I will soon be releasing a 20 minute game called Auto Afterlife. Auto Afterlife is meant to define a new type of experience similar to a short film but in game form. The idea is that you spend around 3-4 months developing a game from start to finish (the scope is 3-4 months but it may take 10-11 months to finish depending on schedule) but that unlike a short film, you can charge for it. You get a player to pay for a mix of narrative and interactive experience – so you charge anywhere between 3-10 dollars for this. By releasing games this way, you are afforded the chance to experiment with interactive storytelling that would be restricted in a AAA game like Last of Us, and you get to focus more on individual expression rather than conventional execution.
The wonderful thing about projects like this is that you can easily finish one game, and then follow it up with another without having to worry about sustaining a large development team. Life is Strange is the ultimate winner in this model, but I feel that it can be executed on an even more indie level. A game that comes to mind is Paratopic. Paratopic is priced at $5.49 on itch.io and provides a 45 min experience. Although the game is not feature rich, it places a heavy emphasis on atmosphere and story telling which is the thing that you are really paying for, similarly to when you goto a theater. If you look at gameplay time as what you pay for, then this game is a rip off. You pay $50 for Persona 5 which has 60+ hours of gameplay. The cost per hour of gameplay is much higher in Paratopic. However, with Paratopic you are buying the inner vision of an artist and the not the product of a big studio. You are paying for personal authorship not corporate design by committee. If the buyer/user understands this, they will not be upset with their purchase… as I was not upset when I payed for Paratopic. I prefer a shorter, more dense interactive product to a shallow one that lasts for 60 hours. I also do not classify dense as feature rich – or “took a long time to create” – but rather unique, emotional, and visionary.
The benefit here is that the game is not sold as a complete game full of conventional game mechanics, skill based challenges, and quests nor is it geared toward a gamer audience. Rather, it is an interactive narrative with elements of game design to engage the player and tell a story in an interactive way. This is a project model which is low risk high potential reward for the creator, and it stands to empower creative individuals to express themselves in a personal way while still having opportunity to earn money or do other things in their life. It also pushes innovation and experimentation due to smaller budgets and quicker development cycles. The main thing is cultivating and finding the audience that appreciates this sort of work, and labeling/framing the work as a short narrative piece rather than a “game” such that the audience is willing to pay half the price of a movie ticket to experience it.
Book Recommendation: “2666” by Roberto Bolaño, for anyone interested in Spanish literature or what came after Borges.