Monday, September 21, 2009

Money is OK

There’s a general sentiment among many indie game developers that making money is at least a little bit evil.  I suppose it’s probably a lot like other “starving artist” mindsets in other media and industries, but whatever the context, I find that idea interesting.  Since this blog is about video games, I’ll stick to those here.

In some ways for some people the indie game movement is a rebellion of sorts against the corporate empires that dominate the game industry.  We see the games that these companies produce year after year, the money they spend on development, and we are not particularly enthused with what happens when game companies have share holders to please.  Those shareholders and various executives usually seem to care more about return on investment and are busy counting the dollars that flow into their accounts.

Indie developers often seem to conclude that in order to stay true to their own ideas and self expression, they can’t go that route, i.e. sell out for money.  By that I’m talking about making changes to their games to make them more like what is popular just to grab some dollars.

I agree that doing anything just for the money is greedy.  I’m sure there are plenty of high-rolling executives and shareholders that aren’t just in it for the money, but the games that so many of the big corporations release indicate a lot of them are.  They’re afraid to take risks because they’re afraid to lose money, and they’re afraid to lose money because ultimately they value the money more than pushing the industry ahead.  I do think that’s selfish.

However, I would argue that those indie developers who are unwilling to create products that are popular and thereby make more money are just as selfish.  In fact, I would say that their situation is more dangerous because it’s more subtle and is considered by them to be the moral highground.

So how is not making money selfish?

There’s no magic involved when it comes to making money.  If you offer a product, service, or idea to another person that they value more than the money you’re asking, then they will give you that money for it.  If millions of people buy your game, then you have created a game that millions of people value.  You have served them, made their life at least a little bit better in some way.  If very few people buy your game, then very few people value what you’ve done, and so you have served very few people.

If your goal is to create your vision and express yourself, then whether your game sells or not, you’ve created your dream.  You value it, and you profit from it in non-monetary ways.  To say that you don’t want to make money is to say you don’t want to create something that other people will value too.  Doesn’t that sound at least a little bit selfish?

Since the only way to make money in a free market is to create something that other people do value, it’s ironic that those big corporate empires can be so selfish and yet create so much value at the same time.  Maybe some would argue based on what I’ve written here that they aren’t selfish then.  It all depends on why they’re doing what they’re doing.  If they’re doing it to maintain their ROI and keep the money flowing, their motive is still selfish.  If their motive is to give people what they value, then they’re not—the fact that they’re making money doesn’t change anything at all.

1 comment:

  1. I agree to that Tom.
    As a flash game developer from India, I know some what of these facts, but usually people work for money and they don't worry about how complex it is. They could have earned it easily !!!
    In my case, I am working for half paid, half public service kind of job, and am happy with that :) Last but not least, I am serving the Country :)