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The 'new-platform' model - an alternate path for indies

The 'new-platform' model - an alternate path for indies

October 20, 2014 | By Brandon Sheffield

October 20, 2014 | By Brandon Sheffield
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More: Console/PC, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Business/Marketing, GDC China

Road Not Taken was an unusual game for Spry Fox. The company usually makes free-to-play titles, and had early success with games for mobile devices like Triple Town.

But Spry Fox's entire model is built upon investing in new marketplaces, and Road Not Taken would be the first big console push for the company. That meant the game would be a big departure for the company, in multiple ways.

As Spry Fox designer Daniel Cook says in his talk during GDC China, "This is a huge, huge change for us. It's a pay-up-front business model, it's the PlayStation 4, we'd never built a game for that, and it's a very different marketing game as well."

So why invest in a new marketplace? "We look for opportunities," says Cook. "And when we see a business opportunity, we see if we have a game that slides into that slot. The game industry evolves so incredibly quickly that if you keep doing the same thing over and over you're going to get eaten alive. So we always have an antenna up, seeing if we have a new game to fit a new opportunity."

"We thrive in markets where there's weak competition," says Cook. "Weak markets, emerging markets, markets where people aren't there yet, we tend to do well in those types of markets."

"The game industry evolves so incredibly quickly that if you keep doing the same thing over and over you're going to get eaten alive."

Most indies don't follow this particular model, instead going where the biggest audiences are. But Spry Fox's model (which, as an aside, also mirrors my own company, Necrosoft), relies on building from small audiences. "Go to places where there's high platform support. If they're launching a new service, and they have the ability to promote us, we'll go there."

If the large audience eventually comes, you're already well positioned. Triple Town came out when there weren't a lot of free-to-play games, not a lot of competition, so they got featured nine times on the Android store, and several more on iOS.

"When you have a platform, it goes through a lifecycle," says Cook. At the beginning the platform owners are desperate to grow. So there are two phases to any business opportunity. "There's this investment phase where they're developers' best friends," he says. "They tell you, 'I'll give you money, I'll give you promotion, and I'll give you access.'"

"However, as soon as there's a decent number of game companies in that marketplace, it switches over, and it turns into an extraction mode," he says. "Then they start to say, 'Oh, game developers are a dime a dozen, we can just get money out of them.' So we try to get in and get out before there's too much trouble."

Though Road Not Taken was not a massive success financially, releasing the game early on PlayStation Plus ensured the game wasn't a failure. This "new platform model" is not without risk, of course - if you succeed, you'll succeed slowly, but if you fail, you'll fail fast.

Gamasutra and GDC China are sibling organizations under parent UBM Tech.

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