Well, an interesting development has arisen. As of now, the official home of the Scars of War community (by which I mean the forum) is moving to Iron Tower Studios. Vince made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. (Not killing my family and everyone I know and love)
Heh, ok, jokes aside, I’ll explain the reasoning and ramifications.
Vince and his team have a vision. They see ITS as not simply a development house but as a sort of indie RPG label or brand. Not a publisher, in the traditional sense, but a way to offer indie devs some of the things that traditional publishers offer mainstream devs, but structured around the idea of a community effort, a pooling of resources and a meeting of equals rather than the traditional master/servant roles that publisher-developer relationships encourage. Strength in numbers, to put it simply.
What is the hardest challenge facing indie developers? The answer may surprise some people. It’s not making the game. It’s getting exposure. Many an indie has finished their game and launched it to the sound of crickets chirping in the background. No one knows about these games and marketing is so expensive that achieving even a tiny fraction of the exposure that the mainstream does is an incredibly difficult task. Which is a dismal prospect because it puts the control in the hands of the people who control the marketing channels, the people with the money, the publishers and the portals. Which allows them to do things like suddenly cutting the retail price of your game without you having much say in the matter. Indies who want to go it alone have a hard struggle ahread of them just to get noticed.
Which brings us back to the ITS vision. There is strength in numbers, that is a well known adage. Rather than each indie dev struggling alone to be noticed, why not pool strength and effort? Age of Decadence is a “hardcore RPG”, the people who are interested in it are interested in that genre of game. Instead of working so hard to attract their attention to each and every new hardcore RPG game, why not create a home for that type of game so that you can attract attention to multiple games at once? Much more efficient. Any marketing push that brings in new customers is likely to benefit the other developers in that group as well.
With that in mind, the benefit to SoW for moving to ITS is fairly obvious. Vince is a skilled marketer, due to his efforts and the efforts of his team, AoD is getting a lot of attention, far beyond the norm for most indie titles in development. By moving under their banner I get to share in the benefits of that.
Which might make it seem like the relationship is a bit one-sided. Not entirely You see, I firmly believe that one of the best forms of marketing/PR for an indie is to “sell your uniqueness”. By which I don’t mean selling out. I mean taking full advantage of what makes you stand out, your idea, your personality, your vision. Stand up and talk about it, let people know what you’re about. So does Vince, in fact he has been encouraging me to talk about SoW for a while now, his efforts influenced me in setting up this blog and being more public with my development.
I think we’re all hungry for that uniqueness; in a sea of homogenous titles it’s the unique, interesting and different stands out, draws attention. Especially in today’s marketplace, where PR people are so desperate to satisfy everyone that they are afraid of any choice which could offend or alienate any group. Games are easy, they avoid topics which might exclude a demographic, they cater to the widest possible audience they can. The result of which is that while games are still kinda fun, few of them are really satisfying to any particular niche. The offerings end up being bland, forgettable.
That applies not just to the games, but the developers. The real “personalities” in the industries are all remnants of yesteryear. Massive teams and the PR lockdown means that few personalities stand out in the industry, you rarely get a sense of a strong vision. Nor do you get great opportunities to directly interact with developers, they’re locked away behind walls of corporate strategy and “public relations”. And I think we as gamers long for some sense of the genuine, a real interaction with the real people behind the products we love. I know I do.
So I believe indies can and should offer that interaction. Vince does, and I try to with this blog. But it isn’t easy. Maintaining a public presence and interacting with the community is tiring, it takes effort to maintain. There are times when you struggle to keep it up, when life is too hectic and, to the outside world, it seems like you’ve gone silent. It happens on this blog, it happens at ITS. As powerful as “talking about your vision/game/ideas” is for drawing people to you, if you can’t maintain it they will lose interest, your audience will drift away, you lose that hard-won momentum.
This is another area where the idea of pooling resources comes into play. While one dev team might be going through a difficult time, others can be there to “pick up the slack” as it were, to provide new and interesting content to keep people coming back to visit and interact.
Which is were the relationship becomes more mutual. Simply by doing what I’m doing now, by updating about SoW progress and writing opinion pieces and the like, I can help contribute to the community building efforts at ITS. When there is no new news about AoD, there may be news about SoW, or Cyclopean.
And it will only get better. AoD is the big title for the moment, further along and with more for people to look at an discuss. But SoW is getting there, with Cyclopean following a bit further out in the future. Each of us can work to fill in the lulls for the others, keeping fans/customers interested and coming back for more. And as more people learn of ITS as “the place to go for hardcore indie RPGs”, it only gets better for all of us. Working together, we’re far stronger than alone.
So that is the idea. For now, SoW will maintain the separate website/blog while sharing the ITS forums. But the future may see greater consolidation, we’ll work it out as we go along.
As a final note, let me answer some questions/concerns that may have occured to people.
Is SoW “under ITS control” now? How independant are you Gareth/Zach?
SoW is the same as it was before, with added support on the marketing/business side. Zach and I are developing SoW, we make all decisions on the game. Obviously we listen to forum feedback and suggestions (regardless of whether they come from fans or ITS devs), but that is independant of the url of the forum. At the end of the day, the final say is mine. And I can walk away from ITS at any time if I feel the need, there is no real “contract” locking me in.
What if AoD is a flop and ITS goes under? What will happen to SoW?
Personally, that would be sad. From a business sense, it would be a setback but not a devestating one. You have to remember, all that SoW is now was built from scratch, and most of the time was taken learning how to do things. If ITS went under, even if everything SoW related was under their banner, it would take me less than a week to re-establish an independant web presence. And I’d immediately email any news sites of the move while inviting the displaced ITS community to visit us. In the end, I still think this will be a net beneficial effect for SoW regardless.
But what if AoD is crap, won’t people associate that crapness with SoW?
I suppose they might. I don’t think AoD will be crap, honestly, but lets assume it turns out that it is. SoW is a different game, different viewpoint, different style, different combat, different writer, different art, different gameplay systems. I think it’s different enough for people to not automatically jump to the conclusion that it will be “just like AoD!”. And I will work actively to explain the game to news sites so that they and their readers understand those what is interesting and unique about SoW. That, and actively showing off the game/offering demos should counter any negative association, if it came to that.
But I don’t think it will come to that. Vince and the team are very receptive to feedback, if people try the demo and it sucks I think it will just push back release deadlines a few years, lol.
I think that about covers it. Feel free to ask any questions you have. And visit the new forums!
(The old SoW forums will remain up for a little while, I will post a thread redirecting people to ITS so that they have a chance to relocate)