Stardock’s Derek Paxton has said middle-market games companies have more room for creativity and targeted design than large publishers, but need to adopt production practices beyond the indie level.
“I do think that once you start making games that have such a large budget that you have to sell a million copies to break even, or that’s the criteria for success from the publisher at least, then there are certain areas that you as a designer cannot explore any more,” Paxton told Rock Paper Shotgun.
“You can’t have some of the things that we love in our games if you want to appeal to the masses.”
The production lead on Elemental: Fallen Enchantress, Paxton commented that a genre like turn-based strategy doesn’t have the numbers behind it to make it worth larger companies’ time.
“As a middle-market company with a middle-market budget, we don’t have to sell that many copies to operate, and that lets me on the design side do more of the things we love,” he said. “Even if they do not make mass-market sense.”
Not that Stardock doesn’t make large games or use big-company methods; Paxton was brought on board to oversee Fallen Enchantress’s development when it became apparent the project grew too large for a haphazard indie approach.
“[Stardock] worked like small indie outfits do with everyone throwing out ideas and working hard. That doesn’t work on larger projects,” he said,
“… It’s my job to bring some of the processes and procedures from the business community into the way Stardock makes games.”
“The role of producers in game development has been undervalued,” he added.
“Especially as you get to the larger games that’s a critical role – making sure that the producer has a handle on creating the plan, controlling the plan, and making sure there’s a consistent vision is key. And that’s more than sharing a few Google docs and running the spreadsheets for the game.
“Good project management definitely makes the difference between a game that doesn’t hit all of its marks and the one that does.”
The PX-exclusive Fallen Enchantress is a stand-alone expansion and followup to Elemental: War of Magic, which was strongly criticised at launch. Although Stardock has made significant improvements in the interim, it’s giving away free copies of Fallen Enchantress to those who purchased War of Magic in its early days. No release date as yet.