Game developer Erlend Grefsrud is working on Myriad, an abstract-themed shooter that I wrote about last year. But Grefsrud can also be painfully blunt when it comes to critique so I asked him what he thought of #warningsigns then hid under a blanket. Instead of a bullet point list of disagreements, he offered the following thoughtful response, published with his permission.


Back in 2010, I said we needed tools for the democratization of game development.

Those tools existed already, but many were in denial about it, including me. There were still questions about delivery channels (browser, mobile, console, PC?) since the whole indie thing was really born out of Flash games on Newgrounds and the more hardcore devs sharing stuff written in Allegro or whatever on TIGSource. One dominant model emerged: selling games.

The proof was in the pudding. By then, the first wave of successful indie games had already happened, with straggler Fez quasi-triumphantly emerging on the tail-end. This moment grew persistent thanks to Indie Game: The Movie and endless scribblings about how indies would change games forever.     

You could call that first wave privileged, claim it was low-hanging fruit, blah-de-blah, but the fact remains: it was an all an educational issue. I use Unity. That means I could probably have used anything with a scene graph before that too. Unity lowers the barrier by including so many convenient tools in a plain, straight fashion, but really — it’s nothing new. It’s just better.

I could’ve used GameMaker or Multimedia Fusion while I was still living with my parents. I didn’t, because I didn’t know about them or because I didn’t think it was possible. Part of it was making excuses for myself, the good old “you can’t fail if you never try”.

Now the realization has dawned that the means of production were always there. Pick up yer guitar, learn to play, get a gig, get more gigs, become a star. The problems in arts have rarely been material or technical, they’ve always been educational, even about the possibilities of opportunities.

Once technical know-how emerges from the conservatories, maybe in a finely chunked form like guitar tabs or GML, anyone with a little bit of leisure time can do it. They just need shelter, recent equipment, moderately operational motor and cognitive faculties plus drive, ambition, ideas, eagerness, adaptability and discipline.

At that point, everyone realizes the scarce resource in entertainment isn’t talent, but eyeballs. Enter curators, be they A&R, critics, journalists, advocates, activists, what have ye. Professional attention herders and their surrounding apparatuses.

Nothing new under the sun. Shitty tribute bands never made more than their tip before Guitar Hero, and now every pixelshuffling young adult in the Western world is learning that selling indie games is hard.

Stick around, lower your expectations, make friends. Then maybe if you’re lucky.

If you fit with the in-group, great, that’s gonna help you.

Entertainment business isn’t predictable and stable. There’s no demand curve. There’s only limited time and eyeballs frenetically rolling around in their sockets looking for stimuli. They gobble what’s in front of them. The hard bit is getting in front of them. Get someone to tell them you’re good, they believe that.

Digital distribution is giving rise to the micro-niche, on schedule, as expected. All you need is to handle the curators or become one yourself. Sounds glib when put like that, but it’s fact: we’re not purveyors of a scarce resource. No-one truly needs what we make. We live on our craftiness in every sense of the word.

We are the deluge.

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2 thoughts on “Talent is Not a Scarce Resource

  1. This article reminds me of a tangentially related issue: game pricing.

    I have noticed many comments going back and forth on the value of video games, especially now that bundles and sales have brought the cost of 5-year old AAA games into the $5 region. Many reviews will point out that such-and-such game is not worth $10 because Fallout 3 could be bought for less than that during the Steam Sale.

    To me this underscores a core issue with video games: the prices are meaningless. Unlike physical goods, there is almost no marginal overhead (that is, additional cost to the seller per copy sold). The only thing sustaining video game prices these days is comparisons with other games.

    However, the whole point of a “good” game is that it is irreplaceable. If I really like Fez, for instance, that doesn’t mean I would be just as happy with Braid. Compared to the cost of the computer, the electricity, the controller (sometimes), the time, the space, etc… required to play a video game, the cost of the game itself is often minuscule. I would probably be willing to re-buy my favorite games at double or triple their current price if I had to (indeed, I have voluntarily re-bought or over-bought my favorite games).

    So complaints on game pricing always ring hollow to me. As long as the seller gives an accurate representation of what the buyer will receive, any price is reasonable. As video games continue to develop into an established artistic medium, I think these prices will only become more arbitrary.

  2. Hi Sandy. Today’s average player seems to be the ultimate consumer, ruthlessly scrutinising the cost against play time. It’s been oft-stated in these comments that “if the game wasn’t this cheap I couldn’t have played it”. So whereas I agree that prices are likely meaningless… at the same time they have a tangible impact on sales, developer livelihood and audience perception. Bundles are now the norm and keeping your price up is a gambit that most developers lose.

    I’m upset at how prices have plummeted to zero because I think that’s only good for a certain subset of developers, yet everyone is dragged down there. This is one of the issues that has driven me to write the in-progress book.

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