New publishing methods (The Square Enix Collective)

Syroc

Tarsier Studios
#1
Earlier today I attended a talk by Phil Elliot from Sqaure Enix at the NordicGame Conference. He talked about the Square Enix Collective and the publishing business in general.

The Sqaure Enix Collective isn't really a defined thing at the moment as far as I understood it, but essentially it's about finding new ways of publishing games and giving more options to developers and gamers to see new ideas championed and released.

Phil gave three examples of how this could look. (I'm trying to remember them as best as I could, but it's been a few hours and I didn't get much sleep last night…)

First, similar to Steam Greenlight players could be given the option to indicate whether or not they would buy a game if it were made. Or they could also be allowed to vote on things like price point or choose whether the game should be episodic, free to play, or be traditional full-priced title.

Second, existing IPs could be opened up to independent developers.
That is to say developers could pitch ideas for games set in the world of existing lower profile IPs (e.g. not Final Fantasy) or games that might not necessarily sell that well these days, like Gex or Kane & Lynch.
That way developers could bring back old characters and/or expand upon worlds that a small group of players know and love, but that might not necessarily warrant a triple A treatment. Developers might even be able to take characters from say a traditional first-person shooter and put them in a sidescrolling platformer like, say, Flashback.

Finally, players could invest in games. Much like you can today with Kickstarter there would be different levels. At the base level you would just get the game, but where it deviates from Kickstarter is that instead of giving you the soundtrack, a mug, and a T-Shirt, for investing more money you would essentially get shares. The more you pay upfront, the more shares you get, and the more money you will earn from the shares after the launch of the game. (This would most likely be a legal nightmare as highlighted by Project Cars.)

Anyway, I thought these were some interesting ideas and I was wondering what you guys would think about publishers giving developers more options and allowing players to give feedback on game ideas as well as the games' price and business model.

Would you be willing to invest some of your money, if you knew that you might get back a small share of the profit? Do you think this would make it possible for developers to make more medium-sized titles again? Would developers be able to bring new ideas to the market if there were different publishing deals? If you could make any changes to existing publishing models, what would you change?

I particularly like the second idea of allowing third party developers to take on existing franchises and approaching them in a new way. Of course, for this to work publishers/IP owners must be willing to give developers the freedom to do anything they like with those IPs, but I think we could see some really interesting new games.
Not to mention that new developers and students straight out of university could take an existing IP and modify it. It's often easier to take existing idea and adapt since you start out with a basic skeleton and don't have to start from scratch.

For those who only read the last paragraph: The old publishing business needs to adapt to new circumstances. What would you change? What could make it easier for developers to bring new ideas to the market?
 
#3
This is the kind of thing the company - and beyond Square Enix more publishers in general - need to experiment with. Square Enix has a really powerful stable of largely-dormant IPs, for instance, that could benefit from allowing indies and other people who might be able to stretch and expand ideas in ways massive studios wouldn't at them. With the company seeming to reposition itself more towards mobile, free to play and other smaller games, as well, the ideas expressed there actually lean into that rather well, but could also generate ideas that could if deemed good enough be folded into other larger developments.

There's questions, though, of course. If you're an indie, do you really want to make a Gex spiritual successor and shackle your design ambitions to Square Enix when you could try your own original thing and potentially become an indie smash-hit all alone? It's easier, sure enough, but it also gives you a lot less freedom as an indie or a new industry entry, as well. It would have to be a fairly good deal offered by Square Enix, I guess, or the developers would have to be particularly strong fans of a given series.

Does Chrono Trigger count as a dormant IP now? ;) Not that Japan would ever let their franchises get touched in this way, I guess. In these cases, I think you're by and large talking about Eidos, really.
 
#4
I'm open to them making/supporting games and finding new ways to do that in a financially healthy and responsible manner. But whatever road they take, the games have to be quality games. There's no certainty in that.
 
#8
I'm open to them making/supporting games and finding new ways to do that in a financially healthy and responsible manner. But whatever road they take, the games have to be quality games. There's no certainty in that.
I'd argue that a good chunk of the quality problems Square Enix has grappled with this generation has come from development getting too big, bloated and lengthy, especially in Japan. The sort of development process that goes into smaller, more targeted games from smaller teams - even with old IP - is something I think they could learn from across the board.
 

