Today’s Flea market purchase, I actually thought £20 was cheap.
When you take off your VR headset
When you take off your VR headset
Been enjoying MotorSport Manager on the Switch the last couple of days. Pretty good for holidays. 🏎 👾
Today’s Flea market purchase, I actually thought £20 was cheap.
Ok I want a Yellow Nintendo Switch lite. 👾
gif test 2 (letting MarsEdit adjust it)
July 2/3/4th 2019 - Games Design & Art BA Graduate Showcase Hoxton Arches, London, UK. winchester.games
A clip of some of the very nice comments about the programme my team and I run at Winchester School of Art. Here is Overcast link to Listen to the whole podcast 👍🎧
Oh my word !!! dctr.pro/2df
Panic + Teenage Engineering !
Me and some of the 2019 final year students. They started a fund raiser for the showcase events in London and Winchester. gofundme.com/checkpoin…
Our graduate showcase event in Winchester and London is coming up #checkpointsaved
This is part 3 of a 3 part blog, part 1 “Misunderstandings of the history of indie development and how the Rezzed panel sold short the significance of indie” can be read here.
Part 2 “Why indie is still important, developer’s motivations and the value of games education” can be read here
I fundamentally believe we need games that speak to and from a diverse audience and this means taking risks and making projects that do not consider the bottom line or return on investment as the primary motivator. Indie game making is not, as the Rezzed panel seemed to suggest, just to provide a route into the industry.
Games are huge. Games are the biggest entertainment medium on the planet. This provides a massive audience with diverse tastes. And this is a massive audience that can be spoken to. We see the systematic destruction of the planet, the rise in fear of ‘the other’ and communities breaking down. There is a power to be had in games as art, and games as social commentary, an opportunity to hold a mirror up to the world and see things differently.
Due to the popularity of Games they are in a unique position to do more than just entertain the 40 million plus players. Might this position be harnessed and become a force for good, a place for anyone to tell their story? Further, the creative thinking and the creative nature of games could be one of the puzzle pieces used to help solve some of the planet’s biggest problems to date: global warming and political unrest to name but two.
So, my call to action is that UKIE and the industry should do much more to encourage the truly creative side of games in the UK. The ‘indie’ panel discussion focus on skills, money, business planning and ‘what the ‘industry’ wants’ does little to encourage or ensure that there continues to be a diverse community of makers, lead not just by white men, money, and publishers that have “made it”.
We should note as well that the industry at one end has unstable employment, developer burn out and more games being made by contracting ‘teams’. While those making ‘indie’ games need to have a day job to support themselves and ensure they have the business acumen to go cap in hand to the publishers, who are not disposed to take risks. Where is the investment in new companies and creative start-ups?
There was some brief discussion on trickle down payment streaming services: making games that are twitchable or supporting games via services such as the Venture Capital (VC) backed Patreon. Although none of these options where discussed in much depth and the discussion was connected to looking at other industries that have seen change via digital disruption, specifically pointing to the music industry. The picture painted was that Games would move towards a market of the Beyoncé’s and the artists living off Bandcamp or subsidiary sales such as merchandise to sustain making ‘indie’ games. What a dividing and terrible situation. The Music industry is not in a good place. This is not a sustainable future I would want for games. So why not think differently? Why doesn’t UKIE lobby companies and governments to invest in these creative endeavours? The panel touched on mid-size companies folding or closing down and connected this to bad business, but I suspect this is a very simplistic view of the situation and again likely more related to demands for return on investment and VC exits.
Itch.io continues to be very interesting. Why not invest in a space for UK makers within itch.io? Perhaps UKIE already do? Why not look at the model of investment in the Arts in Canada? The UK games tax break is good, but the ability for only match funding schemes in the UK is very poor. A later panel on running a games studio asked for game makers to show products that shipped in their portfolios if they wanted to get selected to work on the contracted team within bigger products. How about supporting individuals to do this? That could be a very productive approach to ‘routes into the industry’.
Apple Arcade, for which I have positive thoughts, was also rolled out as one of the new Netflix style models for games. Yet all the companies showcased so far are well established and I do not yet see details of how Apple Arcade would support new initiatives. Will they still be left hidden in the ‘free to play’ wasteland? Have Apple hired a bunch of new individuals to even source and select great games? Should UKIE look for ways to support creatives to get onto this platform directly?
