You want to know why gamers hate AAA publishers these days? They're full of bull crap. They answer to shareholders. They don't care about the games. They don't care about game culture (i.e., see the original Xbox One DRM policies, EA's Simcity launch, Blizzard's original launch of Diablo III or Capcom's disc-locked content for examples). Their goal is all about how to control and manipulate cash flow from the gaming industry. They don't care about gaming.
On the flip-side, developers and gamers live and breathe gaming. They love it. We love it. To preserve the integrity of game culture developers have taken to crowd-funding and gamers have followed them. It bypasses the greed culture of shareholder-beholden publishers... or at least, that's what we used to think.
The crowd-funding bubble has always looked leery to some gamers standing on the outside, waiting for the glass house to crack under the pressure of the invading greed machine from that flip-side I talked about at the top of the article. This has already happened in some one-off cases, and was partially outed by Obsidian Entertainment when they were approached by a publisher to finish a Kickstarter while allowing the publisher to take control of the IP and receive royalties on some of the net revenue. If you think that's disgusting, wait until you get a load of Square Enix's new platform.
Roderick Kimble from Gamer's Glance brought to our attention an article on GamesIndustry.biz, where they did a brief write-up on the new service launch from Square Enix called The Collective (and I can't help but think of “collection agency” whenever I see the name).
The service is setup for Square Enix to help independent developers find a “platform” and “voice” to speak to gamers with their crowd-funded project. Gamers can offer feedback and scope out potential crowd-funded titles. Square will moderately help with some marketing and promotion of the game, help distribute a game, and they offer up light access to some of Eidos' intellectual properties.
As noted by Phil Elliot, the project manager of Collective...
"What I really want people to be able to do is benefit from the scale of a publisher. By that I mean that at Square Enix we have an ability to access things which small teams and new teams don't. They just haven't got those relationships. Whether it's being able to talk to the press or having millions of people we can ping out a marketing email to - our social channels. It's easy for us to make those things available for teams."
The idea is for the Collective to help indie devs get “eyeballs on their ideas” and help them really “run with it”.
It's like... it's like... what publishers were supposed to do in the first place, right?
Well, it all sounds like charitable deeds until you start taking into consideration the costs of the platform and what gamers and developers give up in that process. As noted by Elliot, the service does not directly provide any revenue services for developers, but the service does require a bit of financial upkeep...
“We're not funding games directly. Normally in the publisher developer relationship the publisher brings the money and the developer brings the expertise. We are creating a platform and we're inviting developers to make use of that platform,"
Instead of funding the games, Square will instead use the platform to help bring “awareness” to the games and – if they're successful through the crowd-funding phase – they'll lift 5% of the total crowd-funding intake as compensation.
It doesn't end there, though.
If developers use Square to distribute their game, the Collective will take 10% off the net revenue after distribution fees have been paid.
So if a game racks up $100,000 in crowd-funding, Square will take $5,000 of your money since the game was used in affiliation with Collective. If that same game makes it to Steam and manages to sell 50,000 copies at $25, Square will lift $125,000 off the net revenue in addition to the 30% Valve takes. Developers are essentially losing 40% of their net revenue and Square will have netted $130,000 from a single game, without spending anything on the actual production.
Elliot defended this monetary decision by Square, with comments about the service, noting...
“...we have costs associated with building the platform and running the Collective project. Given that going through the feedback phase is free, and there's no requirement for a dev to go past this point with us, there's a point at which we need to try and cover those costs. We feel that by the time a developer hits their target via the Indiegogo partnership, because of the visibilty and awareness they'll have benefited from by that point, a small amount of the funds raised is a fair thing to ask in return.”
In simple terms, Square is capitalizing on YOUR money that you spent to foot the bill for the cost of a developer's game, and taking a cut of it by doing a small amount of promotion to help leverage the game's presence in the market place. Basically, it's like profiteering-lite.
If Square really wanted to help indie devs they would break off a small subsidiary and help push through indies like Midnight City. Co-founders Casey Lynch and Doug Kennedy actually seem to understand that gamers are typically fed up with the AAA bull crap and are looking for something different, not another middle-man with their hand in the money pot.
As noted by Lynch in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz...
"The truth is indie developers don't necessarily need publishers,"
This makes sense. A publisher providing a platform for developers in a straightforward way. Collective, in the practical sense, is a non-essential middle-man. If a Kickstarter needs help that's what gaming media is for... they're not hard to reach. There's also social media like Reddit, Tumblr, YouTube... the internet.
Having a publisher not directly fund your game but take money off the top from the crowd-funding is as low as it gets. However, we expected as much from the AAA publishers looking to find long-term revenue options while keeping operating costs low.
Midnight City's Doug Kennedy plainly lays it out there, sort of indirectly addressing the situation with Square's Collective, by stating...
“A lot of these companies that step up and want to be support vehicles for independent developers have two initiatives: they want to sign games and they just want to make money,"
If you think what Square has to offer is worth the time or investment, feel free to learn more at the official Collective website. I imagine this is just one of many new services we'll start seeing crop up from AAA publishers looking to get their hand in the crowd-funding cookie jar.