- 16 Oct 09, 09:50 GMT
How easy is it for a small British games developer to take on the world - and actually make a living?
We hear a lot of doom and gloom these days from our games industry - it feels unloved by the government, burdened by higher taxes than the likes of Canada, and squeezed between American and Japanese giants on one side and hungry young start-ups from Eastern Europe on the other.
But I met a remarkably cheerful developer the other day who explained to me how the new economics of mobile and casual games were giving him a chance. Charles Cecil is an important figure in the British gaming industry.
He has been in the business for 25 years and at one time employed more than 40 people, creating big hits like Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword. But now he's really a one-man band bringing in collaborators on a freelance basis.
He says that by the mid 2000s development costs had grown so high and the market so focussed on blockbusters that publishers would cancel development of titles at any stage if it looked as though they might not be huge hits.
When he had a major project ditched in 2004 he couldn't afford to carry on paying a big team so scaled right back.
In any case the economics of being a developer were unattractive. Charles Cecil told me:
"You effectively get 10% of the revenue... which is set against the development costs. It means you very rarely recoup your costs."
But two things have come along to make this developer more cheerful - the growth of casual gaming and the arrival of Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch as a new gaming platform.
This week a version of Beneath a Steel Sky went on sale in Apple's App Store. Now at £2.49 a download, it's going to have to be a huge hit to make Charles Cecil rich - but then again he says the development costs were a fraction of the budget needed to launch a game for a console or PCs.
What's more he gets to keep 70% of the revenues, although it's up to him to do the whole job of marketing and financing the game that is usually down to the publisher.
Casual games sold on the web are also a much more low budget area, where small-scale British developers could find it easier to make an impact.
They're just beginning to wonder - like musicians a few years back - whether they can now cut out the middlemen and talk direct to their loyal fans. But there's a cautionary note from Charles Cecil:
"To be clear, this model works well for smaller, more innovative games. For the hundred million dollar blockbusters, the traditional publishing model is absolutely appropriate."
Britain can be proud of the creative record of its gaming industry - and there are still centres of excellence spread across the country from Brighton to Dundee. But those parts of it which remain independent may increasingly find that small is beautiful.
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