So, it’s come to this. The Bioware co-founders are jumping ship, retiring to roll around in their (deserved) millions and play with things like charity work and craft beer. Sure, they’re saying it’s a hard decision and it probably is; they’re saying Bioware is in good hands, and we all fear it’s not. I look at the games these two guys breathed life into, games that I loved so much (KOTOR, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, SWTOR) and look where they’ve fallen to (Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age 2, SWTOR F2P)…each transition a rather large and awkward departure from where the games started. I see these transitions, and all I see is some more-stereotypical-than-can-be-real Member of the Board, some nameless EA brass that sees Warcraft and Farmville as if they’re the same game, and he says crap like this:
“Make the next Mass Effect game more like Halo. Kids like Halo. We want to appeal to the teenage market.”
“Make the next Dragon Age game more like Fable. That game sold pretty well. It tested great against the teenage market.”
“We all think it’s time for a Mass Effect MMO. But make it like World of Warcraft. And Free to Play.”
Could corporate brass crap be the reason that Bioware’s fathers are walking away? If it’s not, then how do you explain this beautiful magic here? Obsidian Entertainment: these are the people that made each and every game by which I measure all games. This Kickstarter isn’t a couple of college kids trying to score a few grand so they can skip on working retail for a summer and instead focus on making a game they love; it’s a team of highly experienced professional developers and designers who want a million dollars so they can skip on some Big Bad Publisher telling them shit about “the teenage market” and instead focus on making a game they love. A game that they think the fans will love and – hey, how about that – the fans agree. At the time of this writing, they’re at $1.6 million. We will see this game, and it may not fit the research that so visibly drives EA and Blizzard, but it will sell. The proof is in the sheer number of backers and volume of money they’ve received for it. I think that, because it doesn’t fit those graphs, it will demonstrably not make as much money as a Halo rip-off. But it’ll make money. Money that won’t be diffused across a bunch of people that are driving the entire industry to WoW-ville. Money that will go right to the creators.
Could Kickstarter be the death knell for companies like EA?
Probably not. Not for a while, anyway; they still make their yearly tithes off of Madden football…and – I don’t have the numbers here – but I don’t believe the Bioware arm forms that much of EA’s net worth. In no way can I make a compelling case here that Kickstarter will slay Big Bad Gaming Company. I’m just hopeful.
Of course, I don’t know what the long term ramifications of Kickstarter will be…but when I see things like this – Obsidian Entertainment, and the original makers of Shadowrun, and who could forget the guys that made Wasteland? – I find myself swelling with hope.
Oh, and let’s not knock what two guys can do with a Kickstarter: FTL is being talked about on a lot of blogs this week. I bought it. I played it. It’s amazing. For $9 it’s at least a few evenings of old-fashioned (but very well executed and not-at-all painful) gaming fun. Get it on Steam and enjoy a weekday evening diversion now and again. They asked for like $10k and got $200k; these guys will probably (hopefully) make more games, without worrying exactly about the teenage market.
What do I want?
I want the Bioware cofounders to rally up their favorite developers and designers and I want them to Kickstart something. I want them to be like “Give us two million bucks and we’ll make you this awesome game idea that EA wouldn’t let us even dream about.” What game could that be?
Honestly, I don’t even care. I know so little about Obsidian Entertainment’s new game that giving them money right now is like literally throwing money at a formless dream. Money that I will willingly throw, because I trust those men and women to genuinely give my dreams form.
They always have before.