Competition as a force beyond good and evil
Now that we’re preparing the release of the first update for Ridiculous Fishing, it’s a rare opportunity to reflect on two years of hard work and controversy. There’s one final subject that has been bothering me since the start of the Ridiculous Fishing cloning debacle, and it’s been one that has required me to think for a long time. That subject is the place of competition in our industry.
For some people, competition is some sort of magical force that makes things improve. That’s perfectly fine – some people need some sort of external quality bar. When Ridiculous Fishing got cloned, they were the people that told us that that’s how free markets work and that we should ‘just make a better game’. When I responded that we don’t want to compete (that’s why we try and make new, original games) they somehow felt this was an issue that should be corrected.
As the business half of Vlambeer, I try to keep competition out of what we’re doing. Just like at any good game jam, we’d rather be helping out than competing with each other. What surprised me, however, was that some people felt that this was –for some reason- an inferior stance towards the business of videogames. Zachary Knight, for example claimed Vlambeer had started to suddenly love competition now that we had ‘beaten’ Ninja Fishing. That’s not true. The only reason we cared about ‘beating’ Ninja Fishing – whatever that may mean – is so that we could show the industry at large that when you clone a game, you do get an inferior product. We wanted to show the industry that making games because you want to make games is the better way to go about game development.
The problem is that these people have an outdated understanding of motivation in relation to business or entrepreneurship. They see the economy at large being driven by competition, but cannot separate the larger forces at play from the individual motivations that drive people.
For Vlambeer, competition is not a driving force – in fact, like in the case of Ninja Fishing forcing us to compete with them, it’s often a distraction. Our driving force is outdoing ourselves: the next game has to better than the previous. Our next marketing campaign has to be tighter than the last. Our next deal needs to be better than the previous. Our next interview better than the last. Our next talk needs to be more effective, our next seminar more educational, our next gamejam more useful. Not because of the market, not because of the economy, not to show the world that we’re better than others – but because we want to get better.
On a much larger scale, though, Vlambeer wants to cooperate. We both care a lot about game development, about indie development, about the people already in the industry and the people trying to get into the industry. We’ve set up dozens of opportunities to help out and co-organize a large number of events and initiatives to that point. We realize that, if we want gaming to be a healthy, welcoming environment, you have to treat people coming into the environment with respect and courtesy. You tell them that making games is about making games and helping one another out. If you want them to rip off ideas instead of creating their own, you teach them that it’s just about competition and that making games isn’t about making games, but about minimizing costs and optimizing profits. It’s that simple.
Sure, you need to make enough money to stay afloat, but the verbial pie is large enough to share it amongst all of us – often without the need to compete at all. Chris Hecker explained this eloquently in his GDC 2013 talk, in which he pointed out that Nobody Knows About Your Game. Eitan Glinert worded things even better: ‘We’re not competing with each other, we’re competing with obscurity.’ The fact that someone bought an indie game doesn’t mean they won’t buy another indie game – in fact, it’s more likely that they will.
What I do isn’t about being better than somebody else, it’s about being relevant to the industry, the medium and the people I care about. It’s about making sure I work with Jan Willem and the rest of our collaborators to make great games for the fans. It’s about helping out other developers, whether they’re just starting out in an emerging region or established developers looking for some feedback, It’s about inspiring and informing students all around the world. It’s about sharing and cooperating against obscurity. These are sentiments that I see all around the scene, cooperation instead of competition, sharing instead of patenting, collaborating instead of antagonizing.
Whether you want to compete, improve, dabble, change the world, just have fun – or whatever your motivation to make games may be – know that your motivation is perfectly valid whatever anyone on Gamasutra tells you. Make the games you want to make, make them with the tools you like – and most importantly, make them on your own terms.