RPGDot Network    

Citizen Zero
Display full image
Pic of the moment
pics from the gallery

Site Navigation


   Games Database
   Top 100
   Release List
   Support Files



   Staff Members
   Privacy Statement


The Little Publisher That Could
The Dreams of DreamCatcher and The Adventure Company

Devin, 2004-06-16

Once, there was a little train engine that faced a large hill that even the best large engines had a difficult time climbing. The other engines laughed at the small little engine as he faced the gargantuan slope; the little engine concentrating on the mantra "I think I can, I think I can." We all know what happened. The little engine, climbing the slope with heroic intention and will, approached the crest and slipped backward while the horrific screams of the mangled passengers mixed with the sounds of twisting, screeching metal as the rear cars derailed from the track. The moral of the story is "just thinking about it isn't good enough."

Or so we should believe. Whenever an industry metamorphoses due to a technology shift, a business paradigm shift, or a change in consumer expectations, the little engines become big engines that whisper in the ears of the newcomers "the hill is too steep for you" while building tracks over hills that make passage seem difficult. Within two short years the landscape of the computer game industry filled with big engines. We know their names. We call them publishers. Every industry went through periods of conglomeration and deconstruction. During these cycles, small second tier publishers rose from the ranks of obscurity to topple or compete with the large evil corporations™ (thus becoming the large evil corporations® of the next generation). IBM once cast its shadow over Microsoft. Francis Ford Copola and Martin Scorsese started the 60's revolution in cinema underneath such monoliths as United Artists and put in place many of today's Hollywood Power players including Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. With the cost of entry for developers skyrocketing, the questions many in the game industry are asking is, "when and how will the revolution for interactive media happen?" The question however should be "Who will lead the revolution?"

In truth, the barriers to entry in the game industry consist of one part monetary and one part psychological impediments. Any product takes either time or money to create and the high total cost of a top tier game makes most traditional investors wary. In fact, the film industry possesses the same barriers to entry; yet, independent films exist and make a profit. The technology, talent, and expertise exist to make a good reasonably priced game. Cheep delivery methods such as internet distribution exist and even the price of printing a CD decreased. Why can't a small game developer make a game in today's market? The answer lies with second tier publishers or publishers who will take a chance on smaller titles and know the appropriate distribution channels. In the game industry, none of these publishers exist. The small publishers of old consolidated under large media banners or were locked out of segments controlled by hardware console manufacture making the game development hill too high to climb.

Or so it would seem. Small publisher DreamCatcher takes a different attitude towards publishing games. They seem to be the only publisher left taking risks on titles. Several years ago, the major publishers declared adventure gaming dead. Yet, DreamCatcher maintains a brand called The Adventure Company, which publishes PC games in the genre. Tara Reid, marketing director for DreamCatcher provided some great insight on the industry. "You know, [the niche gamers] appreciate the fact that you are not ignoring them. Every year someone says to me ‘what do you have to say about the adventure genre dying?' I tell them ‘this is my third E3. I have heard this question so many times. If the adventure genre is dying, it's going out kicking.'" DreamCatcher made a splash with Syberia, a recent critically acclaimed adventure drama that spawned a recent sequel, Syberia II which XS Games, the Xbox publisher of Syberia, picked up before DreamCatcher could. Syberia II is slated to launch on the Xbox this year. Tara commented further, "With Syberia, we decided ‘yes we are serious about keeping adventure games alive.' People still love them. [Gaming is not all about] run here and shoot this, which is fine if that is your thing. But if [running and shooting things] is not, you can come to us. [Plus,] we sell games at every price point. We have games that sell for $19.95 and $39.95. You don't have to pay $60 for a game you are going to play once."  I inquired about their strategy for getting games on the shelf at Wal-Mart. Small publishers list shelf space at the major retailers as a barrier to selling a game. The problem is not distribution (other methods such as direct distribution exist), but the advertising that premium shelf space gives. Most hard core gamers will research their game purchases, but the shelf still influences most of the public's game buying. Moreover, with consol games gaining in popularity, the shelf for PC games is shrinking. Because DreamCatcher doesn't look for the huge margins on their titles, they will often produce combo bundles that appeal to budget gamers and purchasing agents looking to fill the impulse buy sections next to the cash registers.

But, DreamCatcher's offerings do not all reside in the bargain bin. DreamCatcher did decide to expand their offering with First Person Shooters such as Painkiller relegating the DreamCatcher brand to the action games and the Adventure Company brand to the storybook style games. Any publisher would be remiss in selling only low margin games; however, their decision to separate the Adventure Company brand shows a willingness to foster a market that still possesses interest in games outside of the standard fair. Many executives at the large publisher will tell you that the market is not worth chasing. However, several people said the same thing to Roger Corman and Melvin Van Peebles. Without them, we would not have independent films and directors like Quentin Tarantino whose influences include Shogun Assassin and the black exploitation films of the 70's. And if it wasn't for a company called HBO, we wouldn't see shows like The Sopranos or Sex in the City. The Sopranos doesn't maintain the viewer numbers even today to keep the show on the air at the major broadcasting companies; yet, the Sopranos brand remains huge. DVD's, books, even wireless ringtones all help to increase the revenue of this "small" show.

So, even as Lucas Arts abandon's properties such as Sam and Max in favor of Mercenaries, a brain dead hip hop themed first person shooter whose main character doesn't know that wearing a red bandana in a war zone equates to painting a bull's-eye on your head, it's nice to know that some small engines are prepared to bypass the hill and choose an alternate track. And, it is to those small companies, such as DreamCatcher, with independence of will and who still listen to the niche markets, that we thank. We thank you for listening, we thank you for dreaming, and we thank you for getting us around the hill in one piece.

Average Reader Ratings: 9 (1 votes)
Rate this title and view comments     Game Info     Printer Friendly Version

All original content of this site is copyrighted by RPGWatch. Copying or reproducing of any part of this site is strictly prohibited. Taking anything from this site without authorisation will be considered stealing and we'll be forced to visit you and jump on your legs until you give it back.