Game devs ditching mobile in favor of PC, console?

“I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole” – we chat with several devs about the challenging mobile market.

The mobile and tablet market has grown tremendously in the last several years. The number of apps on Apple’s App Store and Google Play is downright mind boggling, and if you’re an app developer… well, best of luck to you. As the new survey from App Developer Conference organizers revealed this week, piracy and discoverability are making it incredibly hard to succeed. Nearly half of the app developers surveyed made no profit at all.

So the question has to be asked: after years of flocking to mobile, are developers actually retreating to the PC and console space? Devs GamesIndustry International spoke with were torn on this, but none would deny the massive challenges of developing apps today.

“I speak with lots of mobile devs regularly and most are moving away or at least thinking of it, either to other platforms or out of the trade completely,” Paul Johnson, managing director and co-founder of Rubicon, told us. “Having to give your game away for 69 cents a throw (after Apple’s and Google’s cut) and then competing with 1000 new apps each day is hardly a draw for anybody. We’ve reached a point now where even those slow on the uptake have realized the goldrush is over. It’s actually been over for a few years.”

Jeffrey Lim, producer, Wicked Dog Games, agreed: “The mobile space offers certain advantages, like having the largest customer base and relatively low development costs. However, there’s no doubt it is getting harder to be profitable with the ongoing piracy and discoverability issues.”

“We do think developers (especially indies) are considering going back to develop for the PC – and even game consoles”

Jeffrey Lim

“So yes, we do think developers (especially indies) are considering going back to develop for the PC – and even game consoles. The cost of self-publishing on these platforms has dropped significantly, and console makers are also making their platforms more indie-friendly now,” he added, alluding to efforts on next-gen systems like Sony’s PS4.

Chillingo COO Ed Rumley isn’t quite of the same mind as Johnson and Lim, but as a publisher, Chillingo has noticed that too many developers simply are failing to make high quality games, so it’s no wonder that their titles are being ignored.

“The number of games being submitted is growing, as is the number of developers contacting us. I’m not sure if some are being scared away, but we know from experience that some developers underestimate the time and quality it takes to make it in mobile now. Consumers are a savvy bunch and spot second rate games a mile off. You can’t just knock something together in your spare time, upload it and wait for the money to roll in anymore,” he warned.

Michael Schade, CEO, Fishlabs Entertainment, acknowledged the big challenge in mobile, but he doesn’t think developers are going to have to look elsewhere.

“Sure, mobile’s not an easy market to breach into, but then again, which market really is? No matter what business you’re in or what product you’re trying to sell, you’ll always have to work hard to gain your ground and make a name for yourself,” he noted. “So that alone shouldn’t scare you away from mobile, especially when you keep in mind that no other platform in the history of digital entertainment has ever evolved faster and born more potential than mobile! With more than a billion smart connected devices in use and hardware capabilities on par with current-gen gaming consoles, today’s smartphones and tablets constitute by far the most widespread, frequently used and innovative gaming platform the world has ever seen.”

Schade also remarked that the last few years of veteran developers getting into the mobile scene has made things more difficult. “The fact that more and more established PC and console veterans open new mobile gaming studios and more and more traditional publishers port their titles to iOS and Android, doesn’t make it easier for one particular company or product to stick out. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it clearly shows that the trend goes towards mobile, rather than away from it,” he said.

For every developer we spoke with, the discoverability issue reared its ugly head. There’s no doubt that this is a major concern. While building a high quality game can help, it’s simply not enough. In the world of apps, you cannot let the game do the talking for you.

“I think many developers have the misconception that it’s simply enough to release the game and let it speak for itself. They underestimate the importance of a marketing/PR campaign leading up to the game’s launch,” Lim stressed. “As a result their games fail commercially; not because of the quality, but due to lack of visibility. Hence the marketing/PR campaign should be seen as an integral part of the game’s development. An appropriate portion of the overall budget and effort should be allocated to increasing the game’s visibility, and if developers do not have the experience or time in marketing/PR they should consider hiring professionals in this area to lend a hand.”

