Indie Game Developers Need To Think Globally

One evening last week, representatives from the United States Department of Commerce met with myself and other Los Angeles chapter board members of the International Game Developers Association to discuss policies to promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development of the game industry. I kicked off the conversation by saying that the big game publishers already have a voice in Washington through the Entertainment Software Association, but who really needs a voice are the indie developers, and what they most need is funding for doing development.  We talked a bit about different sources of funding, but what seemed to really perk their interest was funding from other countries.

As it so happens, two days later I met with a representative from a Shanghai-based game publisher who told me that there is indeed a lot of money in Shanghai for funding game development.  What they lack are creative ideas for games, and they are looking to the United States for development teams with proposals and even individual American game designers to lead teams.

Now, both these conversations are just in their infancy stages, and I will share more when and if anything develops, but what last week confirmed for me is that indie developers need to look beyond their own borders. There is a whole world out there that has an interest in games, and here are some things you can do right now to take advantage of a world-wide audience.

One decision impacting your ability to reach a worldwide audience is your selection of a publisher, assuming you are not publishing the game yourself.  While there are many advantages of going with a worldwide publisher like Activision or Electronic Arts, ironically, they may not have distribution in some territories.

One alternative to consider is to use smaller publishers that each focus on one of the counties in which you want to distribute your game.  You may find that these smaller publishers may give more individual focus to your game than the big publishers do, and you can probably negotiate a higher royalty rate too.  However, the big publishers dominate the U.S. and U.K. markets, and it may be difficult to get physical distribution in these countries if you take the country-by-country route for distribution.

You selection of which countries in which to distribute your game will require you to do a little homework on each country.  Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is there an emerging game market in that country?  If there is a growing interest in games that isn’t already saturated with product, your game could be one to satisfy the country’s desire for interactive entertainment.
  • Does the country have any prohibitions on marketing or data collection?  If you can’t promote your game or use metrics for measuring the effectiveness of your marketing campaign, you’re going to have a hard time getting potential customers in that country to find out about your game.
  • Does the country have access to digital stores?  If you plan to distribute your game digitally instead of physically, you’ll need to be sure there’s a way for the country’s citizens to actually download your game.

However, if you can jump over some of these hurdles, you may be able to tap into markets that are not as crowded as the U.S. market currently is.  Of course, you have to develop your game first, and that requires money.  Hopefully, in the coming months, I’ll have some information to share about obtaining foreign funding.

 

 

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There’s No Shame In Developing Games

Someone recently asked me, “Do you ever feel guilty for making stupid games that just suck time and offer no real benefit to anyone?” Obviously, I was asked this question online, where the rules of civility are rarely applied. However, I tried to be civil in response.  I explained that, no, I don’t feel guilty about making video games. They are a form of entertainment, just as are movies, television, novels, music, and theme parks.

The Dutch historian Johan Huizinga wrote about the importance of play and society in his landmark 1938 book Homo Ludens (“Man, the Player”). He suggested that play may be the primary formative element of human culture and that:

ž”Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays.”

In other words, to be fully human, we need to play.

Studies have shown that playing video games in moderation can be physically, mentally and emotionally beneficial for players.  Here are some of the specific ways that players can benefit from playing games:

  • Creative Problem Solving. Many games require players to come up with creative solutions to overcome obstacles, and such creative problem solving is a valuable skill to develop for overcoming obstacles in real life, leading to improved confidence and satisfaction, which in turn can help to boost player’s mental health.
  • Improved Cognitive Abilities.  Games often require players’ brains to work at their highest level, exercising such cognitive abilities as memorization and pattern recognition.
  • Improved Decision Making. Many video games require players to make split-second decisions.  This doesn’t just involve making the right decision, but in learning how to collect the relevant decision needed to make a decision.
  • Improved Vision. While playing games, the player is forced to look for details on the screen and distinguish between different shades of the same color, abilities that are useful in the real world. Some studies have shown that when players with lazy eye are forced to play a game with their good eye covered, the lazy eye condition was corrected to the point where it was no longer a problem.
  • Overcoming Dyslexia. While playing games, the player is force to concentrate for long periods of time, and this intense concentration may change the way the player brain works.  Because the player often is required to read instructions, mission details, and character dialog that pops up on the screen, some researchers believe that the combination of intense concentration and reading may help players to overcome dyslexia.
  • Increased Physical Activity.  Many video games like Guitar Hero and Wii Fit have a physical component where players jump, dance, or even do exercise. These games can make physical activity fun, encouraging players to build their muscles, improve improve posture, and focus on weight loss.  Some may even be motivated to take up physical activity in the real world. 
  • Weight Control. Contrary to the stereotype of gamers being overweight due to the lack of physical activity, games require players to focus on what’s on the screen, leaving little thought to eating snacks.  It’s when people are bored and stressed that they tend to stuff their faces with snacks, not while immersed in a game.
  • Pain Relief.  While playing the video games, players are releasing endorphins, the painkiller hormone. This boosts the body’s natural ability to get rid of the pain that that player’s feel.
  • Fighting Off The Aging Process.  Studies have shown that playing 3-D platform or logic puzzle games can result in cell growth in the hippocampus, a part of the thought to be the center of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system. This may put players at a lower risk for developing the likes of Alzheimer’s and dementia in later life.
  • Improved Social Skills. Chat features in online games, while often abused, do provide players with an opportunity to practice their social skills while under pressure as players are required to communicate clearly and concisely with their teammates to reach a co-op objective.
  • Forging Friendships. Playing online video games with others allow players to connect with people from around the world who share similar interests. Often this can lead to friendships take take place outside of the game world, as players discuss their interests on message boards or even in the real world, at gaming conventions.
  • Minimizing Stress. Not only do games allow players to unwind and keep their minds off of real-life problems,  some of the other benefits gained from playing video games may help players not to get into stressful situations in the first place.

Of course, one must also be careful not to exaggerate the benefits of playing games, and as with anything else, doing so in excess can negate their benefits and even be harmful.  However, when played in moderation as part of a well-balanced life, games can make that life a little more enjoyable.