[In this article, originally published in the October 2011 issue of Game Developer magazine, editor in chief Brandon Sheffield selects 20 different things that have changed the course of the game industry -- be they companies, technologies, or anything else.]
We work in a rapidly-changing creative industry, where trends can rise and fall inside of a year, or move on to become new standards that all shall follow. This kind of rapid growth and change doesn't come from nowhere, though.
There are catalysts to every big industry shift. Where would we be without the business and game architecture of Doom? If Facebook hadn't come along, would we be employing thousands of people for MySpace games? What about Unity, or Unreal Engine 3?
We've decided to drill down and look at some of the recent concepts, games, companies, and services that are changing the game industry, for better or for worse. Now let's all get out there and keep changing things for the better!
Much has been said about Mojang and its monster hit Minecraft. At over 4 million paid accounts and 16 million users total, the game is a massive financial and critical success. It takes the concept of user-created content to new extremes, making the gameplay and the creation one and the same.
But the reason Mojang makes our list is not just the money. Any company can make money with underhanded tactics -- but Mojang has done so with absolute transparency.
For one thing, it proved the viability of the "pay at alpha" model of self-funding. Companies have tried it before, and others have done it since, but Minecraft wrote the book on the concept. Essentially, let people pay for something they like as early as possible -- but make sure you keep supporting them, fixing bugs, listening to your audience, and being as honest with them as you can.
Minecraft creator Markus Persson makes most of his announcements to Twitter rather than through press releases, and does his best to answer most emails and comments directly (though that's impossible with 10 million users), which puts Mojang at the forefront of not company messaging as well.
On top of that, as the company gets sued by Bethesda for using Scrolls as the title of its upcoming game (Bethesda thinks Mojang's Scrolls sounds too much like its own The Elder Scrolls), Mojang is turning a blind eye to the blatant copies of its game that have cropped up on XBLIG and PC, some of which have made over $1 million.
Mojang should be changing the way companies think about the game business. The Swedish company proves you can be honest, transparent, and responsive to your fans, and still make a massive profit.
Kickstarter is likely universally-known by readers of Game Developer and Gamasutra, but on the off chance there's someone among us who's unaware, Kickstarter is a company that takes donations on behalf of a fledgling (or finishing) project, offering incentives for buyers, and general goodwill for the company that needs a boost. Though Kickstarter is certainly not the only game in town, it is the largest, and has funded the most successful game projects to date.
Kickstarter takes a small cut of the donations (5 percent - Amazon takes another 3 to 5 percent for use of its payment service), but this is a small price to pay for a company looking for funding.
Most of these groups wouldn't get anything otherwise, and the crowdfunding model has turned out to be a big deal for the indie game community in particular. Games like Cthulu Saves the World and Blade Symphony got their funding from Kickstarter, and Octodad got a sequel due to its successful campaign on the service.
The great thing about crowdfunding versus getting funds from publishers or angel investors is that Kickstarter owns no part of submitted projects, and (for better or for worse) does not hold them accountable for their successful completion.
Most successful projects seem to be nudges to completion rather than actual kick-starts, but a publisher-free funding model is a blessing to any independent game developer, and Kickstarter is currently the leading way to make that happen.
Gameloft splits its time between making mobile versions of licensed game properties, like Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell, original titles like Asphalt, and blatantly "similar" titles to popular games like Uncharted and Pokémon.
For better or for worse, Gameloft has pushed the envelope when it comes to making games that draw on the success of other titles. The company makes entirely competent, great-looking games for mobile devices (and occasionally consoles) that leave absolutely no question as to their origin.
N.O.V.A.'s enemy, weapon, and environmental designs look suspiciously like those from Halo. Shadow Guardian borrows themes and gameplay elements from Uncharted. Crystal Monsters uses the themes, gameplay, and even battle perspectives from Pokémon. Eternal Legacy calls to mind Final Fantasy XIII. StarFront: Collision does not hide its StarCraft allusions. You don't have to stretch your brain very much to see the "similarities."
Left, Crystal Monsters. Right, Pokémon Black
Now, this isn't stealing, but it is a case of extreme influence. As battles around IP and gameplay concepts rage, Gameloft's studios have managed to consistently skirt the issue. And it seems to be working for the company, because whenever someone like Naughty Dog or Nintendo doesn't release a game for iOS, Gameloft is there to pick up the slack, and make a decent quality game that scratches a similar itch.
While one certainly wonders what the company's design meetings are like, there's no question that Gameloft is changing the business. This is especially interesting when you get to companies like Nintendo, which says it will never release a game on iOS. Gameloft is forcing companies to think about their mobile strategies a bit earlier, before Gameloft decides to think of it for them.