manifestologo.jpgIt’s getting a wee bit repetitive writing about casual game companies (see here, here, here, here and here for our coverage). Doesn’t anybody have some other kind of business plan? Sure, it’s a great opportunity to go after the market of people who are just discovering simple “casual” games that don’t take a lot of time to play. But it feels like there are too many start-ups in casual games, just as there were too many mobile games companies.

Thankfully, Greg Costikyan, who has 30 years of experience designing games, has hardcore games alongside the casual ones in the portfolio of his independent developer games site, Manifesto Games. The games — either casual or hardcore — are the result of “indie” game designers. That is, they were created by independent developers who are more like hobbyists or under-capitalized professionals trying to break into the inner circle of the game industry. Costikyan wants to create the Miramax of digitally distributed games and is raising a round of funding, VentureBeat has learned.

costikyan.jpgTo be honest, I love the idea but I’m not sure this company can pull it off. It’s been trying to get off the ground for a few years, with visitors to the site a couple thousand a day. If there were justice in this world, this company ought to be able to raise money. Hey, if investors want to throw money at casual games, Costikyan deserves a few million to launch version 2.0 of his company. I’m not sure that will happen. As much as I admire Costykian’s intentions, I have to classify his effort as a long shot.

Three-year-old Manifesto Games is the anti-Electronic Arts if there ever was one. Its name came from a rant that Costikyan gave periodically at the Game Developers Conference. CEO Costikyan says the company’s manifesto is to “create for games what indie music and film provide: an audience and market for creativity and individual vision, defying the big publishers’ mediocrity and hype.”

making_history_ss.jpgThe 200 or so titles up on the company’s site now include everything from the World War II what-if game “Making History” to the familiar text-adventure “Zork” series of games from the early days of dungeon games. I’m talking about 80’s games, for those of you who are too young to remember. These are the sorts of games I loved to play when I was a youngster. It’s a pity they don’t make them anymore with anything resembling a big budget. The games run on Macs, Linux computers, and PCs.

Costikyan, who has 30 years of video game experience and co-founded the unsuccessful mobile game start-up Unplugged Games, believes that such games will make a comeback as everyone tires of the Hollywood-style blockbuster games. But he wants to revamp the site so that it’s much more inviting to visit, like a social network. Essentially, he wants to integrate game play into the navigation of the site itself so that its appeal will be far more viral.

The New York startup is seeking a round of funding of about $3 million to $3.5 million. The company started in 2005 and raised $170,000 from friends and family.

Co-founder Johnny Wilson, a well-known game industry journalist, joined Costikyan in starting the company but has since left. In his place, Costikyan recruited Nathan Solomon, former vice president of business development for (game retailer, now part of GameStop) Electronic Boutique.

The company has a few competitors of varying degrees. Valve LLC has created its Steam network for online games. That includes digital distribution of popular hardcore titles such as Counter-Strike. Kongregate is another indie games site that promotes user-generated games.

depths_ofperil.jpgBut perhaps the biggest competitors to come are the console makers themselves. Microsoft is promoting indie games through contests for developers to create games that can be downloaded by gamers using the Xbox Live online game service. Nintendo has set up its WiiWare business for developers to upload games for sale to Wii owners. And Sony has encouraged the creation of indie titles such as “echochrome” for its PlayStation Network.

Costikyan says that, so far, Manifesto’s games include ad-based games and games that give you a try out option before you buy and unlock the full game. The company is not profitable yet, which is why Costikyan is putting an emphasis on revamping the site to make it more viral.