Ask the Chick (Issue #1)

So, I foolishly declared I’d post content every day at IGC in 2019. And then the bug zapper in my head went off for the first day in 2019. Yep.

But thankfully my fans were there to bail me out with a simple new feature: Ask the Chick. Where I’ll answer your gaming questions, indie or otherwise. And man, did they come through with some good ones. Like this one..

Basically, the new regime that took over Konami looked at their books for all outstanding projects and saw what Hideo was cooking up. It was Metal Gear Solid V (set to release very shortly when this all went down) and Silent Hills. Both were over-budget and behind schedule. So they looked into the books for the past few console generations and noticed all his games had gone over-budget. The Konami of old had essentially given him a blank-check to make games because he had a tendency to make hits. The new management didn’t give a fuck about any of that and decided they would hold him accountable to budgets for the first time in his career, and he didn’t like that.

You see, there’s this metric that many big businesses use called EBITDA. It stands for “Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization.” In layman’s terms: it’s the metric used to gauge how well an aspect or holding of a business performs. And many companies simply do not give a shit about anything BUT a holding’s EBITDA. If you looked at Hideo’s track record and saw one project after another going over-budget, some wildly over-budget, if you’re EBITDA-oriented, you’re going to shit in your pants a little. So the new regime basically said “you will stick to a budget or we will cancel your projects.” And he said “okay, fuck this, I’m out of here.” Had he not quit, he’d probably been fired or demoted and stripped of what control he did have over his projects if he had gone even a dime over-budget or fallen behind schedule.

Would *I* have done it? I don’t know how I would have handled it long-term. I personally see no problem holding someone to a budget. That’s what a responsible business does. That he had been in the industry for so long and had never once been held accountable for the budgets he should have been managing was straight-up irresponsible. Those in chargeΒ of him should never have let that go on as long as it did. I’ve always been of the belief that you can’t give a creative person a blank check. They’ll feed like a goldfish until they pop with it. Konami did with Kojima for decades, and sometimes that hurt them.

Having said that, if a person is used to one way of doing things for years, and that person is essentially the face of your company, the smart thing to do is EASE him into the new standard. Provide him with the tools and resources to become responsible for a budget. Kojima was loyal to the brand and so you give him a decade to adjust to the new reality. And then if it’s still not working, then you let him go for cause. I know people hate it when I talk about stuff like this and side with the companies, but sometimes you have to. Sometimes it’s the right call. Sometimes it’s the only call.

But short-term, you HAD to let him finish the shit he was already working on. Silent Hills was arguably the most-hyped Konami project since.. well.. probably since Metal Gear Solid way back on the original PlayStation. It was a sure-fire, can’t miss mega-hit in the making based on the buzz alone. Millions had already been spent on its production. And it probably had the most famous game teaser of all-time already creating a tsunami of anticipation. Letting that get cancelled.. even thinking about it.. given how far along it was, even if considerable delays were on tap, was stupid. If it had been a situation like Star Fox 2 or Mega Man Legends 3, where the game got shit-canned because they realized it wasn’t fun, that’d be one thing. But everything I’ve heard from insiders tells me this could have been an all-timer. It’s a shitty thing to have happened and it’s unreal that it played out the way it did. It was short-sighted and kind of power-trippy, and we all lost out because of it.

So, to answer your question: he was going to be held to a budget for the first time ever and didn’t like the idea of it. Konami was completely in the right to want to move in that direction but wrong in how they handled implementing it. I side with Kojima based on the fact that the most responsible thing for the company would have been to stay the course on the existing projects and begin the process of breaking him into working within a budget beginning with Survive, and they were unwilling to.

For many reasons..

-They’re direct competition. Let’s say an indie developer makes a free-to-play flash game with a popular IP that’s meaty, lengthy, and well produced. It’s a totally bullshit reason and I’ve never seen a shred of proof this has ever happened in the history of EVER, but it’s a stated reason. In theory, it might be harder to convince consumers aware of the game to buy future official installments of the franchise if there’s well made, free games that are so well done they could be mistaken as official games. Speaking of which..

-Sometimes they’re so well made that people could mistake them for official games by the company who owns the IP. This one is actually more valid than the idea of “competition” and is why you’ll see Paramount be very stingy with stuff like Star Trek Fan projects. Even with a disclaimer, it’s not kosher to make something so close to the authentic game that it creates market confusion as to whether or not it is an official release, free or not.

-The IP holders are responsible for maintaining the integrity of their characters. So if you have a game which features Mario doing unwholesome things, Nintendo aren’t being assholes by telling the creator to take it down. It’s their property. They have the right to tell you that.

I’ve played fan games that use popular IPs. Some of them are so well made that it breaks my heart because I know what’s eventually going to happen to them. Be smart, guys. Focus that talent on creating original characters and IPs of your own, and maybe you’ll find success instead of a giant foot coming down from the sky to squash you.

Are polygons? Pixel art is fine, and I’ve often told readers that authentic-feeling retro mimicry is harder to pull off than most people realize. I’d like to see devs take games in more original directions, but sometimes players do want a no-frills neo-retro platformer with authentic 8/16bit art. The only time I’m against it is when it’s used cynically, meaning it’s the hook of the game on its own. It’s true that it’s not special to have 80’s-looking games anymore, but I don’t get the outcry of “over-saturation” when it’s a form of art that’s quintessentially video-gamey. The same people complaining should actually take comfort in the fact that 10-year-olds today cherish games with that style of graphics in ways beyond ironically-so.

Well, I don’t think the platform people choose for #DiscoverIndies matters, and in fact we encourage people to use their personal favorite gaming platform’s marketplace because we want to maximize the potential for enjoyment. Just the process of browsing to choose your game should be enough to open any gamer’s eyes to just how vast the indie market is on each platform. This will be remembered as the Golden Age of Indie Gaming. We’re living in it right now. And this Friday, when gamers start to #DiscoverIndies, they’ll also discover just how many options there are they never knew existed. It’s exciting.

What is the hardest platform for indies? Steam. New games release on Steam at such a fast-paced clip that you could be knocked-off the first page of the new-release list within hours of your game’s debut. That first page used to be so important, and now it’s a crap shoot. A game would be lucky to be on it for 24 hours. I once heard that the average gamer spends 20 seconds on a Kickstarter game’s campaign page. Twenty seconds. I don’t have numbers for how long the average gamer browses marketplaces, but you probably have only a matter of seconds to get someone’s attention, and if your game releases at 10AM and is already on page four of the new releases by dinner time, you’re going to struggle. Steam needs reform. Desperately. And Nintendo should watch what’s happened to developers there, because by the middle of 2019, the Switch could be in such a position itself.

PROMOTE THEIR GAMES! Far too many developers rely on the hope that high-follower content creators will stumble upon their work. In seven years, I could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen that happen, and even then it might not make a difference. Once upon a time, I was considered a very big deal on the XBLIG scene, but I reviewed fantastic games and sang their praises at the top of my lungs and those devs still abandoned gaming because nobody bought their work.

Developers have got to be proactive in getting their games attention. “If you build it, they will come” is a shitty catchphrase from an overrated movie and not remotely based on reality. You have to seek out and find your audience. They’re unlikely to find you. There’s just too much competition, and you’re a needle in a haystack.

Developers can also oversell their games too much. Trailers should be under a minute and focus on the game’s unique gameplay mechanics. I can’t stress the “unique mechanics” part enough. They’re the selling point of your game. What makes you stand out in a very, very crowded field. Don’t hide it. Don’t be coy with it. Show it off, because without it you’ll just be one of thousands of nameless, faceless indies who never found their audiences.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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