handcircus

Games and Interaction design

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rise of the boutique development team

One of the most enouraging trends that seems to be becoming more apparent over the last year or so is that a viable alternative to the predicted 100-strong teams of the next-generation seems to be emerging. One shining example is one of the most interesting titles to emerge from this years TGS, Loco Roco . Created by an 8-10 strong team (including dev-blogger greggman ),
this title was created in only 4 months preproduction and 4 months full-scale production, from initial concept from 1 game designer, prototyped by a single programmer. This type of development is significant for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the small budget allows far greater risks to be taken than with other titles... if the game doesnt cut it, theres not a huge amount at stake if it does need to be cancelled. This stimulates experimentation and innovation. Secondly, the small team size means that everyone involved, not only gets input into many aspects of the game (encouraging cross-pollinisation of ideas across different disciplines), but they also have a strong sense of ownership... they can really say "I made that... I created that...", which increases morale and encourages great work.

This formula seems to be exclusive to the handheld console market (titles such as brain training, ouendan) and the PC Indy market (such as gish, which admittedly bears a strong resemblance to Loco Roco...) but one of the really encouraging aspects of the next-generation is the opportunity for a network distribution channel (as flirted with in xbox live arcade), allowing companies to massively cut their distribution cost. This is something strongly supported by Greg Costikan in his recent rant, and brings back personal recommendation and word of mouth as a major factor in games sales (with any luck).

This could eventually lead to a new period of innovation as ideas and creativity become highly valued and sought after to differentiate titles from the glut of genericism. Making things easy for potential new developers is obviously key (and is something that Satoru Iwata seems to encourage going by his keynote at TGS).

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