Blog Archive (The Orchard)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Interview with Chris Newton, Publisher of Indie Game Mag

Welcome, fellow reader. I've got something a little different for you today. Recently, I interviewed Chris Newton, the publisher of Indie Game Magazine, on the subject of game design and the emerging Indie market. Chris Newton has been working with the publication since 2011, and has only recently (this month, actually) moved up to the position of publisher from his previous position, content manager.

Enjoy the review, and see if you can glean anything out of what Chris has to say that you could apply to your own endeavors. ________________________________________________________________________________________________

Me: Hello, Chris. :D As the content manager of Indie Game Magazine, what are some of the things you do? 

Chris Newton: Hello, I should start off by letting your readers know that I recently actually purchased IGM, so I bought myself a promotion into Publisher. I am not sure if that is the best way to go about leveling up, but I love the site and wanted to make it my own.
My normal role in IGM has not changed, however. I am the business mind and voice behind the publication. I typically lead the marketing and strategic planning of the site and work with our Editor-in-Chief, Tom Christiansen, on getting reviews and news stories organized and published. Really, I collect the incoming mail from the developers, let them know about the services that we provide and then give that data to Tom to assigns it to an appropriate writer.
That is, in a simple explanation, what I do.

Me: Oh, so you've moved up then! Congratulations. Chris, I assume that you had some experience with videogames (i.e. playing them) before the advent of the "Indie Game Revolution," which has only recently spawned in the gaming industry. What are some good things that you have seen come about from this "revolution," so to speak?

CN: Well, my experience in the indie game industry is going to be surprisingly limited. I actually joined Mike as an Editor-in-Chief based on my experience in content management and writing/editing staff leadership. But my previous experience was with the card game, Magic: The Gathering. I have played more than my share of games, but they have normally been AAA games. In my time at IGM, I have been educated by two of the best minds in our industry; Mike Gnade and Chris Priestman, so I have basically had a crash course in the indie scene.
What I believe to be best things to come  from our industry is actually not even game related. I believe that the scene is becoming stronger and growing near to a revolution based on the revolution of the mind and not of the games. Indies are beginning to look at our market as just that… a market. In the past it was just a group of guys making a game because it would be cool to make it and play. Now people are looking at the scene as a business. Profit is the benchmark rather than who made the coolest game, and that sparks the drive to make games that the players want to play rather than what the developers think will be cool.

Me: When I think of “profit-driven” efforts, I sometimes associate them with poor software made by companies who care more about bringing in the dough than creating solid games. But, you state profit as a benchmark is a good thing. I can see how that would be the case, but I'm not sure that I've thought about it in the way you just described. What types of games do you like the best? Why?

CN: I like Flash games the most. Flash games tend to be very short and mind numbing in a great way. I don’t need to spend time learning to play the game, I just play them. On top of that, they are fairly short and enjoyable. I can play four or five in an hour’s time and not feel guilty for spending a bunch of time on a single game. I have two small kids, so for me, time is super valuable.

Me: Time is valuable. It is good that you see that now.

We who are game developers and who work with the industry don't just play games; we study them. What are some good patterns in game design that you have seen from your playing experience?

CN: Well, I am not the best person to ask this question because I don’t really play a lot of games these days. What I can offer insight on is a pattern that I have seen increasing in the business side of the industry. It is the influx of third party marketing and public relations. I have very strong feelings about this, but I don’t know that this is the forum for that discussion. But I do think that developers should work on embracing marketing and public relations rather than pay an outside company to do this for them. Money is very limited in our industry and giving away money to do something that they can easily do themselves is a little disheartening.

Me: That's an interesting idea. Marketing is one of the more exciting aspects of game development for me. What do you think is the most important aspect of game design? Why?

CN: I think that understanding the intended audience is vitally important to answering this question. Are we making a game that is geared toward zombie fans? Are we aiming at traditional RPG fans? Gameplay, learning curve, etc. are all meaningless if you can’t get someone to play the game, so my opinion is that study of the intended audience is both vitally important and vastly under achieved. So I guess my answer would be marketing.

Me: Hm, interesting point. If a game is good, I would think that, regardless of whether the marketing was optimal or not, an audience would arise by word of mouth and curious gamers. Personally I'm seeing a lot of great new software coming from Indie Developers. We'll only see more of this in time, I think. Where do you see the Indie Game market going in the future?

CN: I think that the easy answer would have to be mobile devices. It won’t be too terribly long until tablets and even smartphones have the power of a laptop and then who knows? The fact that Unity allows devs to reach those mobile devices kicks the door wide open as well. I see a ton of games coming into us that are offered on iOS, Android, PC, Linux, Mac, etc. That was not the case a couple years ago.

Me: Yes, even now Indie developers are making games for such devices. Looking to the future, I can see that the emerging game developers are obviously going to be those who give the players what they want. What practices/techniques will the emerging star developers of the future make use of?

CN: I am going to sound like a scratched record here, but Marketing plus add in social media. You mentioned that game developers are studying games. If that is true, then they need to begin studying Minecraft and even Angry Birds to discover how those games made it so big. It is certainly not because they use blocks and cubes in everything or that they fling birds across the screen. So then what is it? Marketing and Social Media. They have both took to the market to find and embrace the audience that they are addressing, and the audience has responded.

Me: Well, you have a good reason for repeating yourself! I would have thought that the success of games like Angry Birds, had to do largely with the game itself. But efficient marketing may have had a greater affect than I thought. I've seen Angry Birds all over the place (from collectible erasers to t-shirts). Lastly, if you could design the next major gaming system, what would it include? :)

CN: Well, since I am an old school gamer, it has GOT to have 8-bits, plumbers, elves and blue bombers. (Joke!) But really, I don't think that the technology is what defines the system and perhaps that is what makes very little difference between PS1, PS2 and PS3. They are all just ‘The Next Console’. Whereas if you talk about the NES or Genesis, epic titles and characters pop into your mind. The NES set a standard that, in my opinion, has yet to be met by anything since. Almost every major title in that system had a character that you identity with and authentically care about. It was important to those designers to ensure that you wanted to know what happened next to Mario, Mega Man, Link, and even the entire Belmont Family. Extend that line of thinking into future consoles and the value of lineage and legacy diminishes. Instead of trying to make sure to continue something awesome or just making something awesome, you get the sixth or seventh knock-off of Halo (which was Half-Life, which was Quake.. etc.). We understand that certain genres sell greatly and are profitable, but be unique about it, test the uncertain grounds. Be bold enough to take a chance.
I mean, your only possible results can be Epic Failure, Moderate Success or Epic Awesomeness. Moderate Success does not lead to anything but mediocrity. It doesn't even supply you with data by which to improve. Both Failure and Success provide that valuable data and help lead you to improve and that should be the goal – constant growth and improvement.

Me: I agree with you about taking chances. There are still great strides to be made in the art of game design. And the ones who are willing to go against the grain will be the ones who get the new—and better—results.

Thank you for your time, Chris! It was a pleasure interviewing you.
-Amoeba of Light

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