Gree vice president of marketing Sho Masuda concurred that marketing is becoming crucial to mobile success. “They have to spend more time thinking about marketing and post-launch efforts in addition to building the the games. Fortunately, there are a lot of tools and services available for devs of all sizes to ensure that they can get the direction and support they need in these areas. Additionally, the mobile dev community is a very, very tight knit community and there is an amazing level of information sharing and support,” he said. “We encourage mobile devs of all sizes to talk to their peers, take advantage of all the meet-ups and events, and get to know all the services available to help get eyeballs on their games.”

A number of devs also believe that platform holders have a larger responsibility that they’ve been shirking so far. “For platform holders (e.g. Apple’s App Store), they can start to curate apps released on their store because there are too many clones of existing games that are taking up the traffic. They could attempt something like Steam Greenlight; although it is still an imperfect system, it’s better than not having any curation at all,” Lim commented.

Paul Johnson agreed, telling us that he’d really like platform holders to have a much more active role, as the discoverability issue has “about reached terminal” for unknown devs.

“If Apple don’t pick your game out for a feature, and you can’t drum up enough interest before launch yourself, then I’d say you’re pretty much screwed. It doesn’t matter how good your game is if nobody ever sees it and downloads it. They can’t tell their friends about something they themselves don’t know about!” he stated.

If Apple spotlights your game, you’re golden

“The only thing I think the platform holders could do to help is stop allowing crap to be released. There’s only so much space for features and the end users only have so much effort in them to look under all the categories all the time, so I really don’t think adding more of them would help much. Maybe more apps for shorter times, but this is all a drop in the ocean really.”

“The one thing I’ve come up with that would make a real difference is for the platform owners to charge five grand for a developer license. All the utter crap would disappear and there’d be less apps fighting for space,” he continued. “And the end-users wouldn’t have to waste time downloading the crap as nobody who makes stuff they don’t believe in would dream of fronting that license fee. It’s Draconian but it’s really the only thing I can see having any noticeable effect. Anything else is just lip service.”

Discoverability issues aside, another major – and possibly growing – problem for devs to contend with is piracy. The App Developer Conference survey showed that 26 percent of devs had their apps pirated and a similar amount even had in-app purchases stolen.

James Vaughan told us, “Plague Inc. has a piracy rate of about 30-35 percent, which equals millions and millions of copies, but I don’t consider piracy to be a problem; it is simply a fact of life and I don’t get too worked up about it. Piracy is a byproduct of success and I choose to focus on the success which has resulted in piracy rather than the piracy itself. (The best way to stop your game from being pirated is to make a crap game!) I focus on continually improving and updating Plague Inc. which makes the game even more valuable to the people who have brought it (and encourages pirates to buy it as well).”

For those devs who actually do lose sleep over piracy, there are some ways to combat it, Lim said.

“If I was starting again now from a blank slate, without an existing fan base, I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole”

Paul Johnson

“There’s no question that piracy is prevalent, and I think it will continue to be so for a long time to come. In fact, with high-speed Internet access and the wide spread use of file-sharing software nowadays I think this problem is going to get worse,” he observed.

“The first way to deal with piracy is to implement the appropriate business model, and I think free-to-download with micro-transactions is the right way to go. Making the game free for download can work to our advantage; it allows us to reach out a larger customer base. And if players are hooked by the game, they can be enticed to buy additional high-quality content for a minimal price.”

“The second way would be to build a strong rapport with our customers – e.g. through frequent interactions on social media, events or even email. Developers of notable games (e.g. Hotline Miami and Game Dev Tycoon) have addressed piracy in this manner. By having a loyal customer base which is appreciative of our efforts in delivering quality content, they would empathize with us and be more willing to pay for the games in support of our development efforts.”