Sony have been incubating game teams and projects for decades and really understand games. Yet we don’t see Sony backing the types of risks much in recent years. E3 for example in the last 2-3 years in terms of showcasing small projects in the keynote has been particularly poor. A quick comparison of Sony over recent years shows a marked difference. Journey was delayed, over budget and yet Sony took the risk and kept faith in the team, adjusted schedules and injected money. No Man’s Sky, which is now winning awards and much delayed praise, was released - it appears - under pressure from Sony and in doing so damaged the team and the game. Yet it seems many of the things Sean Murray, owner of Hello Games, mentioned and was accused of tricking players into purchasing or over promising, now appear in the game after 2 more years of development. Hello Games have also announced a Hello Games Short.
A Hello Games Short. Like Pixar shorts it’s a way to foster creativity and new voices in the studio. We started by making Joe Danger, before No Man’s Sky, and we want to pay forward our success to give others the opportunity to do the same.
I would like to see more voices being fostered across the ‘industry’. Voices that understand the power of games as a medium for compassion, storytelling, empathy, understanding and as an art form. Then perhaps we can still wrestle back some of the potential of games without having to allow the marketeers and money makers to lead the way to Rockstars (no pun intended) and poor artists. The games industry could be better than this.
Indie games are not dead. I see Indie games as being a vital part of the games industry, the gamer community and society in general. Other funding models are out there, for example co-operative, open (source) business, ethical funding. They do exist and do work. Let’s see the ‘industry’ invest across the piece for both positive change and diversity as well as the next blockbuster hits. I call for Indie game makers to unite and ask the ‘industry’ to do more to support the wider field of game making.
I really feel the expert panel missed the opportunities to celebrate what UK indie was, is and will be. Their focus on the business aspects was poor and the advice didn’t come over as well informed to support indie making in the way that it could. I would like to see the UK industry and UK organisations support the potential for indie game making as expanding and advancing games as an art form and games as social commentary, alongside the more quirky and innovative side of games as entertainment and escapism. A missed opportunity to really open the lid on the broad reach of diverse game making. There was no indication that the focus on money, return on investment and some rather poor suggestions for choices of new business models could in fact really impact creativity within the field and something we should be aware of. Investment, nurture and risk taking is what has gotten the industry where it is now, let’s not lose that to the drum of neoliberal capitalism.
This is part 2 of a 3 part blog, part 1 “Misunderstandings of the history of indie development and how the Rezzed panel sold short the significance of indie” can be read here.
The Rezzed panel discussion highlighted to me a worrying parallel with the changes in the emergent UK indie scene and our present moment in the industry. The few games the panel held up as indie included The Cultist Simulator which cost £140k+ to produce and Monument Valley which had nearly £2million in initial investment. In a year in which UKIE released stats showing a record spend on games in the UK where is this money going? Where could a new game maker or makers get access to this type investment, if this is what’s needed to make any game for market? Thus, the discussion ended up revolving mainly around how even indie game makers must become business savvy.
The panel mentioned Unity 3d (2005) and Unity’s position and claim to have helped democratise game making - which I agree with. When Unity came out it was a moment when I also thought ‘Wow - this will be how creatives and artists could start to speak via games’, and they did. However, I have to note that at the time, most of the ‘industry’ laughed at the release during Apples WWDC in 2005. “You can’t make games on macOS” was the cry. And only a few years ago another educator tried to belittle me and our choice to use Unity as our main engine, when in general conversation they advised me “you know that’s not industry standard”. The thoughts of what education is for also echoed in my mind at this point and it’s certainly not to teach Unity or Unreal.
The Graveyard (Belgium, 2009) is a fantastic example of what Unity could and would go on to do. Yet how can the so-called budget requirements mentioned support ongoing democratisation?
In 2008 the UK based Media Molecule released Little Big Planet and Sony talked about Game 3.0. Games that would allow players to be creators; consumers could become creators. We are now closer than ever to realising Game 3.0. In fact, a decade later, a recent Edge (March 2018) article nodded towards this and got me excited again. But this can only happen if we encourage creatives to use these tools and not be concerned with the commercial potential of their ideas. It is clear that Media Molecules Dreams is this type of Game 3.0 tool.
I have since spoken to some of the Media Molecule team and asked directly about paid content creation, which although currently is not an option, it is something they have thought about and very much see the value of paying creators. So we as artists and designers need to push developers such as Media Molecule, to not take advantage of free content producers. Those companies that start to pioneer in this emerging Game 3.0 field will no doubt draw more talent to the industry, with possibly interesting and sustainable business models for content creators. I will touch on the concepts of monetisation the panel nodded towards in my third post, but you may have guessed I didn’t agree with the panel’s thoughts on parallels towards following the music industry.
