You work on a game for one, two years; ship time comes and it's out of your hands. But the online model - releasing early and evolving based on feedback - could have a place in our industry, say GarageGames CEO Josh Williams and GG Networks general manager Andy Yang...
Do InstantAction games have to be developed with the Torque engine?
Williams: No, it's completely engine agnostic. You can build games on any technology or any engine - it's not tied to Torque at all. You can certainly use Torque, and that's a pretty good option for games of this sort of scale - but we have a couple of games in the pipeline that are Unreal Engine based, we have a bunch of developers using their own technology. Originally we thought that the only way to do it would be to have a custom version of Torque, but then we figured out a way that any sort of game can run inside this harness.
So you feel that InstantAction offers new opportunities to developers as well as players?
Williams: It's a really interesting opportunity because business-wise there's much more potential on the web. You're leveraging basically the largest game digital distribution platform in the world - PCs connected to the web - and so the potential numbers are orders of magnitude bigger than any console. And being online is just a smarter way to make games - you can start out with something that's quite low-risk, a fairly small tight experience, and then launch it and find your audience.
But then you can grow it with your community, with your players, which just lowers the risk all the way along. Plus, when you're actually selling the game there's all sorts of ways of making money - you can be free-to-play and then sell add on content, or sell services or whatever. You can be really creative in terms of business models, which is a really cool little creative challenge that I think developers will find interesting.
And of course, being online, you've got a direct connection to your audience too, which is something you just don't get at retail. With this, you can talk directly with players and listen to exactly what they want. Plus, we do a lot of metrics and analysis on the back-end so we can show you things like 'this is how many people are playing this level, this is the percentage of people who are completing it, they're being turned on or off by this level, people who play this level are recommending the game to this many friends' - which means you can really tune your game over time too. When you start thinking about it and adding all that stuff up it's a great opportunity for developers.
Yang: It's important to see that there are two parts of the vision. It goes back to GarageGames' original tag line - 'Changing the way games are made and played' - so here we're changing the way you play games in a browser and connect to people socially really easily, but on the development side it's about taking a more web development type mentality to game development, which is about getting it out there.
What aspects of web development could be transferred across to games?
Yang: Think about the biggest successes on the web - Yahoo, Google - they all started with something really simple and expanded it over time, they really let their users tell them what was and what wasn't working, and shaped the product like that. You start with something very simple and very compelling, and it's easy to expand on that.
You can do that with games, you can focus on the core gameplay of the game first and make it really compelling and then just grow it along the way. It lowers risk, it leads to more innovative things, and this is good for gamers too because they get developers that are continuing to invest in the game over time. That's the selfish bit of why we did InstantAction - because we want better games to play!
Williams: Another thing to point out is that a lot of the problems that developers and publishers have with the PC is piracy. But the InstantAction model is piracy-free - you have to connect, play with other people. It's almost impossible to pirate. If you did pirate it, you wouldn't be able to play with other people, get your stats tracked, get additional content. It'd be like pirating an MMO. But I'm not sure if piracy is what really has caused problems in the PC market - I think it's more that the games are out of whack or not as innovative as they used to be.
So keeping developers in mind was the idea from the start?
Williams: Yeah, and that's smart, right? I mean, if developers are making better games, then gamers are getting good games. So then there's more gamers, which makes a bigger audience for developers - it's sort of a virtuous circle.
Is this something that's been shaped by your previous dealings with developers?
Williams: Absolutely, yes. That's kind of our background - making games ourselves rather than just being some random web company. We've seen tons of developers in the past struggle to sell their games, so that definitely helped us forge the idea for something like this.
Yang: I think that GarageGames has developed a huge amount of credibility with game developers in its six or seven years, you know. We're trying to fight the good fight, giving developers the tools they need to make games at a low cost. It's something that's really in the philosophy of the company.