There are basically two types of big budget studio-made PC game. The AAA singleplayer or multiplayer game, and the MMO. In some rare cases, the studio will hold over a big proportion of the budget to provide post release supprot to encourage continued playing of the non MMO game. The best examples of these are clearly Team Fortress 2 and Galactic Civilisations. Both games have had tons of post-release add-ons and support and patches. I think they may even rival GSB. (I’m only half kidding, GSB has had 47 post release improvement patches).
The majority of gamers, commentators and critics would describe this trend as being a “good thing”. I agree, I find it awesome. As games visual fidelity improves, and the rate of the improvement slows, we are increasingly finding that a four or even 6 year old fgame is perfectly playable, without cringing. I have recently become re-addicted to Call of Duty 2 multiplayer, and it’s a relief to see some people still playing that game everyday, enough for a decent game when I feel like it.
The problem with the ‘ongoing, maybe never-ending post-release support’ thing, is that it costs money. Valve are treating TF2 as their internal business test-bed, so sales are fairly irrelevant to them, but stardock can only pump money into GalCiv, or Elemental, until the money runs out. Paying a whole studfio with offices and pensions costs a lot of money.
And here is where I think it gets interesting. Take indie games like Minecraft or… GSB for example. Minecraft has made enough money to buy the moon, so it’s already achieved what I’m thinking of. GSB hasn’t done so yet. But the interesting thing is that, in theory, if GSB could break through it’s current threshold to have a high enough level of ongoing sales over time, it *could* become a permenantly supported and expanded and improved game. Effectively an MMO without the fees. Paying just my wages is far cheaper than an entire studio. Massively cheaper.
This is a bit of a pipe dream, but when you think about, you’ll see how it explains a lot of what I’ve been doing. There have been 4 expansion packs, and a campaign expansion is coming soon. The existing expansions don’t bring in buckets of money, but they do keep the game in the news and in the minds of gamers, and help it to continue selling. If I was to publish daily sales figures, you would see them as laughable next to minecraft, but I don’t need $100,000 a day to keep working on GSB. I don’t even need 1% of that.
The likliehood is that the campaign will make *some* money, and hopefully tide me over for a while as I get stuck into my top secret next game. But in theory, if I could propel it slightly higher, could there be another year of continual improvements to GSB? The game could become truly awesome over that time. It’s not like there aren’t 500 new ideas for stuff to improve the game. Hmmmm.