The good news for iOS devs, at least according to Schade, is that Apple’s store is less prone to piracy. “Having lived through the ‘dark ages’ of Java and made it out of there with two black eyes rather than one, piracy has been a very delicate topic for us at Fishlabs ever since. Based on our own experience, however, it is not as much of an issue on the App Store as it is on other platforms,” he noted. “I guess that’s mostly because Apple still has a lot of ‘premium’ customers willing to pay for high-quality content. Of course, we’re well aware of the fact that neither the closed iOS environment nor the Free-2-Play model will ever be able to eradicate software piracy entirely, but at least they are doing a comparatively good job at containing it as good as possible.”

If developers can effectively navigate the problems of discoverability and piracy, there’s no doubt that the potential is massive. One look at the overwhelming success of Angry Birds, Temple Run, Clash of Clans and others proves what’s possible. But for the vast, vast majority of devs, that’s a pipe dream.

“From the consumer angle, it’s a golden age. The amount of good quality games that can be bought for laughable prices is fantastic and there’s a ton of money being spent on this platform as a result. The problem for developers is that each individual cut is tiny. This isn’t even remotely sustainable and I don’t know what the future is going to look like. If I was starting again now from a blank slate, without an existing fan base, I wouldn’t touch mobile with a ten foot pole,” said Johnson.



The Elder Scrolls Online “Was Never Planned to Come to Consoles”, Sony Convinced Bethesda to do it


Gamescom award winning The Elder Scrolls Online is set to come out next year on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Mac, but if it wasn’t for the efforts of Sony’s third party relations team, it would have been a PC/Mac exclusive.

Adam Boyes, VP, Publisher & Developer Relations at SCEA, told GameInformer:

Bethesda… cooking up the whole The Elder Scrolls Online deal – that game was never planned to come to consoles and we just kind of kept sitting with them and being like, ‘Why not? PS4′s…’

As we’re sort of disclosing the team and telling them more about the details, I’m like, ‘There’s no reason – I love MMOs and I love The Elder Scrolls.’ So I was like, ‘Why don’t you do this?’ They’re like, ‘We’re not planning it.’ I’m like, ‘Well, what if we built a plan that we could do that?’

Getting that, knowing that a game’s coming to console that was never going to come to consoles, that’s the kind of stuff that is like, “yes!”, you know, hugely awesome.

Of course, with TESO charging $14.99/€12.99/£8.99 a month, whether the game will be a success is up for debate, but at least we now have the choice.

Missing Rayman Legends PS Vita Invasion Mode Content “Will be Added Via a Free Patch, at a Later Date”


When the PlayStation Vita version of Rayman Legends launched it was discovered that there was some missing content when compared to Rayman Legends on consoles.

Addressing the situation, Gary Steinman, Communications Manager, took to the Ubi Blog and offered up the following explanation:

Due to a longer development time than expected, we couldn’t initially include the Invasion Mode – essentially, a second take on existing Rayman Legends maps — in the Vita version of the game. However, we can confirm that the Invasion Mode will be added via a free patch, at a later date.

With more than 100 levels, online Coop and challenges, Kung-Foot mini-game, 5 exclusive touch challenges developed specifically for the VITA and 2 exclusive costumes, Rayman Legends already includes a lot for customers to love, and features the same outstanding graphics and gameplay design as the home console versions.




Nintendo of America begins selling refurb 3DS and DSi hardware

The American arm of Nintendo has introduced a new way for consumers to get their hands on a cut-price 3DS.

The NoA site has begun selling refurbished 3DS consoles. Prices start at $119.99 for a standard 3DS and $169.99 for the 3DS XL.

Nintendo of America selling refurb 3DS and DSi hardware

Refurbed DSi’s are available for $99.99.

“Some Nintendo Products are now available as Authentic Nintendo Refurbished Products only from Nintendo,” the official blurb reads. “These products have been cleaned, tested, and inspected to meet Nintendo’s high standards. They come with our standard one-year warranty – the same as brand new products.

“Although Authentic Nintendo Refurbished Products may have minor cosmetic blemishes, they are guaranteed to be fully functional. We think you will find the standards for Authentic Nintendo Refurbished Products are VERY high.



