In the last post, I wrote a bit about our goals for our first game, Alter/Ego. This time, I wanted to talk a little bit about personal motivation.
Why would we start a new company to make iOS games right now? It's a terrible time to be making iOS games. Getting someone to find a new app is nearly impossible. The games that are at the top of the "Top Grossing" lists are immovable juggernauts. The App Store is structured in a way where "winners win", and for someone who's not already "winning" it's a brutal, difficult place.
That's all true. There's no question it's a difficult landscape to be in. But there are a few reasons why we want to do this anyway.
- Making games is a great job. It's wonderful to work in a collaborative environment with artists and engineers and designers all working toward a single goal. It's creatively one of the most fulfilling and exciting things I've ever had the pleasure of doing, and I desperately want to keep doing it!
- The current crop of mobile games can't be the best mobile has to offer. I thought Clash of Clans was a really well-made, beautiful game. But it's also not even anywhere close to the top thousand games I've ever played. I don't love it. I respect it, sure. But I don't love it at all. I hate Candy Crush and its brutally exploitative monetization scheme. Squeezing money out of players is all anyone thinks about when you talk about mobile games among "real" game developers and that sucks. Mobile has so much to offer - technologically, it's far and away the fastest-evolving platform, and it enables so much more than what's currently out there.
The potential for innovation is enormous, and the thing is - NO game has entered the top 10 or become a lasting success by being a straight clone of an existing success. All the Clash clones failed. Candy Crush is still sitting pretty, and hasn't been displaced by a me-too game. And they won't be. Ever. They'll be displaced by something that doesn't look anything like them, that no one expected would knock them out.
So one of the reasons we're doing this is that we see a huge and untapped potential on mobile. The ability to make games that are surprising and delightful. And as we've talked about Alter/Ego with people, we almost never fail to elicit a moment when someone says, "Huh, that's ... interesting," and sees at least some of the potential that we do.
- The Free to Play business model is better than this. There's no question that "Free to Play" is here to stay. I have this potentially weird personal belief that the future of games depends on moral developers who love games building things that will beat the exploitative garbage that wears the Free to Play mantle today. That building games that people love, not games that they eventually hate will win the day.
F2P enables a lot of very, very interesting things. First, it enables a 100% different model of development - a much more iterative, experimental, riskier development model that can foster much more interesting games than a high-risk traditional model of game development. It also enables things that people love to continue being developed indefinitely. And a savvy developer can keep that game evolving over time to the point where over years, it evolves with players and keeps them engaged.
Instead of being about exploiting frustration and pain and misery, it can be about giving people things of lasting value that they treasure for much longer than the span of a single "Traditional" game. Look at Riot. Look at Blizzard. Look at Super Evil Megacorp. There are others fighting this fight, and I believe that it's a moral cause, because the future of gaming needs to belong to people who are building things that people love. The other side of that coin is that a service-based model enables a company to...
- Develop games in a better way. At my previous company, we focused on putting the team's needs at the forefront. A solid work-life balance was a huge priority, and when a difficult call was required, we always delayed features or redesigned them rather than crunch. The great thing is that mobile enables a radically new kind of development. You're no longer beholden to release dates, or massive updates, or giant marketing pushes. Instead, you can develop in a long-term sustainable way.
You can get off the crunch bandwagon. You can stop burnout. You can try risky, interesting things. You can revert them when they don't work. You can put the needs of the people who are developing the game first. You can incorporate player's feedback into the game extraordinarily quickly. You can create an environment where engagement, passion, hard work and creativity are rewarded instead of burned out.
One of the things that is why I get up in the morning and want to come to work is that I deeply believe that our previous success was driven by our focus on putting the needs of the team before the needs of the company. That investing time and energy and money into the people mattered. That the love and commitment and passion and engagement that that enabled were critical to the quality and craft of our games, and that this was obvious to the people who played the games. That it helped us build things that were better than our competition, and that we moved faster and were more creative because the people on the team were well-rested, highly engaged, extremely happy and loved what they did every day they did it.
A lot of game development is luck, and circumstance, and timing. Success isn't based purely on merit, and anyone who thinks otherwise is out of their minds. But we succeeded, creating one of the most successful apps of all time, and the longest-lived top-grossing game on iOS. In my view, the reason we were able to do that was because we put the team first. Because we cared deeply about the people and put our money where our mouth was, to treat them right and foster their long-term careers.
One of the things I regret the most about that is that even though we had this massive success and we did things differently than any other company I'm aware of, the game industry still chugs along as it always has. Crunch is still rampant. Release dates still drive almost everything. There are still "product people". We succeeded, but we didn't change anything.
This time around, I want to prove that it wasn't a fluke. I want to show that there's a direct connection between building a team that loves what it does and building a culture and a company that support that in a real, honest way. I want to make it blindingly obvious to everyone that this is how it should be done, because it is the best driver of massive success and you'd be stupid not to do it. Because I think that's the future of games we want to build. It's the only future of games worth having.