Syroc

Tarsier Studios
#9
There's questions, though, of course. If you're an indie, do you really want to make a Gex spiritual successor and shackle your design ambitions to Square Enix when you could try your own original thing and potentially become an indie smash-hit all alone? It's easier, sure enough, but it also gives you a lot less freedom as an indie or a new industry entry, as well. It would have to be a fairly good deal offered by Square Enix, I guess, or the developers would have to be particularly strong fans of a given series.
That's true of course. You would most likely lose some creative freedom, but on the other hand it can be quite difficult for new developers, with no proven track record, to find a publisher for their totally new and unique game. This way they would get a first chance to build a relationship with a publisher.

As an example, for Tarsier Studios, the company I work for, it was really difficult to find a publisher who wanted to publish City of Metronome in the form the guys who came up with it wanted to make it. So that project is now on hold, but over the years Tarsier created the PSN version of RagDoll Kung Fu and did a lot of outsourcing work for the LBP franchise and that work in the end lead to us making LittleBigPlanet PS Vita and now we are in position to further pursue our own titles.

So, I think taking on an existing IP can be a great opportunity for developers. It's not like everyone first game will be as successful as say Super Meatboy or Fez.

What is with this epidemic of misspelled thread titles?
Sorry! It was a simple typo.
 
#11
I very much like the 2nd suggestion, opening up to other developers when it comes to dormant or less than successful franchises would be good.

The first one is good as well, but I am not so sure how many people would they need so that their opinion can actually be worth it.
 
#12
Finally, players could invest in games. Much like you can today with Kickstarter there would be different levels. At the base level you would just get the game, but where it deviates from Kickstarter is that instead of giving you the soundtrack, a mug, and a T-Shirt, for investing more money you would essentially get shares. The more you pay upfront, the more shares you get, and the more money you will earn from the shares after the launch of the game. (This would most likely be a legal nightmare as highlighted by Project Cars.)
Hey! This isn't even a new idea! Lol!

http://asia.gamespot.com/news/konami-opens-game-funds-2645218

Konami already tried this 13 years ago!

On Wednesday, Konami and Monex announced that they will establish a new online finance system called Game Funds in Japan. Consumers and investors can sign up and provide funds for the company's software development. The first projects to take advantage of this are Tokimeki Memorial 3 and a new Tokimeki Memorial title (which targets female users) for the Sony PlayStation 2. The Tokimeki Memorial series is a dating simulation targeted mainly at male users that allows players to interact with and date female characters in the game.

Applications will be accepted between November 9 and December 20, and a minimum investment of 100,000 yen (about US$1000) is required. Anyone investing over the minimum will have his or her name included in the ending credits, and anyone that invests over 200,000 yen (about US$2000) will also receive a limited edition of Tokimeki Memorial 3. The total funding for this project will be limited to 12 billion yen (about US$120 million). Consumers and investors will gain a return profit - the amount is dependent on game sales - by June 30, 2003.

Tokimeki Memorial 3 and the new Tokimeki Memorial title for the PS2 will be released by the end of fiscal year 2001 in Japan.
 

Syroc

Tarsier Studios
#13
I very much like the 2nd suggestion, opening up to other developers when it comes to dormant or less than successful franchises would be good.

The first one is good as well, but I am not so sure how many people would they need so that their opinion can actually be worth it.
Yes, that could be problem. It depends on the scope of the title of course, but at the very least they would get a rough indication of how much people would be willing to pay for it, etc.

Hey! This isn't even a new idea! Lol!

http://asia.gamespot.com/news/konami-opens-game-funds-2645218

Konami already tried this 13 years ago!
That's interesting. I wonder how that worked out for them.
 

Syroc

Tarsier Studios
#15
This was properly unveiled today.

Game designers will be able to post ideas for games to the Square Enix Collective platform, which can then be judged by the Collective community, made up of players signed up to the platform.

If the community collectively decides that an idea is great, Square Enix will then utilize a new partnership with crowd-funding website Indiegogo to help get the game idea funded and development underway, and provide distribution services once the game is ready to ship.

Any project pitches can be submitted to the platform for free, whether it simply be to receive feedback from players, or to shoot for the Indiegogo funding plan. Square Enix says that the idea is that studios can receive real feedback from real players, and build momentum behind the idea.

Once a game has been on the platform for 28 days, Square Enix then makes a decision on whether or not your game idea has been successful enough to suggest IndieGogo funding is possible.
The underlying concept, says Square Enix, is to encourage an open development process amongst studios, and for developers to offer transparency and communication with the Collective community around all decision-making.

Notably, Square Enix is also offering some of its own IP to the program. If the company decides that an idea could work well with some of its older Eidos IP, it may choose to allow a studio to build a new game using one of these IPs. The specific IPs up for grabs will be announced at the GDC Next conference next month in L.A.
More info on Gamasutra