Towards the end of the panel discussion, one piece of advice was to not waste money on a Games Development course at University, and the suggestion that you can learn Games Development via a Google search. The panel were heard to laugh in agreement at this statement. Now I am a huge advocate of open education resources and I once learnt how to fix a problem with part of my car on YouTube; however, that doesn’t make me a mechanic and I wouldn’t advocate all mechanics should learn their trade on YouTube. Throw-away comments such as these, and other concerning trends, see people like Peter Thiel offering $100k “to young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom”. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of education.
I believe each panel member had a degree, albeit not in games, so I must assume they do in fact value the usefulness of higher education. In view of this, perhaps the wording of the statement should have been more carefully selected, or otherwise qualified, rather than being diminishing and dismissive. The benefit of working cooperatively with educators is much more useful than bashing them. Universities offer much more than skills.
If we agree that the way to solve some of the most complex problems is through creative thinking, then I am confident Universities offer this space through a variety of subjects. And I happen to think Games is a very strong area in which to apply this type of thinking.
Young people need to build confidence, collaborative skills, design thinking and creative investigation in order to create exciting and innovative games, be that for entertainment or social good. They also need structure and deadlines, and you can’t learn that from YouTube. I am learning the Godot Game Engine via Youtube and some paid Kickstarter content however my process of thinking was transformed by Art School and I know this still positively affects me today. I don’t think I can put it better than Douglas Rushkoff did in a recent article so I am just going to quote from him here:
School (University) is a means of promoting not social control, or even productivity, but the higher value of learning itself. School (University) is less valuable for the information or skills transmitted than the mimesis — the live mirroring and modelling — through which students learn to think critically, develop rapport, and establish solidarity. School (University) is not directed at our utilitarian value, but our essential, intrinsic dignity. How profoundly sad it is that many of us think of a Harvard education more as a professional credential than a pinnacle of humanism.
A talk I attended later, from the designer of Knights and Bikes, was excellent and his Art School Education was clearly evident in the level of detail in the game and the way the game is likely to speak to players. His final slide of a death metal poster where one band clearly stood out was a call for game makers to be that band. To be different and to say something through games. The ‘indie’ panel discussion instead seemed focussed on playing it safe and balancing the cheque book. I believe strongly that this is likely to lead to uncreative and unimaginative games.
I fundamentally believe we need games that speak to and from a diverse audience and this means taking risks and making projects that do not consider the bottom line or return on investment as the primary motivator. Indie game making is not, as the panel seemed to suggest, just to provide a route into the industry.
In my final part I will discuss the real potential of indie games.
At the recent Rezzed games event in London, I attended an expert panel discussion on indie games. This blog was prompted by my strong reactions to, and critique of, the panel’s observations. It is in three parts.
Part 1: Misunderstandings of the history of indie development and how the Rezzed panel sold short the significance of indie games. (this post)
Part 2: Why indie development is still important, developer’s motivations and the value of games education. Read here
Part 3: Unlocking the huge potential of indie by challenging the attitudes of the industry. Read here
As background, I should declare my interest. I teach a progressive BA in Games Design & Art within an Art School, Winchester School of Art, which is part of the University of Southampton a research-led Russell Group University. I see the power of games to tell hidden stories, evoke emotions and build bridges for social good and as a strong future part of diverse game making. This might be through ‘serious games’ but more likely it will be through great game play and games that entertain as well as provide moments of thought and ponder. Games are an art form that can comment on society and fulfil the function of art. So, I hold games in a very high regard. I see the possibilities of these types of games coming from the ‘indie’ artists, makers and designers. In this 3-part blog, I will unpick these ideas further. Oh, and by way of a disclaimer, I have never worked in the games ‘industry’.
Prior to attending Rezzed I pointed out to my final year students that the Leftfield Collection space was the area to focus on. Although there would be other rooms devoted to ‘indie’, the Leftfield Collection would give them opportunities to speak directly to makers, not community managers or publishers. As a fan of ‘indie’ games, I was also pretty excited about the expo’s ‘30 years of indie’ talk, coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of UKIE (The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment). Rather than a conventional talk, it came in the format of a panel discussion that was recorded as a podcast (and can be heard here).
As the panel discussion drew to a close the question, I was formulating was something along the lines of:
At the start of this talk you alluded to the UK indie scene starting more than 30 years ago in the games of Matthew Smith and Jeff Minter. It is a fact that this type of game making and creativity was gone or pushed to the fringes when money, the marketeers and publishers took over. UKIE have just reported the biggest spend on video games in the UK and yet the titles you mentioned now as ‘indie’: Cultist, £140k to make; Monument Valley somewhere in the region of £2m to make. And thus, you laughingly suggest indie is dead. Instead, shouldn’t the ‘industry’ and UKIE look for ways to better support emerging talent and truly diversify game making?
