February 1st 2013

Game Changers: Chris Taylor

Game Changers: Chris Taylor

I’m excited to introduce a new feature at the Roberts Space Industries website: “Game Changers!“.  Informal discussions with well-known game developers to give everyone an insight into the developer perspective,  the things that excite or challenge and to talk a little about what they are up to.  An insider’s access to talented developers that have made games that both you and I love.

My sit down with Chris Taylor, located below, is the first of such pieces, and we shot it before Christmas before he launched his Wildman campaign. We talk about our shared history with Electronic Arts and Microsoft and Wildman.  He’s made many great games, such as Total Annihilation, Dungeon Siege and Supreme Commander and he never goes into something with less than 150% energy and enthusiasm.  

So why Kickstarter for Chris and myself?  

It really has to do with the publisher / developer relationship in today’s world. A publisher will say;

“Here’s $20M to make a game, I’ll own the intellectual property and you’ll have to pay me back that $20M from your royalties. Because I’m advancing you so much your royalty rate is going to be only 20% of the net revenue.”

What this means is that the publisher will be making money for a long time before a developer will ever see a penny of profit from their hard work. This model comes from the recording industry, where it works better because the recording cost of the album is a lot less than the cost of selling it. In the old days of game development, when games cost just your own time and could be made quickly the model worked. But as the cost of development has gone up the advantage has irrevocably shifted to the publisher. They still pay the same to market and publish the game as they always did, but the developer side of the cost equation has gone way up. Originally something like 80% of the cost of selling a game was in packaging, sales and marketing and only 20% or less was in development. But now the cost of development is more like 50-60% of the overall investment but the share the developer gets has not increased. So pretty much all independent developers end up being indentured servants to whichever publisher they are working for. They almost never make enough money from any game to become independent and so are completely dependent on development contracts. These development contracts tend to be so tight that there are not more than a few months of extra “burn” in the bank, so if you don’t land a new job pretty quickly, you are in trouble.  Which is why you’ve seen so many developers close over the past few years, especially as publishers have cut back on their external development to focus more and more on in-house sequels to “franchises” like Call of Duty, FIFA or Battlefield.  

This is why crowd funding and Kickstarter is so exciting for developers. Besides the awesomeness of connecting directly with people that love your games and engaging in a lot of fun conversations it allows you to free yourself from the shackles of working for a publisher. It takes the publisher out of the revenue chain, allowing the developer to keep more money, which in turn can be used to build a better game the way the community and the developer wants. No crazy notes from publishing executives that don’t play games, or marketing executives wanting to chase the fluffy unicorn of social.  That’s why I love crowd funding. I’m immensely grateful to all of you in allowing me to build Star Citizen free from the interference of a publisher. I will build a better game, and I game better tailored to what YOU want. Its why I try to support any of my peers in entering the wild and woolly world of crowd funding. I think it’s a huge boost for the future of game making.

I’ve known Chris for a long time and he’s one of the most straight shooting, forthcoming and funny people you will meet. He’s a genuine pleasure to be around and incredibly talented. Wildman, is about as far from a Space Sim as you can get, but if you’re a fan of any of Chris Taylor’s games I would encourage you to check it out, either on Kickstarter or on their dedicated site. Like Star Citizen, Wildman will build on the DNA of Taylor’s previous games, including both real time strategy and role playing elements in ways never before combined!

I’m backing!


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