Friday, April 4, 2008

Clarifications On The Lottery Ticket Videogame Company

After discussions over on Sirlin's site over the Lottery Ticket Videogame Company, here are some clarifications and comments on LGC...

What Is Prototyping in LGC-Terms?
There was confusion over this. Prototyping may be done on electronic, tabletop or another form. It depends on the projected game. The reason why I mention tabletop a lot is because it is a way to rapidly test radically new ideas with little expense. If your game depends on a new type of sandbox play, then a fast tabletop makes sense. If your game depends on narrative design and character development, then good ol' roleplaying makes sense. If you're game revolves around a new kind of UI or physics modelling, then some kind of electronic prototype makes sense. Again, LGC is about cultivation, not control - so what matters is what the talent thinks the prototype needs to be for the specific project.

Admission of my "Talky" Manner
Some are bothered by my talky manner. Okay, I don't speak like a suit. However, I will remind you that the game industry is an entertainment industry. We ain't making business apps here - we're making compelling experiences. We're making fun. Fun is a human language.

Finally, the Meat: Just What The Hell LGC Is...
This question is what has dogged me this past few weeks. People kept asking what is the LGC? Is it a publisher?, is it a game developer?, is it a studio?

Yesterday, it hit me what it was. The problem is, we're looking at LGC in status quo terms. That's the wrong way to look at it.

What I know now is this: I don't know exactly what LGC is!

But I do know it will be unlike anything there is right now!

I know it is close to an agency - in that it directly looks for and cultivates talent - but I also know that unlike a traditional game industry agency, it doesn't kowtow to the mammoth publishers. So it could be an agency-distributor, or a packaging agency - depending on a new wave of digital distribution (Steam would be perfect) while simultaneously cultivating talent and marketing its new releases. You are free to jump in here as well. That's the cool thing about doing things that are new. They're new!

I think LGC could be a game-version of United Artists. In game-equivalent terms that would make it a publisher that maintains a low overhead, focuses on building a libray (see below), and gives a great deal of creative latitude to its talent.

The United Artist's analogy might not bode well for some movie industry vets because UA became a shell after Heaven's Gate. However, UA still developed a huge library - including the James Bond and Rocky franchises. (Besides, Heaven's Gate was more a perceived disaster than an actual one. According to a studio exec at UA they were capable of absorbing its losses, but Transamerica looked at Heaven's Gate as an excuse to dump the whole adventure of giving artists creative control.) Anyway, the "pendulum" is a myth - in life things never just repeat because time moves forward and we learn from the past; and the lesson of Heaven's Gate is exactly why LGC focuses on low-burn prototyping - to minimize risk. What we do know is that here and now in the game industry, designers are crying to get their A-material out of the closet!

Finally, LGC depends on something very important: it's library. Libraries are not things that game publishers care to develop - after a few years (if not a few months) they put their games into the bargain bin. I can understand this if games are valued mainly as technology - and the period of 1990 to about 2004 saw huge leaps of tech. But I don't get why they would do that anymore.

If you decide the value of games comes from their intangible gameplay, narrative design, emotional experience, or something other than their polygon count, you would never undercut the development of a long-term library by dropping older titles in the bargain bin. This is especially true now that high quality graphics are starting to be commonplace.

To put it simply: the LGC believes that the intangible creative design factor is going to make the difference, which is why it will invest in unusual ideas and unorthodox talent. Now, given this, we know that unusual concepts and creators in other art forms often take time to mature. There are many examples of things which, at the time of their release, didn't do that well, but years later went on to be huge hits. David Bowie's song "Heroes", Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, Orson Wells' Citizen Kane. All cult-classics. The Herman Miller office chair, in a totally different field, is another example - a product every focus group said was ugly, yet went on to - eventually - become a huge seller (the Herman Miller company decided to ignore the focus groups - see Malcolm Gladwell's Blink for the story).