Perhaps it’s a good thing that I didn’t get picked to ask my question as I’m not sure that, at the time, it would have fully conveyed my thoughts. Hopefully, with this 3 part blog, I can unpack more of my thoughts and try to consider alternative solutions to those the panel partially painted for emergent ‘indie’ game makers.
You will have gathered that I was pretty frustrated at the direction the panel took the discussion, but it solidified in my mind clear issues that could see the real growing demand for a diversity of games and game makers crushed by ‘the industry’.
Actually, I should probably start with a point from the panel which I agreed with. The term ‘indie’ is now problematic and not so relevant today within games. And yes, the term indie was likely connected to certain types of game making from around 2004 and was clearly appropriated from the music industry and the indie music scene which had seen a huge growth in the late nineties and early two thousands. ‘Indie’ games have been typically seen as falling into these concepts.
However, I believe the panel missed a key concern by not seeing a direct connection with the current situation and one that decimated the emergent UK ‘indie’ scene in the late 80s. The older games mentioned - Manic Miner (UK, 1983) and Hover Bovver (UK, 1983) - were followed by a limited number of later ‘indie’ game references, such as Fez (Canada, 2012) and Florence (Australia, 2018). Evidently, there was a decades-long time gap between the games the panel touched upon - something that seemed to go unnoticed.
It seemed that the vast majority of the discussion actually focused on the need to be business-savvy and to understand the commercial aspects of making games. The focus on return on investment was disheartening. While I’m confident that the lead designer of Florence, Ken Wong, is very business-savvy, his comments made after winning a BAFTA reveal his motives:
Amazing things can happen, my greatest hope by Florence winning awards, getting press, a getting good reception, I hope it encourages creators to strive for the same goals and tell their own stories (BAFTA , BBC Radio 5 interview)
In an MVC interview the Florence team also showed how they regularly discussed how film and books often explored love and human emotions, but that this was less explored within games and was something they wanted to tackle. The game wasn’t led by business motivations, but motivations to tell new stories.
With this in mind lets take a brief look at what the panel host stated as the start of the ‘indie’ games scene in the UK, the work of Mathew Smith and Jeff Minter. This start had a direct connection to the home computer scene: the home computer was between £125-£175 and Sir Clive Sinclair inventor of the Spectrum saw the power in getting computers into people’s homes. This was the start of democratisation of computing in the UK. The ZX Spectrum and the Commodore 64 lead the way in encouraging creative game making.
Manic Miner was one such game although the panel mistakenly connected its influence as a statement on the mining crisis and battle during the political reign of Margret Thatcher, something that still has ripple effects today. It was in fact Peter Harapp’s game Wanted: Monty Mole that took direct influence. However, the landscape Matthew Smith grew up in was one directly affected by the Miner strikes and creative work is always influenced by the climate it emerges from. Hover Bovver was a light hearted game, in what has become the traditional oddball humour of Jeff Minter. A simple maze game in which you have stolen a mower from your neighbour to cut your own grass with the opening theme a rendition of Greensleeves blasting out in pure chiptune style. This experimental bubble continued for a few years with many bedroom artists speaking through games. That is, until the money arrived and return on investment became a key concern. This decimated a large part of the creative side of the industry for years to come.
The discussion, I hoped, would have been a broader view of the background to, and history of, indie games in the UK. In my work, I give talks on various game and design histories to my students each year, one of which ends with the title of this blog and is about a history of ‘indie’ games. I attribute the history of indie and other areas as starting much earlier than many realise. Within video games I suggest it starts in the 1960s with the PDP1 and Spacewar! made by a handful of engineers at MIT. This type of innovation in the ‘indie’ space continues up until today. I thus feel I have a good level of understanding around the history of ‘indie’ games. I also grew up on the ZX Spectrum (with the rubber keys!), the Amstrad CPC and the Amiga 500 before going to Art School to study Animation. I am also a big fan of open education, Creative Commons, open source & free software alongside indie and alternative music.
In the next part of this blog, I will build on this understanding to argue that indie is still important, to argue that the value of games education was unfairly trivialised, and to consider developers motivations.
That scene in Wreak it Ralph (1) , The Matrix or just plain old edit mode in Media Molecules Dreams?!
Finally sat down to see a Dreams demo. It’s pretty mind blowing the power of this Game 3.0
I’ll be here all day Friday. 👍🕹