SimHQ: Most mainstream publishers have shied away from the costs of creating a realistic simulation. This has lead to an almost cottage industry of small development studios that create and distribute titles with a minimum of help from the old studios. Do the new crop of independent sim devs (SimBin, XSI, etc.) really see some advantages to lower overhead costs, etc. that will allow them to make an esoteric sim title and still see adequate profits?
David (Matrix Games): Once again going back to making a A product or a B product, there is plenty to be said from having a 1-3 man team with a short development cycle. So long as these new studios focus into a specific niche of adequate size they will realize adequate profits. Additionally moving away from retail may save these small companies, a sim that retails for 40 dollars will receive 90% profit margin in the online segment, which is much more than they would see in traditional retail. Combine that with the low cost of a small team, short timeline, and low cost development tools and you can see that there is no need to abide by the famed “30,000 retail units to turn a profit” mentality.
Martin (Battlefront): If you ask me, only if they find and embrace alternative distribution methods for their games at the same time. Reducing overhead costs is only one part of the equation. The other part is reaching a revenue level that compares to what other games in other genres achieve. And at the moment, the two are hopelessly disconnected. Until this changes, independent devs will still remain at the mercy of mainstream publishers, and will be bound by the same pressures and rules that make “esoteric” sim titles very unlikely.
Battlefront.com of course offers such an alternative to developers through our Internet direct sales approach. We still do retail, and it’s actually an important piece of the puzzle of course if you want to reach 6 and 7 digit revenues, but by having a direct outlet to the customer through our mail-order Internet sales, we are more free to do this on our terms — and therefore also more free to make the games that we want, and not that the retail chains want in order to increase the only thing they care about their “$ / square foot” calculations.
Rick (XSI): The breeding grounds are emerging for the smaller companies such as XSI. Many of these teams are born out of pure obsession with flight sims and only want to see this wonderful hobby flourish well into the future. They are passion driven groups of enthusiastic hobbyist from all over the planet guided by one single objective, and that is to see their wildest dreams come true. But we all know there are tremendous risks involved in pursuing the flight sim market, so very careful preparations and professional arrangements must be in place to help insure the success of the smaller daring energetic flight sim companies.
Chris (Lead Pursuit): If those developers produce a product which sells and is well received by the gaming media, then of course they’re successful. Supply and demand.
Nils (eSim Games): It’s possible, but no easy task. The question is, will we succeed in establishing some sort of an “Indie” developer scene for PC games like the music and film industry have seen for decades now. Will people accept (and by “accept” I mean “buy”) certain shortcomings if the strong points of an “indie sim” make it a great game to play? And which shortcomings would be acceptable — less eye candy, a reduced degree of technical fidelity, the absence of storytelling elements, longer development times, higher prices?
I’m not suggesting that those “indie” titles would suffer from ALL these handicaps. But I think that some consequences are inevitable, so the question is how many tries do we independent developers get before we find the quality/price-formula that people accept.
Julian (XSI): Publishers are going to follow the money, who can blame them? There is no doubt that the market for realistic simulations and even PC titles in general is very small in the overall scheme of things. I don’t think it is viable to create a simulation which will satisfy the “hard-core” crowd with the overheads and restrictions of a publisher under the “conventional” model. This has been the primary reason we decided to “go it alone” and create the simulator that we would like to fly, rather than create a product just to appeal to the average casual consumer who picks it up and throws it away after a month or two.
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Coming tomorrow in Part 3 of Developer’s Roundtable:
“Distribution — the ever changing methods of receiving games and selling games”