In ten years, Jeff Vogel - the man behind Spiderweb Games [sic] - has released an impressive eleven games... or the same game eleven different times if you want to be a hater. Through the 2000's Jeff released Avernum 2-6, Geneforge 2-5, Nethergate: Resurrection and Blades of Avernum.
If there's anyone who owes his success to the "just make a sequel" methodology, it is Jeff Vogel. While the professional studios fail left and right, Jeff has somehow or another managed to chip out a tiny niche market for himself. And pretty much only himself. He's nestled into it now and is well and truly quite snug.
Updating little if anything of his games over the past decade, Jeff has simply added story and new locations to explore. He's changed some bits and pieces as he goes of course but the core technology has almost always remained consistently the same. The graphics too. In any other genre this would be a death knell but when it comes to RPGs, it seems the shittier the graphics, the more chances there are of having more interesting role-playing elements.
There's a lot I can say about this, but I'm most interested in the bit about how I have not changed my core technology in ten years. And you know something? They're exactly right. In fact, my "core technology" is so rough and low-budget that I am embarrassed to call it "technology." I still use it year after year. And yet, somehow, during the last decade, my fan base and profits increased dramatically.
If you asked me why I used that same old clunky game engine and why I am still using it, I would give this answer: Because I am really smart and cool and awesome. And if more people emulated me, the game industry would not be near so messed up.
Now, mind you, I don't write the same game again and again. That's like saying an author who wrote ten books wrote the same book each time because they are published using the same paper and ink. Did I write a whole-new story? Then it's a whole new game.
But it's gotten to the point where a company is expected to be ashamed for using the same engine for more than one title and a few DLC packs. The Gold Box games and the Infinity Engine are rare exceptions.
This is such an astonishing waste of resources. When I start a new game, I spend 3-4 months rewriting the worst or most dated part of my engine, and then I take that old (but solid) engine and make the coolest story I can with it. It's a small company. Our resources are desperately limited. Thus, I don't spend time remaking things that already work. If my wolf icon looks good, why make a new wolf icon just for the sake of making a new one? Instead, I focus on the story, the one thing that truly needs to be all new and excellent.
And the big companies, who make AAA games with these amazing awesome big-budget engines? They should re-use more of them! The Dragon Age engine is very cool. Make ten games with it! And not just piddly Dragon Age DLC either. Make games that are cyberpunk, horror, science fiction, fantasy in a new setting. The budgets will be much lower, and that makes it easier to take risks. And use the same dragon model. It looks really sweet. And, once the engine is a drained husk (in, say, five years), then spend a lot of money making a new one.
(And, while I'm dreaming, why not use that engine to make more, cheaper, shorter games. Games short enough that people could actually reach the ends of them. I think part of the reason Portal and Braid are so lauded is that they're short enough for normal people to see the end.)
And if more assets are reused, there will be less work for the artists, coders, and testers to do. They just add to each game the assets and features that specific title needs. Which means that they might be able to spend less time in the crushing permanent crunch mode that burns most developers out young.
Most people will dismiss this idea out of hand, saying that I don't know anything about the realities of the business. And they are probably right. I'm just a dumb, little nobody. But I am running a profitable game company. But Electronic Arts and Activision (the company that owns Blizzard!) are losing bazillions of dollars. Development studios have been closing left and right. Games are crazy expensive to make and burn developers out. Massive layoffs are endemic.
Spiderweb Software, on the other hand, have seen sales drop about 10% during the big recession, but we're still comfortable and quite profitable. And I'm supposed to be ashamed of my business model? Pish!
And, in some ways, the industry is moving slowly in my direction. Once, in the heady early days after Doom came out, every company had hotshot coders who wanted to write their own 3-D engine. These days, companies wisely just license the Unreal engine or whatever. Now it is common to license graphics engines, sound engines, video engines, physics engines. Reusing old resources in new games is already the right strategy. I just take it to the natural extreme. Others should follow my worthy example.
And, in the long run, I don't think gamers will really care if three games use the same dragon model.
So thanks to RPG Codex for the press. I will address their comments about how hardly anyone else does what I do in a future post, because I have something to say about how awesome it is to have competitors.