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150,000's a Crowd

Developers may wring their hands over visibility, but you can never have too much content.

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Image credit: Eurogamer, the trade arm of the Eurogamer Network, recently completed the next step in its evolution toward greater support for the videogames business with the implementation of a full registration system.

There has been much hand-wringing over the past few years about the idea of overcrowding on digital distribution platforms.

The theory goes something like this: since these platforms have, in theory, an infinite amount of shelf space and incredibly low barriers to entry, the volume of games being released on an ongoing basis will be impossible for consumers to keep up with - and that's even before taking the back catalogue into consideration.

The result? If we listen to some of the industry's prophets of doom (most recently, God of War creator David Jaffe at the DICE Summit), this oversaturation of new products will result in a lack of visibility for everyone involved, reduced average sales for the titles on the service and commercial failure all round. Or something along those lines, at least.

It's a compelling argument, on the surface, yet it's hard to escape the idea that it's also one which could only come from an established, successful developer.

It presupposes that the products worth actually caring about are those which would have sold a large number of copies in the first place, and that the proliferation of new, perhaps less "commercial" software is detracting from the visibility of those titles.

Consider this argument from the other side of the playing field. For small independent developers - often hobbyists or amateurs, or tiny teams of one to three people going it alone - there has always been a huge artificial barrier between their products and those of established studios.

The process of creating a game with enough content, high enough quality and sufficient marketing and distribution muscle behind it to get onto a console platform excluded all but a tiny minority of creators - and even today, PlayStation Network, WiiWare and Xbox Live Arcade are still walled gardens to some extent.

The result has been a market which was unnaturally difficult to break into - something which, ironically, was bemoaned for years by many of the same developers now fretting over visibility.

Analogies with the film business, where it's possible (albeit unlikely) for someone to pick up a camcorder and create a break-out hit like The Blair Witch Project, have floated around conferences like GDC for years. Now, digital distribution services such as the App Store and web technologies like Flash have brought a similar mentality to games, and many in the industry aren't sure how comfortable they are with it after all.

Yet for the creators of these small, perhaps "uncommercial" games, this is nothing but positive. From a position where they simply couldn't sell any games at all - or where they might be consigned to the murky world of PC shareware - they suddenly have the ability to release products into a commercial market, and notch up hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of sales. Small change for a professional studio - a vast opportunity for a creatively minded hobbyist.

From a position where they were simply told to stay the hell out of the pool, with high fences erected on all sides, these small developers are suddenly free to dive in - with the power to sink or swim resting in their own hands.

Of course, the vast majority will sink. That's only to be expected, and it's something of a red herring to hear industry types feigning concern for the fates of those games which simply sink without a trace on digital services. In every media sector, vastly more works are created than ever break even, with the huge number of dead products balanced out by the enormous profits created by the rare break-out hits.