American McGee: traditional publishing model “deserves to die”

Thursday, 20th December 2012 02:59 GMT By Brenna Hillier

American McGee believes the traditional triple-A publishing model limits innovation, is anti-consumerist, and favours publishers and console manufacturers to the exclusion of other parties.

Speaking with GamePlanet, the Spicy Horse boss gave a frank assessment of the the typical publisher-funded development model.

“That publisher model was brilliant – for the publishers, and for the console manufacturers, because it was all based on the idea of scarce shelf space,” he said.

McGee said the concept of limited shelf space – now made redundant by digital distribution – is what drove production and marketing costs up to their current levels, forcing out many small and mid-sized companies and creating a reliance on mega-hits. He said it caused “the limitation of creativity that we saw in the marketplace in the last 20 years”.

“It deserved a lot more hatred than it got from developers and consumers, and just about everybody. But they were very effective in making sure that people loved their masters.”

“Everything has been heading towards this peak of extreme spending on marketing, massive teams, limited choice for consumers, and its been this thing where it’s a race to the worst possible combination of things that you could possibly want from an industry, and that’s typically what happens when you have a monopoly,” he added.

Whether consumers realise it or not, McGee continued, publishers certainly did, and leveraged the system to eliminate competition.

“So I think that’s a model that deserves to die,” he concluded.

“I think over the years it deserved a lot more hatred than it got from developers and consumers, and just about everybody. But they were very effective in making sure that people loved their masters.”

Mobile devices will eventually make consoles seem old-fashioned, McGee predicted, while PCs will inspire consumers to prefer machines they have greater ownership over – ending console manufacturer and publisher monopolies.

The full article, available at the link above, is well worth a read for McGee’s further musings on the state of the industry. It also contains plenty of material on Spicy Horse’s latest, the Japanese myth-fuelled re-interpretation of Red Riding Hood, Akaneiro, which is free-to-play, cross-platform – and self-funded, of course.



  1. Atmey

    I agree with you, but unless we have a better alternative I don’t think that is possible, online stores (Live, PSN, steam) are just not that reliable.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Jerykk

    What’s unreliable about Steam? I’ve had my account for years and over 800 games on it. No issues so far.

    McGee is right. The traditional retail model is really antiquated and doesn’t even make sense for publishers. Digital distribution essentially gives every game an infinite shelf life. Retail games have a shelf life of a few months. Digital distribution ensures that publishers/developers get a cut from every sale. Retail games only generate revenue from retailer shipments. After that, the games can be redistributed and resold countless times without the publisher/developer ever seeing another penny. Digital distribution significantly reduces the barriers to entry for selling games. Retail distribution ensures that only the games with the most hype and marketing (and retailer-exclusive pre-order bonuses) get shelf space.

    On the consumer side, digital distribution offers tons of benefits as well. I can preload a game and be playing it hours before the actual release date. I can download and play my games on any PC. I can get significant discounts that would never happen in retail (30%+ discounts on pre-orders, for example).

    The only downside to digital distribution is DRM, which usually prevents resale. However, I don’t sell my games so that’s a non-issue to me.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. alterecho

    @1 +1
    @2 You must be drawing data from your power line. Must be a highspeed one too.
    “The only downside to digital distribution is DRM, which usually prevents resale. However, I don’t sell my games so that’s a non-issue to me.”
    You can’t sell it because you rented it.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. jonahfalcon

    American McGee is whining, frankly. His games flopped, and mostly because they were pretty mediocre.

    There will always, always, ALWAYS be a demand for a $300M budget game. The blockbuster is necessary in the industry. The indie stuff adds spice, but don’t grow the industry.

    There’s a symbiosis with videogame publishing, the same as film industry. You have the big titles, the filler, the artistic and experimental, and so on.

    Oh, and greater ownership on PCs? That’s a laugh. Always on DRM in games like SimCity, EULAs, etc. LOL Think again, American.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Jerykk

    @3: If “renting” means I can play my games whenever and wherever I want (which I can), I don’t have an issue with it. Like I said, I don’t sell my games so the lack of resale makes no difference to me.

    @4: I think you missed his point. He isn’t claiming that big-budget games shouldn’t exist. He’s saying that they shouldn’t monopolize the market, which they currently do in the traditional retail model. Were it not for digital distribution, the recent surge of quality indie titles would not be happening because those games wouldn’t be available in any stores. It’s not just about indies, either. It’s about mid-budget games too. In the 90′s, publishers took a lot more risks because they were willing to diversify their portfolio and fund games within a wide range of budgets. These days, publishers only seem to go for the big-budget projects (typically sequels).

    As for the “ownership” comment, I think he was referring to the hardware, not software. If a console breaks, you have to send it back to the console manufacturer (if you’re still under warranty). If my PC breaks, I just find the problematic hardware and replace it. I can build my PC and choose every component for myself too. If I want higher framerates, I can upgrade my videocard. If I want faster load times, I can upgrade my hard drives, CPU, memory, etc. I choose how my PC looks and runs. With consoles, you’re stuck with what they give you. Hence, greater ownership with PCs.

    #5 2 years ago
  6. roadkill

    @2 +1

    @4 Wrong! His games were awesome. Just because you’re too dumb to understand them doesn’t mean that they’re bad.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Sini

    his alice games are awesome, i wish he kickstarted some other twisted fable project.

    #7 2 years ago
  8. viralshag

    @5, Couldn’t you say those indie games owe something to the digital platforms offered on the consoles that have helped them become more popular?

    Seems a bit like biting the hand that feeds you to me.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. jonahfalcon

    Awesome or pretentious? Regardless, critics didn’t like them, and no one bought them.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Cobra951

    Pretentious. But if he can find another model where a fully realized, beautiful and fluid huge world with long hours of first-rate gameplay can be achieved, I will reevaluate my answer.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. roadkill

    @9 Wrong! Some critics liked them and some didn’t. And right! about the fact that not many people bought Madness Returns but that’s also because of the price point. It’s still 50 euros in Europe. It’s not Spicy Horse’s fault but EA’s.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. Jerykk

    @8: I don’t think McGee criticized the digital services of consoles. They have indeed helped indie games prosper, though the indie scene has always flourished the most on PC. When he was criticizing consoles, I think he was referring specifically to the physical aspects (hardware and discs).

    #12 2 years ago
  13. monkees19

    All I know is, the day they stop making games in physical cases I can stock my shelves with is the day I no longer buy games. I hate digital distribution for anything but DLC. It may not be the “way forward” but that’s how I feel anyway. I can focus on getting my older collections more completed anyway.

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Sini

    im beta testing this game, diablo with gorgeous okami type gfx, running in your browser. Good stuff.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. OlderGamer

    I been saying this for a couple of years now.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Cobra951


    That’s how I felt myself until recently. I’ve given in to some degree, but I still have a much lower price threshold on digital than I do on boxed games. I get less, so I expect to pay less.

    #16 2 years ago

Comments are now closed on this article.