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Independent Game Distribution’s Potential Impact on Next-Gen

/ Feb 22nd, 2013 No Comments

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Microsoft and Sony sit poised to soon release their follow-ups to the successful Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles, as gamers worldwide wait while debating with intense curiosity the upcoming machines’ anticipated advances and features – as well as their price points. Recent speculations hover around the half-a-grand mark, roughly $400 to $500. But the new low-cost Ouya microconsole set to be released in June 2013 and the developing Steam Box from Valve, which will bring its Steam distribution service to a dedicated console for the first time, suggest real alternatives to the idea that high gaming value requires a high price.

With the global economic situation still shaky, especially in the United States, value could play as large a role as flash and dazzle in gamers’ future purchases – especially when coupled with the convenience of home consoles allowing access to distribution services like Steam, widely regarded as a plentiful source of low-cost critically acclaimed titles. Likewise, the open-source nature of game development on the Ouya, and its low cost of entry, could allow the miniature Android console to deliver on one of its visions: a gaming ecosystem wherein an Ouya owner can develop, test and sell their own games using the very same console purchased to enjoy others’ – opening the floodgates for a wave of new titles, including potential future classics.

Successful Kickstarter-funded games could achieve a wider release on home consoles if offered on these devices – consider Kickstarted games on Steam such as Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, or the fact that the Ouya itself raised funding through the popular crowdfunding site. In line with independent development, independent pricing of games – not dictated by current cross-platform price levels – may help encourage lower prices. Consider that in the past year a gamer could pay as low as $2.49 for the brilliant PS2-era Psychonauts, or $10 for the 2012 feel-bad genre-refresher Spec Ops: The Line, both terrific games. The greater the variety of choices at reasonable-to-fantastic prices, the greater the competition – and the more gamers win, as will developers who strive to create rewarding and memorable content. The potential success of these new platforms in widening the field for gamers and developers may even push The Three Bears of gaming – Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo – to follow the Goldilocks proposition of pursuing low-overhead digital distribution over decaying brick and mortar storefront models that impact everything from the environment to their bottom line.

The fact is, this isn’t just about saving money. It’s about the rapid revolution going on in the gaming industry today. More consoles and options for developers to pursue riskier but more rewarding ideas, improved profit-sharing for game creators, and real-time fan participation in both funding of and feedback-driven inspiration for developing titles – the wildfire effects of the democratization of game creation and distribution has already been felt in the past few value-packed years, through emerging networks for crafting and releasing new titles.

At the rate independent veteran-led game development empowered by fan-backed capital is increasing, the possibility of a gaming future filled with talented developers jockeying for gamers’ dollars with great content at an honest value is tremendously exciting.

Matthew Allen
Matthew is a contributor to Gaming Illustrated and likes games that are full of kinetic gameplay, great layered storytelling and innovation in the exploration of the medium and the genre represented.
Matthew Allen

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