Sometimes, the future creeps up when we're not looking. Part of me wonders whether this will be part of it. Channel 4, after some impressive successes with webgames like the Bafta Award Winning Bow Street Runner and the Tim Stone admiration winning 1066 have decided to spend a load more on making games, reports Develop. Key quote...
The move is part of a £4.5m fund – half of which is finding its way to UK independent companies such as Tuna Technologies, Beatnik Games, Zombie Cow Studios, Six to Start, Preloaded and Littleloud to fund projects up to £800,000 in size.
Go read the rest of the interview with Alice Taylor to see the full story. Some thoughts and noting of conflict of interest follow...
Developers talk about alternative funding models for games a lot. Well, this is an interesting one, innit? We've talked about advertising supported games, but avoiding doing it yourself and others commissioning you with an eye with making the money off the advertising back end. It's how brodcast has always worked and - frankly - a small indie game is cheap compared to television. Jonathan Blow uses $200,000 as the amount he took to develop Braid, which caused people to raise their eyebrows. Compared to television, that's pretty small fry and a web game audience can be enormous. And webgames sophistication are rising all the time. I'd recommend you have a look at the several year old Bow Street Runner to see what you can do when you throw a budget at a flashgame. As far as I'm concerned, that's aesthetically at least on par with pretty much any adventure game that's been doing the rounds.
(Hell, with someone like Zombie Cow, the punk rock aesthetics were at least part of the point. But wonder what they could do with even a little bit more of a budget...)
I've mentioned this above, but worth noting the conflict of interest. I'm writing a game for Brighton's Littleloud - the developers of the aforementioned Bow Street Runner - with a civil liberties theme. That said, this is the first I heard about the full range of what Channel 4 was up to - though I had a few hints when talking to Indie Devs in the pub last week. I'm just interested what this turns up. It's a fascinating opportunity.
It also makes me think off at a different angle. Everyone's been talking about episodic games for most of the 00s. In fact, we've reached the point where people have started talking about why episodic games haven't took off. Well, a theory struck me. Periodic entertainment... well, look where it's really taken off. It's television. The idea of a (primarily) advertising supported game development, creating smaller chunks of entertainment for a wider audience... well, that makes sense to me. Bow Street Runner was a short series of 20-minute adventure games. Microadventures, and aimed and conceived as that. It makes almost too much sense for the episodic model to be approached from a different direction from traditional games development - because for its entire history trad games development's natural urge has to be expand rather than contract. And, fundamentally, since the games are free, treating them as a tiny episodic experiences allows you to sidestep the expectations of the mainstream industry.
Sorry. This is flying off in different directions, which should give you an idea of how ripe with possibility this is. Does this excite or worry you? What do you think will happen? Is this a small passing innovation or the start of something a lot more commissioning agencies are going to pursue (i.e. Commissioning something more than just a junk webgame)? Broadcast!