What do David Cage, Sid Meier and Hideo Kojima have in common ? They understood long ago that video games, like any other art form, shall reflect one’s personal vision, like a musician’s album or an author’s book.
Something pretty exciting happened a few days ago. Tim Schafer obtained, though Kickstarter, 1,7mil $ in pledges for an unnammed, unspecified point and click adventure game no one wants to publish or fund. If this picks up as a trend, we will finally see more auteur-driven games instead of publisher-driven ones. Auteurs like David Jaffe, Tetsuya Takahashi, Swery65, Hidetaka Miyazaki, Yokoo Taro, and such could have what this medium really needs: more creative freedom.
In the Internet age, publishers are less useful than they used to be, but they still take the same share of profit and have the same amount of control on content. I have yet to hear a story where a publisher made a game better. Oh, I am sure that there are some, publishers are not all the devil incarnate and not everything is black and white. But we heard plenty of stories where publishers made a game worse or at least less unique. Publishers don’t want to take to much risk with a project, and that’s why every mid-budget to AAA game tries to emulate what seems to sell at the moment: tacked-on multiplayer, protagonists that all look the same (generic bald guy in the West, generic young emo in Asia), shooting in games that don’t need it (I’m looking at you, Deadly Premonition), online passes, tyrannical deadlines that results in buggy or unfinished games, etc. etc.
But, guess what : in every medium, the publisher is going to have less and less of a role to play: blogs replace book publishers, last.fm replaces music publishers etc. etc. This could be it for videogames. We don’t need publishers anymore to inform us about new games (that’s what google is for), we don’t need them anymore to find out what people want (that’s what Facebook and the like are for) and, thanks to crowd funding, we don’t need them to loan some money to developers at what is the equivalent of a ridiculous interest rate .
While I don’t see all this as a new venue for indie (but indie games are already exploding under the current market), this trends is something that can really resurrect mid-budget games. If pre-orders are directly paid to the developers, they really only need 1/3 of what they would need had they to pay the publisher and retail. And what do they lose ? TV ads ? Seriously ? Valve did the TV ads for Portal themselves and I’m pretty sure any intern could do an ad for a videogame better than most of what we see.
UPDATE : lol @ ACTIVISION trying to defend that publishers are indeed more useful than we think. Honestly, If the best thing you can say you brought to the table is "we funded games that sold a lot", you probably are even more useless than I thought.
SECOND UPDATE : Yay, Michael Pachter agrees !
I'll say it again. I'm sure there are, but I have yet to hear a story where a publisher made a game better.