原文作者 Brandan Sinclair 譯者ciel chen
如果遊戲開發者身上有哪個特點讓你想遠離他們，那就是他們那滿腔的激情。他們那種對於做遊戲的激情、推動傳媒業的激情、以及對爭執“video game”到底是一個還是兩個單詞的激情。（是兩個。）但是直到最近一次和Bekah以及Adam Saltsman在上個月遊戲開發大會的交流中我終於有了改觀，我從沒想過我會從一個遊戲開發者那裏聽到他們會對資金損耗也有“激情”。
這個話題是由《Night in the Woods》引起的，Finji是這對夫婦在三年前創建的，這款遊戲是這兩口子挑出來作爲Finji發行標籤的第一個遊戲項目。《Night in the Woods》是由三人組成的Infinite Fall團隊製作的，於2月份在Steam&PlayStation 4平臺上發行。遊戲發行後好評如潮，但是財政收入表現纔是他們關注的點，據Adam說盡管當時的銷量真是以“幾乎可怕的”數字符合了他們的期望值，然而製作團隊仍覺得跟他們的預期值相差甚遠。雖說Infinite Fall的成員Alec Holowka在發行獨立遊戲方面有很豐富的經驗（榮獲IGF獎項的《安吉拉之歌》的製作人之一），但動畫師Scott Benson和作家Bethany Hockenberry還是這方面待發展的新手。
《Night in Woods》的成功發行對Finji來說標誌着類似的“使命達成”的一刻，其本質上來說相當於是Saltsmans對2014年前收入旗下的幾家公司的轉型重塑，包括Semi-Secret Software和Last Chance Media。這次重塑標誌着公司項目方向將從像《屋頂狂奔》和《圓點100》這樣的高端手遊項目撤出。
他們明確了手遊已經不再是可持續發展項目以後，他們轉向了PC和主機遊戲的開發世界，儘管他們對該領域大量獨立遊戲崛起持擔憂態度。但跟獨立遊戲狂潮比起來，他們更關注這個領域的未來可能性。一大堆平庸遊戲在STEAM平臺上蜂擁發行是一方面，不過Finji進入的市場裏有像《Gone Home（回家）》、《肯德基0號路(Kentucky Route Zero)》以及《無限工廠（infinifactory）》這樣的好遊戲，驚人的是他們的發行相當有規律。Adam說：“這種趨勢會愈演愈烈，《Overland》和《Night in the Woods》受到的影響都比較小，但是一旦人們意識到還有更酷的遊戲那它們就大勢已去了，所以我們必須對這些項目進行加強否則他們將不再如我們所願地脫穎而出……沒有人會爲他們不瞭解的東西買單；如果我們的遊戲已經漸漸沒落到其他出色、深入人心的作品光環背後，也就不會有人想去了解我們的作品。在這裏，要擔心的不是玩家數量或者市場流動貨幣不夠，而是要擔心你上架的商家那裏上週剛上了12款其他同樣棒極了的遊戲。”
Getting emotional about monthly burn rate
Finji’s Bekah and Adam Saltsman talk about fleeing the mobile space for the sustainability of a supposedly indiepocalyptic PC and console world
Wednesday 22nd March 2017
If there’s one thing you’re likely to take away from talking with game developers, it’s that they’re a passionate bunch. They’re passionate about making great games. They’re passionate about pushing the medium forward. They’re passionate about whether “video games” is one word or two. (It’s two.) But until a recent conversation with Bekah and Adam Saltsman at the Game Developers Conference last month, I had never heard a developer tell me they were passionate about burn rate.
The topic came up in relation to Night in the Woods, one of the first projects the couple picked up for their publishing label Finji, which was founded three years ago. Developed by three-person indie team Infinite Fall, Night in the Woods launched in February on Steam and PlayStation 4. The game was critically well received, but its financial performance was the focus of their attention, despite sales running “almost eerily” in line with their expectations, according to Adam. But their expectations and those of the team differed greatly. While Infinite Fall’s Alec Holowka had plenty of experience working on and releasing indie games (notably the IGF-winning Aquaria), animator Scott Benson and writer Bethany Hockenberry were comparatively new to development.