The Greatest Generation

GamesIndustry International looks back on the past eight years as a golden age of gaming

The Greatest Generation

The current generation of consoles started in the holiday season of 2005, with the launch of the Xbox 360. With apologies to the Wii U, the next generation will begin this holiday season when the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrive. The intervening years have been some of the most eventful in gaming history, changing and challenging our definitions as to what games are, who plays them, who makes them, and how. Whether or not these developments actually happened within the console space (and many of them did not), their impact has not been limited to one platform, or any corner of the industry specifically.

We may disagree about what we want out of games, what games should be, and what trends may be good or bad. Regardless of what our positions are on those subjects, we should be able to look back on this generation as a golden age of gaming. For posterity and perspective, here’s an incomplete chronicle of events of monumental significance from the past eight years, each prefaced by some brief thoughts from industry voices with first-hand knowledge of the situation.

Steam Redefines Digital Distribution (Ongoing)

“No company is perfect, but Steam is by far the gold standard in digital distribution. Everything they do from developer support to storefront curation and planning is top notch. A game can be released on Steam and potentially make millions of dollars all without the need for a publisher and every other expensive and sometimes unnecessary obstacle developers have to overcome for other distributors.”–Tommy Refenes, Team Meat

Yes, Steam was first announced in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2006 when Valve really opened up the catalog to games from third-party developers and publishers. And that’s when it really started to resemble the service we know today. Since then, people have essentially stopped predicting the death of PC games. And it’s not because the shelves at GameStop are suddenly cluttered with copies of Surgeon Simulator 2013.

STEAMWith Steam, Valve has done as much for digital distribution as digital distribution did for it.

Steam has become a one-stop shop for games, whether it’s the latest AAA release from a major publisher or a one-man indie studio with an interesting idea. Steam has become the of PC digital distribution (all the more impressive considering Amazon sells downloadable games itself). But there’s one trait Steam shares with a brick-and-mortar titan like Walmart, and that’s the demand for shelf space. So many people want their games on Steam that Valve has largely outsourced those decisions to its customers.

But Steam has meant so much more to PC gaming than just being another place to spend money. It addressed piracy. It addressed problems with patching. Like Xbox Live, it brought the social sphere into the same place as the storefront and the games themselves. And it has done all of this while maintaining a reasonably pro-consumer approach to its business (as regular customers during Steam’s seasonal sales will tell you).

Guitar Hero: Birth of a Rock Star (November 2005)

“Before Guitar Hero, music/rhythm video games were not in the top 10 genres of games sold in the US. Americans didn’t buy music games. By Guitar Hero 3, we sold $1 billion (with a B!) worth of Guitar Hero product. Guitar Hero became the second game to crack $1 billion sales in a single year. We heard similar stories of Guitar Hero’s impact on music sales too. Guitar Hero not only changed the video game world, it shook up the music world as well.”–Charles Huang, co-founder of original Guitar Hero publisher RedOctane, CEO and co-founder of Green Throttle Games

These days, the Guitar Hero name conjures up memories of closets jammed full of plastic instruments and a relentless onslaught of retail releases oversaturating the market. However,the series gave the industry much more than just a cautionary tale. In conjunction with Harmonix’s follow-up Rock Band, Guitar Hero provided a compelling example of the power of social play. For a time, these rhythm games were the new karaoke, present at wedding receptions, house parties, bars, basically anywhere people converge to have a good time. And it wasn’t just anywhere; it was virtually anyone. The plastic guitar was approachable enough as an interface, but it was absolutely compelling as a prop. It didn’t matter how good people were at the game; everyone wanted to have a go as an ersatz Eddie Van Halen, or bust out a Pete Townshend windmill. Everybody gets the appeal of music, and everybody got the appeal of Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero

The appeal of toy guitars was nearly universal.

