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"The independent game movement
is also a major new trend, moving the industry (finally) onto the Internet
for real, embracing digital distribution chains and unique gameplay."
– Raph Koster
The ability for developers to deliver their games directly into the hands of their audience is an enormous step forward in terms of efficiency. The resources required to distribute games over the internet are microscopic compared to the cost of pressing, packaging, and shipping physical copies of games to stores all over the world.
Throw technology like BitTorrent into the mix, let your fans
carry the weight and reduce your distribution cost to literally nil.
Red Orchestra is a World War II shooter that started off as an Unreal mod. After winning the "NVIDIA $1,000,000 Make Something Unreal contest" they were granted an official license of the unreal engine, and were set to find a way to distribute their game.
Tom Buscaglia, the lawyer helping the Red Orchestra team recounts, "There was a great deal of interest in the commercial version of the game from several publishers including Midway. And we worked for months trying to close a deal. But eventually it became apparent that even though the folks on the product acquisition side were very interested in the game, the marketing folks were not going to green light the deal because their retail buyers had not heard of the game and would not put in significant initial orders necessary to minimize their risk. So, no deal."
As a fluke, they got in contact with Valve, who had recently launched their own digital distribution service, Steam. The team figured that Valve would only be interested in Source Engine powered games, much less a WWII themed shooter that would directly compete with games in their own catalog. "To my surprise, the folks at Valve were not only interested, they were straightforward and easy to work with. A real pleasure. So, in short order we had our digital distribution deal in place."
Buscaglia adds, "Digital distribution means more ways to get your games directly to the players with as little 'middle man' action as possible. That has always been the great promise of the internet and it’s great news for developers. Heck, higher royalties, you get to keep your IP and direct access to your user base. It’s hard not to believe."
As any professional developer could tell you, getting a game onto closed game platforms can require a lot of resources. New digital platforms on consoles such as Xbox Live Arcade, which serve as more favorable outlet to less resource intensive games, still hold many of the downfalls of a closed platform.
Jeff Tunnell, a founder of Garage Games, the company behind the Live Arcade title Marble Blast Ultra states on his blog about Live Arcade game budgets, "The industry standard arms race will quickly make the top end $300,000 budget a cheap product. Right now, I wouldn’t consider attempting to make an XBLA game with a $100,000 budget. Development kits and Certification (QA testing) would eat up half of that, not leaving much for the actual game development." Jeff also adds that if current trends continue, "This will inflate rapidly".
Besides the rising costs associated by competing on a closed platform, there is the issue of your game fitting into the platform holder’s catalog. Jeff describes the situation as such, "slot approvals are getting hard to get. In fact, I liken XBLA360 slots to the 'Golden Ticket' in Willy Wonka. If you get one, you are set!"
By developing your games on open platforms like the computer or the web, the resources you would have spent fulfilling the requirements of a closed platform can be saved.