Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

I don’t need a 2nd job, or heroin

There seems to have been a huge growth in two areas of game design in the last 5 years.

1) 2nd Job games.

Most people call them ‘MMOs’ , but the basic gameplay seems to be this: You start out at the bottom. You go to someone who stands there all day doing nothing who tells you to go kill 5 spiders. When you do that, he gives you a miniscule promotion, and then tells you to kill 10 spiders. Repeat until dead.

This sounds like some of the early office jobs I did, only rather than the spider-dude paying me at the end of each month, with an MMO, I pay for the priviledge of doing this job. No thanks.

2) Heroin

I’m lucky. I don’t get really addicted to farmville games, or flash MMOs. I know people VERY addicted to world of Warcraft or EVE. People who run online games who I know have tales of people spending $300+ a month on in-game items. Why? Because they are addicted.

Peoples’ brains are different. A BIG chunk of people have whatever neurotransmitter or collection of neurons it takes to get them totally hooked on games which keep you in a  tight feedback/reward/effort loop, ad finitum. A lot of big companies are tuned into this and boy do they exploit it. Keep them playing…Keep them playing… Spread out the gameplay, because the players time is considered worthless to them. Quantity, not Quality…

And we are only at the very early days of this. People have already shown adverts to people while they lie in MRI scanners to fine tune the ads to the way peoples emotions trigger. This will come for games, if it isn’t already being studied.

Luckily, I seem to be immune to 2) and I already have a job, so 1) doesn’t appeal to me. There are still fun games out there that I enjoy, but they are becoming an endangered species. Company of Heroes is now Company of Heroes online, because they want micro-transactions and the addictive push-button-get-banana gameplay that earns zynga so much money…

I see *why* gaming is going this way, I just feel left out and a bit saddened by it.

9 thoughts on I don’t need a 2nd job, or heroin

  1. I got briefly interested in the Facebook-style games, but then as soon as I figured out the basics, I got to thinking about how I would write it differently. And that… basically ruins the game for me and I go find something else to do.

    That and I honestly get bored without a plot or challenge.

  2. Hopefully there will always be a niche for developers who respect their players. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. The PC market isn’t “sexy” any more; everyone who wants to get rich quick has gone to iPhone and Facebook. More space for people like us, who love what we make.

  3. you’ve been through enough cycles of trends now cliff — don’t you think this is ultimately going to benefit you at the end of the day? as less and less game companies are doing what you are doing, doesn’t that free up more and more money in the wallets of people who *want* what you are doing?

  4. Cliff,

    This is not a lecture.

    Do not feel left out!

    Never feel like you’re missing out on something when that something involves being a chimp. Actually, chimps live more fruitful lives, but the type of person in question is no longer a “normal” human being. They are still human and still deserve to be treated like humans, but they have given in to a weakness, addiction, and disease on the same level as alcoholism and drug abuse. Your post was very much correct so do not look back and don’t even try to over analyze it. Making money because you can rip people off is not the way you want to make money whether people are willing to throw their money away or not. Remember that some of these dimly lit human beings also have families and in many cases __young children__ which they are neglecting and / or not caring for! Do not be one of those developers that sees nothing wrong with making a little money no matter the expense. Keep doing what you’re doing and try to be the best that you can. People will always respect that and the world needs more leaders than followers. We need guys like you and Jeff Vogel and (insert many veteran indie developers names here) to stay smart and stay aware of exactly why doing the wrong thing and making money in the wrong way is not in the best interest of your family, friends, and fans because they respect you and in a way that might not be readily apparent, they look up to you. Honor cannot be bought, but what makes it so valuable is that it cannot be sold – it is priceless – one can only make the choice to give it all up and once it’s gone it’s usually gone for good.

    You have good instincts and you know the difference between right and wrong. You’re resourceful enough to survive without taking advantage of others. This is why we need more Jeff Vogels’ and Cliff Harris’ and developers who provoke thought and awareness and who practice healthy business habits.

    Things may get worse before they get better, but they’ll eventually have to get better, otherwise we’re all doomed to neglecting our families and children.

    (I realize this is a strong response to what may have simply you pondering the current state of gaming and business in gaming – however I recently read a news article about a parent who neglected their baby for so long that the baby died of starvation simply because they couldn’t leave their precious game of World of Warcraft – this angered and saddened me when I read it, and it still angers me. People will say that this is a freak occurrence, but you already hit the nail on the head Cliff. Games are not life, they’re supposed to be an entertaining thing you can do in life, not something you use as an excuse to forget your real life. People need to know when the game ends and when life begins. Here’s a link to the articles: -and-

    Don’t doubt yourself or the work you do Cliff. – “No man is a failure who has friends”

  5. As a boy I was taught how noble is man with his many achievements. ‘We have defeated nature herself’ they told me. Predation no longer applies to us, we are free and unfettered by natural law. Except it was a lie. In the absence of outside predation we have created our own selection mechanisms: They are many and varied but foremost among them these days are the corporations with their many weapons including (but definitely not limited to) cheap addictive sweets and the online game. Those who can avoid the predators may lead happy lives of purpose and fulfillment, others won’t be so lucky.

  6. Okay, I get it, some people really don’t like MMOs, but why do such people always feel that the appropriate way to denigrate them is by insulting the quality of the game and by extension the intelligence of the player base.

  7. I’ll be frank. I am amazed by big-assed devs with ship-loads of money, who then either: A) Makes a boring, repetitive, EXPENSIVE game which somehow receives 99.99% scores, B) Hijacks (or, as they like to say, franchise) a good game series and then churns out games that are worse than the old one (ie Red Alert 3, C&C 4, Supreme Commander 2), or: C) Release half-finished games and have people buy ‘updates’.
    Nothing is MORE annoying than dumbing down an RTS game to suit console players.
    They don’t make games for fun any more. Just for money. It makes me sick to think that so many businesses involving creativity is heading down this bleak path.

    On the other hand, less well equipped devs and indies make fun games that are unique and, as an added bonus, they don’t cost an arm or leg. The best thing is that they listen to the gamers. They release updates that solves problems, not, in your words, “increase FPS by 1”.

    The only big dev I look up to nowadays in Valve, as they still release fun games and even offer a range of indies such as your GSB.

    So yeah. Believe in yourself and what you enjoy doing. Hopefully the work of indies such as yourself will revitalize this industry, which is clogged up with lazy fat cats (no offence to you furry companions) who churn out cloned and dumbed down games.

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