Just as important, Guitar Hero and Rock Band showed the industry that people were willing to spend a lot more than $60 on a game experience. Between the guitars, drums, and microphones, people were spending hundreds of dollars just on controllers for the game. Add to that the deluge of downloadable content (the Rock Band series has more than 4,000 songs available as DLC) and suddenly gamers were investing not just in a single game, but in multiple ecosystems, committing to peripherals for the system of their choice and a library of songs for their favorite series. Before everyone in the industry was talking about whales in free-to-play games, Guitar Hero was already proving that a particularly devoted segment of an audience could be monetized far above and beyond the price of a standard game.

Microsoft Launches Xbox 360 (November 2005)

“The Xbox 360 was a lot like the Tesla Model S – not the first product, but definitely the one that delivered on a bigger vision in a package that had mass-market appeal. It made a lot of big bets: HD graphics, broadband-connected games, and a live service that in some ways represented gaming’s first social network. But these were bets that the industry sorely needed to break out of the basement and into the living room, and for eight years the Xbox 360 has delivered for tens of millions of gamers.”–Peter Moore, Electronic Arts COO and former Microsoft interactive entertainment executive

App Store

Xbox Live was the killer app of the Xbox 360 launch.

The release of the Xbox 360 had plenty of problems, from system scarcity to a weak retail lineup to faulty hardware. But it had one thing that worked phenomenally well, and that was its online integration. Microsoft completely overhauled Xbox Live for the system, changing it from little more than a persistent friends list to an honest-to-goodness ecosystem. Before Gears of War, Xbox Live was the 360’s killer app. Xbox Live achievements were an instant hit at launch, changing gamer habits in powerful ways and shedding light on just how far people will go to earn virtual merit badges, an idea that would quickly spread to every corner the gaming universe. (Well, almost every corner. Nintendo, as always, did its own thing.)

The Xbox 360 launch also took Xbox Live Arcade, a forgotten experiment on the original Xbox, and used it to carve out an entirely new market of console game development. The rise in HD development costs may have killed the viability of the mid-range retail release, but early Xbox Live Arcade games like the addictive and acclaimed Geometry Wars were evidence of an unexpectedly strong market for $5 and $10 downloadable games on consoles.

Nintendo Wii Expands the Audience (November 2006)

“The Wii ushered in a new era of motion control gaming and reinvigorated the video game industry with new mainstream consumers. Non-traditional gamers from grandparents to young kids were connecting in the living room – it truly leveled the playing field for an entire household via more inclusive and interactive gameplay. Ubisoft saw the console’s potential and was an early supporter of the Wii, positioning itself as the number one third party publisher leading up to and at the Wii launch with brand new franchises such as Rayman Raving Rabbids, Red Steel, and Your Shape.”–Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft


Who didn’t see at least one picture like this in their newspapers in 2007?

Long before Nintendo announced the Wii’s name or controller to the world, it had publicly code-named the console “Revolution.” That would prove to be prophetic, as the Wii was a cultural phenomenon, hard to find on store shelves for its first three holiday seasons. It lacked the horsepower of the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3, but the Wii’s controller–perfectly complemented by the pick-up-and-play fun of Wii Sports–made the system an ideal ambassador to expand the gaming audience beyond the core crowd.

All of a sudden, mainstream media coverage of games changed from scary stories of school shooters to soft-focus features about a Wii Sports bowling league at the old folks’ home. Intuitive new interfaces became the order of the day, with Microsoft rolling out Kinect and Sony investing in Move. The Wii’s appeal may have faded over the years, but the system worked wonders in changing not just the way people play video games, but the way they perceive them as well.

Apple Reveals iPhone, Google Intros Android (2007)

“A few years ago buttons on mobile phones were the only way to control the game. Nowadays, touch screen, gyroscope and GPS are an inalienable part of mobile gaming. And as the hardware gap between mobile devices and consoles is diminishing, more mid- and hard-core gamers turn to mobile. We see definite strengthening of the social aspects in the games as well, and I think this tendency will continue in the future. We were lucky enough to start working at the dawn of the industry, and it’s exciting to see how impressive the changes are, and how it continues to evolve.”–Efim Voinov, chief technology officer and co-founder of ZeptoLab

An argument could be made for either one of these events being the most significant event of the generation on their own, but there’s been enough overlap in how they’ve upended the industry that we’ll combine them into one write-up.

