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Anyone Can Make A Game

By on May 17, 2011
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Through 15 years in games, mobile and web development, Kevin Hassall has worked as a producer, project manager, executive producer and publishing director. He now works as a freelance producer and outsourcing consultant, through his consultancy Beriah Games Ltd.

Once upon a time, game developers – professional game makers – made games. And someone, either a publisher or a customer, bought them.

That was good news for game development companies: if anyone wanted a game made, that person would have to come to them. It was also really bad news for most of the people who might want to have games made. For years there was talk of brands, ad agencies, license holders, etc., all making their own games, but it rarely happened, partly for logical reasons (measurability, for example) but largely because the ability to create games was the preserve of people who didn’t much care about what these clients wanted.

Anyone can make a game but most game developers haven’t noticed

Now, that situation has changed. Now, anyone can make a game. And the weirdest thing is, most game developers haven’t even noticed.

I’ve worked with companies within the conventional games space who are, basically, one or two person companies. They have the drive to get a game made, and they make it happen (or I make it happen for them, as the case may be). These are people like Revolution in the UK, or PlayPen in Hong Kong. These firms are seen as an oddity, but most people in the games industry accept, however grudgingly, that companies like this can be very effective: Revolution’s Broken Sword series, for example, is widely admired.

But what is more significant is that people are now coming in from outside of games, and making games. And for them, making a game without involving a game development company is absolutely normal.

For example, I would argue that the single most striking game of the last two years was iHobo. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a “virtual pet” type game, where you take responsibility for looking after a virtual homeless person. It ignores almost all the conventions of games – there is no score, no levels, no choice of “pet”, no replay value, and you have to play when it wants you to (when the Push Notifications prompt you) not when you want to. But the result is dramatic. You play the game for a few seconds at a time over the course of two days, and in the end you will look at homeless people differently. It’s a game that changes how you relate to other human beings: that’s a startling achievement, especially from a game which is so technically simple.

The people who wanted iHobo made were Depaul UK, the homeless charity. They didn’t go to a game developer. They went to Publicis – a Communications (PR) agency.

And this is not unusual. Agencies, brand owners and charities are now creating games simply by marshalling individual resources or working with tiny (one, two or three person) companies. They can make games with freelancers alone, so long as a capable project manager is in place, so why would they want to bother contracting a games development company?

For most of the games that are being made – browser, Facebook, tablet and phone games – nobody needs to involve a “game development company” in the making of a game. And increasingly, people aren’t bothering to. This is great news for brand owners, charities, ad agencies… and consumers. But it should terrify most UK games development companies.

About Kevin Hassall

Kevin Hassall is Director at Beriah. Beriah builds better developments for a variety of video game companies: simply, Beriah frees developers from their resource constraints.
  • Creative North’s background is very much as a game developer, but I think they’ll make anything they are asked to make. As I said, we have a skill set that is in demand (if we look in the right places).

  •  I didn’t name names 🙂

    But I think we both agree that if you are not a high-profile developer with a proven brand that publishers *really* want to work with, you are going to be squeezed from both ends.

  • Kevin Hassall

    Absolutely it can be very good news for individual developers, especially coders, whose skills  are very much in demand, and, as I said, for small teams.

    As an aside, it’s interesting that Creative North still think of themselves as a conventional game developer – their website only mentions iHobo and a recycling app, and talks as if they are a digital agency. Still, your thoroughly plugged in to the Yorkshire development scene, and I’m not, so you’d know. If they’re still a games company behind the website, that’s really interesting.

  • I agree with the theme of Kevin’s article but I do think he’s somewhat off base with much of the content.

    Firstly, a correction. iHobo may have been handled by an agency but it was developed by Creative North, a traditional game developer. 

    Secondly, this is by far and away not the most striking game of any kind for the last two years. iHobo did get a little bit of press and was somewhat interesting both because of the way it approached the subject matter and that it was associated with a charity. However, there were many more innovative or engaging projects, both in the traditional realm and outside it.

    Thirdly, whilst agencies are making games, they are often not games as we know them. Indeed, they are approaching game developers to make some of those games, either directly through recruitment or indirectly through outsourcing, because they are finding that their skill set is limited.

    Companies and other NGOs go to agencies because that’s what they are used to doing for their marketing activities, not directly to game developers. Indeed, I’d argue that most developers simply aren’t set up to handle non game industry clients.

    Overall, this is a good thing for game developers and small code shops, not a bad thing, as long as you aren’t fussy about doing mobile and web platforms in their various guises.

  • Kevin Hassall

    I think Nicholas is being unfair calling all the companies who made branded or less-than-AAA content “also ran” companies. Blitz have done well over the years making branded content. A few years ago Slam (down the road from Blitz) were doing well creating quick branded games. These guys were very good at what they did. And I’d guess that at the height of the Wii there were more UK teams doing Wii (or DS) titles than “major” console releases. Writing them off as “also ran”s is unfair, just because they weren’t working in the sexiest, most Hollywood-like part of the industry.

    But developers who have tended to handle small and mid-sized projects have been through a lot of pain in the last years, as publishers pull back from projects of this size. And my guess is that it will get worse.Call of Duty and FIFA and their ilk aren’t going away. But lots of smaller opportunities are going away.As the conventional publisher contracts for smaller projects dry up, what will the UK’s small and medium developers do when less traditional clients (brands, charities, etc.) have worked out that they can develop games without going to development companies?

  • I’m not sure it’s quite the same in this case. I’m convinced that big games studios will still do fine (see but if you are an also-ran developer, making a living by being a go-to company for filler content or branded content, I think Kevin is absolutely right.
    But there are a quite a lot of those game developers out there.

  • Dave

    “…it should terrify most UK games development companies.”

    Really? That’s the same comparison as was used between the big movie studios and television and we know how accurate that turned out. Different people using a similar media for different reasons. If anything it tells you how pervasive gaming has become and highlights the fact that is no longer a niche confined to consoles and pcs.