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Chris Crawford's talk on creativity from 1988.
Some of the examples are slightly dated, but the content of the speech is remarkably pertinent despite the ensuing 23 years.

The game industry moves in cycles. This talk occurred at the end of a period where a market for new games was shutting down and the industry for predictable and reliable commodity games was maturing. The chill of winter was in the air. Publisher were gaining additional power and the independent developer was struggling with issues like distribution, king making and innovation risk. Yet you had developers like Chris that were coming from a time of immense creative leaps forward. The bar was so high that something like Ultima 4 was laughed at for being more of the same.

Today we are at a remarkably similar point, but on the other side of the cycle. Certain classes of publisher are losing the absolute control they once held and it is again possible to be an independent developer and build a sustainable business. If Chris Crawford was giving this same talk today, he would give it at the Indie Game Summit and no one would blink. Consider this talk a message direct from the spiritual godfather of the current indie movement.

What to do with spring?
With full knowledge of the history of our industry, it is perhaps obvious that the current season of openness will shut down again. As the cycle turns, it will become difficult for all but the largest companies to survive. As before, risk aversion should increase, innovation should stagnate and the gatekeepers will reap enormous profit on the backs of wage slaves. Many indies as we know them today shall be crushed by platforms and publishers that hold distribution hostage.

But for the next 2-5 years, there is a brief thaw. Platforms are fragmented, new genres are being invented every month, the costs of developing most (but not all) game designs are remarkably cheap. And now is your chance to change the world with a grand act of creativity.

Such a springtime may never occur again during your professional career. Don't waste this incredibly brief and incredibly valuable moment on being an incremental innovator. Exciting times. Much like the exciting times of years past.

Part 1:
CreativityAndGameDesign1.mp4

Part 2:
CreativityAndGameDesign2.mp4

Part 3:
CreativityAndGameDesign3.mp4

Part 4:
CreativityAndGameDesign4.mp4
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19 comments
 
Interesting. I actually think the spring is wrapping up and the 2-5 years of innovation are almost over. I think we're entering the Big Pub period again already. 
 
Depends on the market. Social and mobile games are wrapping up. Browser games (where I tend to focus) are not quite at the same spot.
 
Things only wrap up if you allow them to be wrapped up. :)
 
That's true. You can pursue a mature market as an indie and either A) be marginalized (XBLIG for example) or B) you can sign a contract with a power broker that that trades the majority of your rights for a small piece of the pie.
 
If you bring nothing to a mature market, that's true. Many of us would consider "match 3" games to be a mature market. Then some durn fools bend it all crazy and it's new again. I don't look at "browser games" as a market. It's just a distribution channel.
 
The only markets that matter are distribution channels. :-) That's where the players are at. Surprisingly hard to make money without players. Even if you have the most amazing game ever.
 
Markets aren't channels. Maybe we should agree to disagree on it.
 
You can always try to decouple and get your own players. It's hard, yes. Just remember that there were still successful shareware developers in the late 90s, before the whole indie boom.
 
+Daniel Cook You sure got yer A's and B's right. I know more than a few indies work'n for The Fish. ...and one who's porting his stuff from XBLIG.
 
I think of markets as groups of people. (often intersecting groups) Channels are distribution points, usually with a theme, like casual portals.
 
I'd also quibble about the history. What drove the late-80s implosion was rising budgets and the ensuing hit-reliance and risk-aversion. This shifted power to the only entities that could provide funding and publicity - publishers.

Our situation now is different. The path of buying market share through upping production values isn't open to indies any more - AAA has that ground. The other thing is that development prices have fallen, reducing risk and giving power back to devs. Finally, digital distribution has made it easier to cut out the middleman and get directly to the audience. These advantages aren't magically going to vanish.

The industry may enter another consolidation phase, but it's going to be different than 23 years ago. We're still growing our audience, so I don't think a big crunch is in the stars soon. We'll see real blood when the market stops expanding. Of course, if you look at particular segments - casual, iOS, Flash, whatever - you may expect micro-implosions.
 
The only distribution channel not utterly controlled by middlemen is open web. Mobile, social, and high end downloadable are all distribution monopolies or close to it. As a result there are gatekeepers who control your cost of entry into the market.

Web games are more fragmented but there is no denying the power of the portals either. Worse, as we move more towards centrally managed identity and currency systems even there I suspect we will be invitin in the same middlemen from the other segments. 
 
When you talk about market success and innovation, you are really talking about two different axes. Are social and mobile wrapping up in the sense you can't have market success there anymore or that there is no innovation there anymore? Or are they wrapping up because they don't have the hot media buzz they had a year ago?

If you are talking strictly about markets, it is really easy to determine where the markets were but not where they will be. In 2008, it felt like a really dreary time (for me, at least trying to get a AAA company to do a browser game), yet whaddya know a million new platforms and genres suddenly became viable.

The only constant is change. Just try to do your best and stay agile in the meanwhile.
 
Mostly what I'm talking about are the opportunities for a population of independent developers to make a successful living making their own thing.

- Take a group of 100 talented game developers (to give this experiment a fair starting location).
- Have that group make a mobile game.
- Metric 1: How many are financially successful enough to keep making more games?
- Metric 2: How many can be considered to have the freedom to do their own thing?
- Repeat with a similar group on Facebook, Android, Flash portals, Steam, etc.
- Compare.

We play the odds as developers and then try to shift them in our favor. One obvious lever is making great games and building powerful relationships. In that vein of thinking, if some markets have systemic risk factors that reduce both the chance of financial payout and future freedom, perhaps it is best to make games elsewhere.
 
I think there has never been a better time to be an independent developer. I think Raph is right for Facebook (see Tami Baribeau at http://tamibaribeau.com/?p=504) but the opportunity to build a tribe, to make a living from satisfying a niche of fans, for creativity to financially viable (not ludicrously so, but better than a paycheck from a AAA dev) has never been better. Its a great time
 
So long as the social aspect of the web continues to exist and prosper and digital distribution doesn't disappear, I see continuing opportunities for indie devs to find a niche and compete with the big boys.

Unlike the 80s and 90s, indies today have the ability to reach out to fans and potential new customers directly and take in all their feedback. There is also the potential for viral growth and runaway success as long as the product is solid. Heck, "Tiny Wings" became a massive success without any marketing at all. One man made a great game, and digital word of mouth did the rest.

Yes, it will become more difficult to get your voice heard throughthe noise, especially as the market becomes more saturated, but it is still a much more conducive environment for indies than it ever was before. I don't see that changing any time soon.
 
I agree with the content... but he really sounds like an Televangelist. Is Game Design actually a cult?
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