It was always cool, but the iPhone didn’t become significant to gaming until the introduction of the App Store in its second year. Since the introduction of the App Store, the iPhone has realized its true potential, upending and all but assimilating three previously lucrative markets: mp3 players, mobile phones, and portable gaming devices. But perhaps the biggest contribution the iPhone made to the mobile gaming market was to formalize a cohesive ecosystem around it.

App Store

The iPhone was always cool, but the App Store launch turned it into a phenomenon.

Prior to the iPhone, the carriers had their own scattered assortment of shops, selling games through them that may or may not work on the handset downloading them. The market was fragmented, and there were no assurances that a game would come to every carrier, or even the most popular of handsets. The iPhone and the App Store made the consumer experience as frictionless as possible in a way that no other mobile company had managed.

One of the key innovations was Apple’s insistence on getting the user’s credit card info, which made purchasing new apps as easy and painless as possible. Further down the road, the introduction of in-app purchasing unlocked a tidal wave of spending and solidified the domination of the free-to-play model. Apple brought ubiquity to the market, and in so doing opened the floodgates of developer support, ensuring the App Store would never lack for quantity of games.

Meanwhile, Android has provided Apple’s iOS with an open-source competitor, a necessary counterweight giving consumers and developers another option for mobile platforms, and an inexpensive, open-ended, and unrestricted one, at that. A key part of the Android project was the desire to create an operating system with “no central point of failure, so that no single industry player could restrict or control the innovations of any other.” If games are to realize their potential as a creative medium, developers can’t always be subject to the whims of a corporate censor. Android ensures that no matter how dominant the smartphone and tablet market become in gaming, there will be a place for games like Phone Story and Endgame Syria.

Android’s approach has been a success, with the operating system now in more devices around the world than iOS. However, Google’s OS hasn’t exactly eclipsed the competition, as Apple still takes the lion’s share of revenue from mobile gaming.

The Free-to-Play Boom (2009-2011)

“Free-to-play has been successful because it acknowledges that all players are different, and it provides them a variety of ways to access, play, and purchase content. Free-to-play is beautiful in its simplicity. It democratizes and makes true capitalism out of the gaming space. Free-to-play keeps games evergreen, opens them up to a wider audience, and forces true competition. There is so much free content out there; to truly compete, you have to create great content. With great content, everyone wins.”–John Smedley, president of Sony Online Entertainment

Free-to-play games have been around for more than a decade, but it was only during this generation that they really took root in the West. From the astronomical rise of Facebook games to more core-targeted efforts like World of Tanks and League of Legends, the free-to-play model has been adapted to serve essentially every audience in the industry. At the same time, it has underscored the enormous potential of social ties to enrich game experiences (to say nothing of game developers!) and provide compelling entertainment.

Planetside 2

Free-to-play encompasses a lot more than Facebook games now.

Free-to-play has also introduced new challenges for designers, changing the way they think about the relationship to their audience. In the most successful and enduring free-to-play games, the business model has been intertwined with the primary gameplay, but it has not been the driver of that gameplay. Designers need to give players a reason to spend their money while avoiding a pay-to-win model where only the free-spending players are enjoying themselves.

The free-to-play model has attracted legions of developers to mobile platforms, and even those who didn’t make the jump are putting its principles to use on virtually every other platform where games are played. Free-to-play has conquered the MMORPG market, with only World of Warcraft still holding fast to subscriptions (and gearing up, apparently, to shift to free-to-play). Now free-to-play is coming to consoles in a big way with World of Tanks for the Xbox 360, and in the process it’s already revolutionized Microsoft’s processes and policies for updates. The free-to-play business model is sure to be an important part of the future of every game platform.

iPad Debuts (April 2010)

“Apple’s iPhone was already well on its way to securing a foothold as one of the ‘key’ game platforms when the iPad hit the market, and when it did, the two Apple devices Voltron’ed into arguably the most course-altering combo in this era of the games industry. With the launch of the iPad, the floodgates swung open and both consumers and developers raced onto the platform. And although it’s hard to see past the jaw-dropping financial impact the iPad had on our industry, it also had another impact: large screen touch-based (aka tablet) gaming became a platform unto itself.”–Nathan Vella, co-founder and president of Sword & Sworcery developer Capy


Some mocked the iPad when it was first announced, but Apple would have the last laugh.