“When you work with especially new game developers, or people who’ve never launched a game, they don’t really understand how the marketplace works,” Bekah said. “You have this launch weekend and it’s out, and it’s almost like you think you’ve sold your product so you’ll get this one check and then you’re done and you move on. But no, you’ll still get money for this game in five years. This stuff will trickle in on this weird long tail forever, and that’s a really hard thing to explain to somebody who’s never seen the way it works… I think this will subsidize a bit of your monthly burn for a really long time, and we get really emotional talking about that.”
Adam further explained exactly the emotional heft of that idea, saying, “You crossed the finish line, people are responding to work in the way you hoped. But also you can get a nicer apartment, or afford your health care every month. Your next project might not have to be a Kickstarter project. Some of your artist friends who are constantly doing gigs and contract work, struggling in the same way you were? You may be able to work with them, and provide employment for them to make some other cool, beautiful thing they wouldn’t have been able to do before. And that’s what we’re here for.”
“That’s why we did it in the first place,” Bekah added. “We’ll put in all this crazy amount of work for years and years and years, and postpone a lot of our work on our own game… It just needed to exist. It’s a magical thing, and if any of our work could help provide financial security for this incredibly talented group of people, why the hell wouldn’t you do something like that? It’s cool.”
Night in the Woods’ successful launch marks a sort of “mission accomplished” moment for Finji, which was essentially a rebranding of a handful of companies the Saltsmans had been running before 2014, like Semi-Secret Software and Last Chance Media. The rebranding also marked a change in direction away from premium mobile projects like Canabalt and Hundreds.
“We were a mobile-centric company at that point, and we were already tracking the downward trajectory,” Bekah said. “The earning capacity of premium games had already decreased, even if you were a top 10 game.”
The endless runner Canabalt came out in 2009, but has enjoyed a lengthy tail and still brings in a bit of money. Hundreds launched in early 2013, but even with a best-case scenario including critical acclaim and platform holders eager to feature it, the game’s long tail declined considerably steeper than Canabalt’s, and it merely wound up making its money back.
“The earning capacity of a premium game is not what it once was,” Bekah said of their mindset when they pivoted to Finji. “You can barely pay back the time you have to put into it. You can’t just do a mobile game in six months; you have to spend two years and have a development team of five or 10 people.”
Adam added, “We had a bunch of cool little mobile game ideas, but if we leave them really small and easy to copy, then the odds our work will just fund a bunch of other companies seems pretty high. So if we want to make larger projects that are harder [for others] to duplicate and out-market us, those things require a bigger time commitment. And if they require a bigger time commitment, now we have to start looking at the kinds of returns we saw on our last larger project that wasn’t super-easy to copy.”
They decided mobile wasn’t sustainable any longer, so they jumped to the world of PC and console development even as concerns about the abundance of indie game releases were ramping up. But their concerns were less about an indiepocalypse than an indie rapture. A flood of mediocre titles on Steam would be one thing, but Finji was jumping into a market where great games like Gone Home, Kentucky Route Zero, and Infinifactory release at an almost alarmingly regular clip. “The bar continues to go up,” Adam said. “Overland and Night in the Woods were both specced smaller, but it’s become clear as those projects have gone on how cool everything else is, so we needed to find a way to afford to beef these projects up a bit more or else they’re not going to stand out like we need them to… Nobody’s going to buy our thing if they don’t know about it. And nobody’s going to know about our thing if it just fades into the background behind all these other marvelous, inspiring pieces. It’s not a worry that there’s a limited number of players or money in the market. It’s more like every store they go to is going to have the same 12 awesome games that came out last week.”
That’s created its own visibility problem, one that they’ve tried to solve in how they select their projects. Bekah said they’ve been very picky about who they work with because they know they not only need something outstanding, but they need to have projects they’re personally excited about and believe in because they simply couldn’t work as hard on them otherwise. One side effect of that approach has been that Finji’s games tend to stand out on looks alone. Bekah noted that Finji’s catalog includes four games with first-time art directors who have brought new approaches to their projects, and made Finji’s job a little easier in the process.
“We have a very low market reach because we’re such a small team,” Bekah said. “We don’t have a giant budget to throw in to marketing things everywhere, so every single screenshot of our game needs to be a way to draw people in. Every .gif, every screenshot needs to make people say, ‘Whoa, that’s beautiful.’”(source:games industry.biz )