It's the same thing with games. We need to hold out for the cult-classic. We need to develop a library and not undercut it, holding on to titles that, perhaps misunderstood when first released, can eventually go on to be understood (when the audience catches up) and sell very well in later years. Yes, two years is a long time (to some) in the game industry - but to the larger scope of humanity, to the mainstream audience, two years is nothing. Certainly you have rented movies more than two years old. Think about it.

Anyway, the timing is ripe for a venture like LGC to happen. The creative impulse of unique designers in the game industry is simply too strong to be held to a strictly corporate mindset any longer.


Christopher J. Rock said...

Man, I'll tell you what LGC is. LGC is getting the fucking job done, that's what it is. It's not sitting there behind your desk wondering "ooh, what should we do?? what should we do? is it gonna be a hit?? it's a hit driven market, right? is it gonna be a hit?" It's saying to hell with that, this is what's gotta happen, and doing it. And that's gonna be different from person to person, team to team, moment to moment, and that's why it's so terrifying.

You gotta be fearless to make games. It takes courage to put it all out and go. If you ain't got that, you're just wastin our time.

I love it.

lion-gv said...

I'm surprised there aren't more comments yet! Anyways, keep fighting the good fight and I look forward to potentially collaborating with you in the future!

Patrick said...

Lets say a studio gets VC funding to run a prototype mill, a creative "hothouse" as you once said, and takes some of that IP through further stages of development, doing some with publishers, co-publishing another set, and doing some of the smaller, more high-yield prospects as self-published, using digital venues for distribution. That would probably be what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading a lot of your stuff, and being in the business myself I wonder what you must be thinking. Your idea as outlined is a horrible idea for the designer in question, a small fee of the sort you're implying instead of a paycheck will not feed someone for the year of prototyping you are talking about.

What's more you're forcing all the risk onto the designer end of things.While this might make some sort of sense to you, this is not something any designer would ever wish to go for. What if for instance, your outsourced programming company falls through and ether cannot make your vision or goes belly up? Or worse yet what if they do make it but they entirely screw it up, their impimentation making your beautiful idea a horrible game experience. Well you in your design scheme are mostly fine, you have more lottery money likely to fall back on. The outsourcers are fine too, you already paid them. The designer is the one who pays for the error since their pocket was riding on this IP making it and now thanks to a screwup, there's no chance of that happening.

So how is this fair to the designer? How does this protect them at all? Oh that's right you said anyone not willing to "Take a risk" isn't someone you want to talk to. Enjoy your lonely office with no takers then as in a world where one needs to be fed, clothed, insured and living in a home of some sort and often with a car this dream idea of yours will never appeal to a game designer.

Grassroots Gamemaster, said...

Anonymous, this method is used all the time in the film industry. It's called an optioning process.

When an unknown screenwriter with a new script tries to get it produced, you think the producer says "Hell man, we'll pay you a weekly salary based on the unlikely prospect this script will actually go into production"?

No. They option it for a small fee (a big one if the scriptwriter is a name). If it DOES go into production, the scriptwriter gets paid a much larger fee. But here's the thing. THE SCRIPTWRITER CAN EASILY MAKE A DEAL THAT PAYS HIM IF THE THING TURNS INTO A HIT ON THE BACKEND. If the scriptwriter just takes a salary, he will never see any residuals.

If you were a designer and actually pitched a new design to me, and wanted to be paid a salary (read: I take on all the risk), I would kick you out of my office. If you don't believe in your own design (read: aren't willing to take on any risk) you are a sell-out from second one.

Anonymous said...

I think you somewhat missed the point again. Saying "because they did it" isn't a good way to prove your point on this. The film industry is messed up too for much the same reasons I said.

And my other point is that no sane designer would go with your plan. I'd wager that game making is somewhat risker and harder to promote business. If you make a bad movie it still might sell enough to recoup your losses and also might not ruin the IP. On the other hand these have been games that KILLED their IP or nearly did on many occasions. Your plan is very very risky and I can't think of anyone who'd want to do it.