I’m Leaving Games (sort of… for now)

I’m excited to announce that I’ve officially accepted a position at Google! I’ll be working with the Cardboard team, laying the foundations of virtual reality. It’s an area that I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid and saw early demos of the nascent technology on TV.

I want to assure the Lazy 8 Studios fans that Extrasolar and Cogs will continue to be supported. In fact, the Lazy 8 team is still working on a native app for Extrasolar that will launch soon. Income from these games will continue to be invested back into the studio. If the native app is a big success, then there’s still a slim possibility that Extrasolar season 2 will get the funding it needs to move forward.

Why the change? For one thing, Google has offered me an amazing opportunity — a position where I believe I can have impact at a unique intersection of technology and creativity. Running my own company has been a phenomenal experience, but after 8 years of shouldering 100% of the financial risk in a space where successes are rare, I’m excited about he prospect of having resources, a stable income, and a big team of stellar engineers to learn from.

This change also has a lot to do with how I feel about the game industry right now. I share Rami Ismail’s thoughts about the current state of games. On one hand, the indie community is more vibrant than ever. Accessible game engines like Unity and low-barrier app markets have brought thousands of new developers into the mix — developers with unique voices and new ideas with personal stories to share. The games that I see at IndieCade and GDC blow me away and the bar goes higher every year.

On the other hand, this explosion of developers is also part of the problem. The pie is sliced thinner than ever. Last month the iOS app store saw, on average, 358 new games and 1020 new apps every day. Even if you develop a phenomenal game and have a well-prepared, well-financed marketing campaign, it may not be enough.

It’s not just the explosion of indies that are making it tough right now. Big companies that are hoping to get acquired or go public measure their value in players. As capital flows in, a huge amount of that money goes directly to user acquisition, driving up the price of new users to an unsustainable level. Meanwhile, players are less willing to pay for a game up front. Freemium games now account for 98% of Google Play revenue worldwide. Even more disturbing, 50% of the revenue from freemium games comes from just 0.15% of users.

These aren’t the games the I want to make. I don’t want to build reskinned slot machines with compulsion-loop mechanics that exploit flaws in the human psyche. I have no interest in making games that take advantage of people with addictive personalities. I want to make more crazy genre-defying games like Extrasolar, but marketing such a strange new experience has proven to be a real challenge.

I’d also like to spend more time making prosocial, thought-provoking short-form games like A Game About *, Karma High, and Words Have Weight. These sorts of games are very meaningful to me, but as I run Lazy 8 Studios, I feel guilty for spending time on these side-projects — time that’s taken away from the games I need to launch to pay the bills. My hope is that my job at Google will leave me enough time on my nights and weekends to make more games like these.

Might I return to full-time games in the future? It’s a definite possibility, but I fear that the industry is going to get worse before it gets better. Advertisers are starting to realize that if they shift their dollars from television and print media into digital marketing, they can hit a more engaged, narrowly-targeted audience. As more advertisers compete for eyeballs on digital channels, it’s likely to drive user acquisition costs even higher.

This may be the new reality. It’s possible that indie game developers have been enjoying a golden age and that games are likely to become more similar to other art forms like writing, fine art, or music — spaces where only the absolute best can successfully make a living with their art. Only time will tell.

3 thoughts on “I’m Leaving Games (sort of… for now)”

  1. After decades of watching Virtual Reality struggle to find meaning and an audience (no, we do not need another virtual museum), I see that VR just got better now that Rob’s on the job!

  2. Rob, Best wishes. Extrasolar was highly engaging when I played it. (I upped for the pioneer level I liked it so much). I mentioned this on the forum, but I think if you can get an Extrasolar invite into something like a Humble Bundle I’d think it could provide some great visibility and lift (Maybe have an upgraded level in upper tier of bundle?) Without knowing the economics of the game it’s hard to understand how it fits, but it’s a great game. The marketing seems pretty tough though.

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