Free or paid?

Free or paid?

By Ste Pickford

May 3rd 2012 at 3:10PM

Ste Pickford believes Tiga's latest guide to self publishing, which costs £120, shows how far removed the industry is from its co-operative and collaborative roots

[This article was republished with permission from the Pickford Bros website]

Earlier this week my brother wrote a blog post about fairness in the video game business.

One part of his post talked about how supportive and helpful indie developers are to each other, freely swapping information, tips, even code itself.

It's always been this way in gamedev.

I remember when I first started working at Binary Design in the mid 1980s, making ZX Spectrum games.

One of the bosses there, Mike Webb (who was an ex Ocean programmer), had a bit of code to input user-defined keys for up / down / left / right and fire.

He gave that neat little routine to anyone writing a game on the Spectrum, saving them a day or so's work.

They passed that bit of code on to anyone else they knew writing Spectrum games, to the point where even years later, virtually every Spectrum game from Ocean, Elite, Mastertronic, Quicksilva, and dozens of other developers, were all using that same redefine keys routine. God knows how many games that bit of code appeared in. (You might even remember it - any game where you selected 'redefine keys' from the main menu, then were taken to a new screen where you were asked to press a key for up, down, left, right and fire, in that order, was probably using Mike's routine.)

These days swapping code is rarer as there are legal problems involved, but most devs would still give each other code if they knew they wouldn't get anyone into trouble, and if not code itself then they'll usually be more than happy to talk another dev at a rival studio through a problem they've already solved.

But more than swapping code, gamedevs are always ready to swap tips and advice with each other. Many of the smartest devs out there write in depth about their most recent projects, analysing what works and what went wrong, and share that infomation with the rest of the gamedev community on places like Gamasutra, #AltDevBlogADay, or their own websites and podcasts.

Get any bunch of gamedev studio heads in a room together and they'll start telling each other about their successes and failures, which clients are paying or not paying, who's going bust and should be avoided, or who's flush with cash and worth pitching to.

There's never any sense of competition between gamedevs, and they all want to help each other be more successful.

In fact, this is exactly how TIGA, the UK body claiming to represent the gamedev industry, started out.

A few devs were over on a government sponsored trade mission in Japan, including myself (when I ran a little studio called Zed Two) and guys from Blitz, Kuju, Climax, and a couple of others. We spent half a day together in the hotel bar, getting drunk and swapping gossip and business advice with each other.

It was so useful we all decided that we needed to do this more often, and that when we got back home we should form some kind of organised group for UK devs to come together and swap info like this on a regular basis.

My brother went to the proper UK kick-off meeting of what became TIGA a few months later, but by then the idea for the organisation had morphed into something more suited to the needs of the bigger UK studios (with membership fees designed to keep out bedroom coders, and 'founder member' benefits), and less about everyone swapping stories and gossip, so our then studio Zed Two declined to become a founder member.

We've been invited to join a few times since then, but after that kick off meeting I've never been sure that the organisation actually represents us as developers. TIGA has always lobbied the government for tax breaks for the UK games industry, which I'm somewhat ambivalent about (not just tax breaks themselves, but I'm uncomfortable about with the very concept of government lobbying), and their close connection to, and therefore legitimisation of, the controversial Train2Game organisation makes me slightly uncomfortable too.

The reason for this blog post is that TIGA have just announced the release of a Guide to Self Publishing, a subject close to my heart as one of the many small UK self-publishing indies. It's available free to members, but they're selling it to non-members for £120.

This struck me as really odd. Not only does everyone in the games industry share help and information freely already (and thanks to the internet that information is easily and instantly available), but the current trend in video game self publishing is for making our actual games themselves free to play!

Everything is free now, and we're all working out how to live with that.

It struck me as doubly odd as on the same day I got an email from gamesindustry.biz annouceing their "Podcast #5: How to be successful indie developer", where genuinely successful UK developers Peter Molyneux, Sean Murray, Henrique Olifiers and Tom Page offer their insights. For free of course.

So the organisation supposedly representing game developers, the very group that ideally would be at the centre of this free flow of information between the people who make free to play games and offer free help to each other, are charging £120 for a book of tips and advice.

Does TIGA exist to support the UK game development industry, or does it exist to support itself?