The effects of crowd-sourcing have steadily grown over the past year. Marc Lynch explores the idea with OpRainfall co-owner Richard Ross
Last year was a milestone for the little people of the video game industry. With the recent scheduling of Pandora’s Tower for a North American release in the spring, Operation Rainfall’s grassroots social media campaign has become a resounding success, not only for the little guy, but also for the publishers that ended up publishing the games in North America.
Crowd-power services such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Steam Greenlight have also become a real force in the industry. They have effectively allowed gamers a genuine say in the publication chances for some games. In more focused cases, the groundswell of attention from fans has generated honest reactions from professionals on the development side of the industry such as with the outcry generated over the ending of Mass Effect 3.
So what does this mean for an industry that has previously been pushed forward primarily at the whim of publishers? Is the general public ready to shoulder the responsibility of providing a greater influence in the games market?
Press2Reset had the chance to pick the brain of OpRainfall (formerly Operation Rainfall) co-owner Richard Ross, and while the original Rainfall campaign has long since been retired, he and his team are still proud (yet also modest) of the successes they have seen in the industry. Ross said, “It’s sort of surreal to be honest. We don’t let it get to our heads as we officially never take credit for any of the games coming over, but there’s this sense of accomplishment to see the group you’ve been running over the past two years get mentioned anytime any of those games come up. I like to bring my family members to the computer when a site covers the games and Operation Rainfall and say ‘Look what I got into!’ It’s neat!”
The accomplishments don’t stop there either. XSEED Games, publisher of The Last Story and the upcoming Pandora’s Tower, has already experienced record sales for the former. Back in November, XSEED executive vice president Ken Berry said, “The Last Story has been an amazing title for XSEED Games and it has become our most successful title to date.”
So why was it such a battle to bring over these titles? It was obvious to at least some gamers from the start that the Wii console was in desperate need of quality RPGs such as the OpRainfall three, so why did publishers put up so much initial resistance? Ross explained, “They probably didn’t know if people would be interested. Japanese role-playing games that aren’t named Final Fantasy have a hard time being profitable in the western world, regardless of pedigree, and in Pandora’s Tower sake it was most likely lack of pedigree. Why release a game out in the wild that has little chance to succeed and not make much of a profit off of it?”
From the standpoint of a business, that makes complete sense. It’s often the reason that publishers dismiss formulas that have yet to be tested with a wide audience or those that seem to have fallen out of favor such as adventure games like those created by Double Fine Productions founder Tim Schafer. Last year, in an interview with Digital Spy, Schafer confirmed this, “Publishers often don’t want to release anything new, I mean they’re scared of new IP, and Double Fine specializes in new IP.”
Luckily for Schafer and other like-minded developers, the consumers of the video game industry think a little bit differently. At this point, Double Fine Adventure is something of a legend at Kickstarter. It was arguably the first high-profile campaign for crowd-sourcing in the video game industry, raising over $3m towards development in just over a month.
After that, developers such as the Ouya team, American McGee, and Harebrained Schemes began to realize that crowd-sourcing could be a legitimate testing ground for their new ideas. Indie developers were also able to capitalize on the craze with new IPs coming out of teams like 10×10 Room (Conclave) and Subset Games (FTL: Faster Than Light).
Valve’s Greenlight service has added another avenue for indie games to reach the spotlight, but Ross says there is potential for abuse as well without the financial risk of services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Ross added, “I think any avenue in which the consumer can have some say in the hobby they enjoy is good. It lets developers and publishers know what works and what people want rather than them throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. Sometimes it takes people voting with their wallet for them to understand what works and what doesn’t. On the other hand, there’s potential to abuse things like Steam Greenlight where it makes it a popularity contest rather than a way to gauge interest. After all, there’s no financial risk involved in just saying ‘you’ll buy it.’ Then there’s other times where we as a consumer are better off having the professionals figure out what we want, otherwise it leaves no room for pleasant surprises anymore.”
But while these kinds of campaigning services have their share of pitfalls, Ross predicts that the localizations of games and sharing of new ideas can only go forward. “Video game fans want to play more and more games and with language barriers, the only way to play some overseas games is to ask the publisher to localize it/make it (outside of learning the language, of course). Whether it’s worth people’s time is up for debate, after all there are some games that just aren’t going to be made or localized no matter how loud you demand and others that plain suck. However, with the push for digital releases it’s possible that it’ll be easier to release more niche games with less financial risk, which could potentially result in less need for people to ask.”
While OpRainfall’s days of campaigning for new games are over (Ross said, “It became apparent that we’d never have the same passion for any other game like we did for the [original three]”), the OpRainfall co-owner said that he still sees “a ton of ‘operations’ pop up every day for some games,” some of which they host in their Campaign Hub at the OpRainfall website. Ross added, “We realized we have over 10,000 fans on Facebook that we didn’t want to upset, so we came up with an alternative. Basically, we set up a website (oprainfall.com) so we can spread awareness of games we ARE getting to hopefully gain more profits for them and create a positive effect of getting more niche games (JRPGs or otherwise).”
The video games industry is arguably one of the most mercurial industries out there. Gamers are a tricky bunch to please, and public opinion and taste in genres is always evolving, always changing. Giving that public a guiding hand on the reins may not always be the solution, but learning about which way they pull might give publishers and developers an extra edge in finding out what is going to work for everyone. And really, isn’t that what we all want?
Follow Marc on Twitter: @MarcOnP2R