The debut of iOS and Android devices, free-to-play games, and the introduction of tablets are all intertwined. Each enabled the others, and the combination of them all redefined the game industry, or at least reallocated it. While the traditional console market lagged, these innovations thrived.

It may seem obvious in retrospect, but tablets were not pre-destined for success. When Apple unveiled the iPad, it was derided by many as a larger iPhone that couldn’t make calls. No less an industry visionary than Jesse Schell mocked the device in a DICE Summit talk, calling it an oversized Swiss Army Knife that nobody would want, a stupid idea. Schell has since acknowledged he made the wrong call, but it’s not like anybody needed him to confirm that. The iPad has already sold well over 100 million units, and an entire classification of computer, the netbook, has fallen victim to its incredible ascent.

The Kickstarter Revolution (2012)

“Every creator wants to control the manner for which they develop and to decide the future of their vision. Crowd sourced financing not only allows this control but further puts the proceeds back with the owner.”–Brian Fargo, founder of inXile Entertainment

One recurring theme this generation has been the ongoing erosion of barriers to entry in the gaming industry. Games are easier to get than ever before, downloaded to your pocket for free instead of purchased at the mall for $60. They’re easier to play, with designers increasingly concerned about accessibility and new interfaces allowing for those without lightning reflexes to enjoy the hobby just the same. And they’re also easier to make, thanks to cheaper development tools and the advent of alternative funding for developers. And as much as Minecraft needs to be namedropped somewhere in any article about the amazing things that have happened this generation, that game’s alpha-funding model has not yet proven as influential as Kickstarter’s approach to crowdfunding.

wasteland 2

25 years later, gamers are getting a Wasteland 2 sequel because they were willing to pay for it up front.

Double Fine Productions wasn’t the first developer to turn to Kickstarter, but its success on the platform precipitated two floods: one of money from fans eager for a new Tim Schafer adventure game, and one of recognizable developers Kickstarting projects they wanted to make outside of the existing publisher system. To date, the crowdfunding platform has helped nearly 2,000 development teams raise a cumulative total of $138.6 million for game development. That may only be enough to pay for a few AAA packaged console titles, but given the dramatic upheaval in recent years, the industry doesn’t rely on that market nearly as much as it used to.

Kickstarter has also changed the way developers make games. Where game development used to go in a vacuum, with people working for years before any of their work was exposed to the light of day, these Kickstarted projects are more like working in a fishbowl, where developers share everything from the earliest concept art to decisions on balancing the final game. And sometimes these developers go even further, soliciting direct input from their backers and blurring long-established lines between audience and artist. It’s an inversion of the traditional game development paradigm, reflecting the interactivity of the medium with interactivity in creation. And if it proves sustainable (something it seems too early to be sure of), this could change the very nature of the industry as much as any new business model or piece of hardware ever could.

This generation has not only seen the arrival of huge new platforms, but the arrival of new business models whose impact is still unfolding. Digital distribution is changing not just distribution but the nature of game designs. Free-to-play is also changing game designs, and crowdfunding is changing the entire process of development from a secretive endeavor to a group activity conducted in public.

Many of the trends here dovetail nicely, showing a sort of synergy in their impact and working together to push the industry in the shared direction of accessibility and ubiquity. In just eight years, gaming has gone from a hobby dominated by $50 retail power fantasies enjoyed in the living room and den to one with offerings at plenty of price points, enjoyable by anyone, anywhere and about almost anything.