not going to begrudge anyone the ability to make a living writing what they write, but his body of work is like a parody of the worst excesses of games journalism. It’s exactly the sort of smug, self-satisfied, egotistical, look-ma-I-went-to-graduate-school pseudointellectual navel-gazing that writers of truly thoughtful pieces are always accused of pumping out by idiots whose nose wrinkles at the merest whiff of a style or a point beyond “How many graphics out of ten?”

      • SuddenSight says:

        Writers like him make me suspicious whenever anyone starts throwing quotes around. Which is sad, because there were some great thinkers in days past. But when *smart things* written about films or, god forbid, *psychoanalysis* (the most misused field of study ever) are being quoted in an attempt to give credence to a half-baked argument because the author couldn’t find a better way to justify their point, I start tuning them out. These days I tend to skip any paragraph that starts with a quote out of reflex, just to see if there is more to the article than a reliance on elitism to spook anyone trying to follow the argument.

    17. minstrelofmoria says:

      “Because what he failed to grasp is a fundamental thing about what we call art: that it’s not the medium of expression that makes something art, but the process of artistic production. A urinal isn’t art, but Duchamp’s Fountain is. And that’s because of the complex way that that work directly engaged and challenged the art world of which Duchamp was already a part and asked an audacious and profound question about the nature of art that has managed to reverberate down the decades.”

      Spec Ops: The Line. Boom.

      • Shieldmaiden says:

        That’s an interesting comparison. And equates CoD to a toilet, which scores bonus points.

    18. imhotep says:

      Dark Souls is a genuine gameplay and dark fantasy experience whereas other games offer little in terms of experience and only evoke shallow and often empty feelings of success. It cannot be compared or made a representative of common power fantasies, neither in gameplay nor style. This is what makes this game what it is. At worst it is (in a fitting way) monotonous and a matter of taste, but at least it is a positive impetus for gameplay in games. This guy doesn’t understand the first thing about gameplay and at best picked the wrong target by 180° for some ludicrous ideals which it seems can be more easily satisfied by the simplest advert exploitation than a meaty game.

    19. hprice says:

      Bubbles …

    20. Jalan says:

      Interesting, if not confusing at times, take on Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Interesting in that Frictional seemed to be cocking things up a lot more than TheChineseRoom has been unfairly criticized of being responsible for (though they do deserve some of the negative as well). The whole review copy going to a YouTube personality without TCR’s knowledge seems to run counterpoint to how Frictional’s intent with Soma is not to pander to the YouTube generation. So I wonder if they plan on dumping review copies off to key talking heads there for that one or not, this time making sure everyone keeps it quiet about how they’ve done it.

      So much of what’s been said of cut or re-worked material to accommodate engine and AI limitations makes me wish that at some future point a group of devoted modders might be able to work out something similar to Stalker: Lost Alpha that restores the game closer to what TheChineseRoom had envisioned before Frictional’s fiddling or vetoing or working within constraints of HPL2 allowed.

      I enjoyed the end result either way (blue fog and all) but so much of what’s mentioned just gets me wistful about what could have been.

    21. Ralphomon says:

      That Dark Souls 2 thing is pretty much the most pretentious thing I’ve ever read. “I spent 150 hours getting good at this video game and the only thing it taught me is how to be good at this video game! Also all video games are just maths!” Go back to Super Weenie Hut Jr, you hack.

      Also Thomas McMullan! I went to high school with that guy!