Warning: This blog entry contains unpopular views, a mercenary attitude, and an unattractive display of pure, raw greed. Those who prefer a purer, more principled breed of Indie developer should look elsewhere.
A little over fifteen years ago, I started writing my first game, Exile: Escape From the Pit. (I am old.) This is quite a milestone for me. Since then, I have found that life as a self-employed Indie has many advantages, some small, some large. As I work on Avernum 6, the last game in my longest-running and most successful series, one of them has been very much on my mind.
I own my own intellectual property (or, as the cool kids call it, IP).
Why is this so awesome? Because then I get to rewrite and rerelease my older games, letting me make a bunch of money for a small amount of work. For example, Exile: Escape From the Pit came out in 1995. Its first rewrite, Avernum, came out in 2000. So, in 2011, over a decade after its previous iteration, I plan to release a super flashy new version of Avernum, with really sharp new graphics and sounds, a new dungeon or three, and some nice new features added. It won't be a huge amount of work. It'll be a great new product. I will clean up.
I once wrote a game called Nethergate, which developed quite a cult following. Then, as time passed, it became very shaky and outdated. So, two years ago, I released Nethergate: Resurrection. It took two months to do it. I really liked this game, and putting out a newer, nicer version was very rewarding, both emotionally and financially.
A lot of people have complained to me over the years about doing this. I don't understand it. It's good for me and its good for players. There are several good reasons to exploit your old IP:
Good Games Deserve To Exist
One of the most frustrating things for me about video games as an art is that individual titles die out. The older a game gets, the better the chance it will stop working on new machines. There was this awesome old Mac game called System's Twilight. It was a lot of fun, but it won't run at all on any new mac. The machines that will run it grow ever older and dustier. I think this is HUGELY wasteful.
Someday, people won't be able to play Baldur's Gate 2 or Planescape: Torment anymore. This really sucks. I want to delay my games going the same way as long as possible.
Avernum is starting to get wonky on new machines. The tech support complaints are growing steadily. Until I get some sort of universal language I can use to make games that run well forever, all I can do is freshen them up with new versions myself.
It Doesn't Keep Me From Making New Games
Sometimes, people say to me, "You should use the time to make something new." Hey, I'll still make new stuff. But if one old game dies off so I can make one new game, I haven't increased the number of games in the universe.
Releasing a nicer new Avernum will introduce it to a whole new audience. And hey, it's new to them.
It Makes Lots Of Money
A carefully done and marketed rewrite takes a fraction of the time to develop of a whole new game, and it can sell almost as much. A week hasn't gone by in the last fifteen or so years that I haven't made money off of Exile (in one form of it or another), and I have every intention of eating out on that game until I die. That is the reward of being brave, starting your own business, and making your own IP.
So Indie developers, if you put out a game and it gets some traction, and a decade passes, freshen it up, expand it a little, and kick it out there again! If it's good in year X, it'll still be good in year X + 10.