Imagine being a video game designer. Your job is to essentially relive your childhood days of running around the playground with your arms outstretched like an airplane, creating something out of nothing using only your imagination.
Now imagine being a massively successful videogame designer. Your job is to use that imagination to create something that will not only appeal to a lot of people, but will also leave room for enough sequels to eventually warrant a Facebook campaign set up by your myriad detractors, who beg you to stop milking your creation for all it's worth because you're ruining the industry for everyone else.
The problem with choosing creative freedom over profit is quite apparent; while games like Okami will astound those who do play them, there will be many, many more who haven't even heard of them, and it's quite difficult to find a large market for your innovative and original ideas in an industry that wheels out more sequels than Elm Street.
If you want to make a living out of playing games then at some point you're going to need to put all of those little creative hopes and dreams to the very back of your brain, pick up your briefcase and freshly ironed suit and sign yourself up to the money machine. Just ask Tim Schafer, who has now made the successful transition from platforming classic Psychonauts to helping children flail their arms alongside the cookie monster.
Here are three key areas you must focus on in order to help propel your fledgling idea into a multi-million earning franchise.
Minecraft. What seemingly began as a practical joke on the gaming industry (a game with terrible graphics and no narrative released independently by a fat guy operating under a pseudonym) is now a legitimate goldmine that has catapulted its small indie development team into the big leagues. People often say Minecraft's success is due to "word of mouth", but what they really mean to say is "YouTube".
Minecraft would never have garnered itself such a massive fanbase if it wasn't for the myriad YouTube playthroughs showcasing its charms. The same can be said for the Call of Duty series which now has countless channels dedicated to its multiplayer, its popularity so huge in the YouTube community that multiple careers have been forged by people simply recording footage of themselves playing it.
In order to steadily improve your number of users you must embrace the YouTube community, rather than doing something ridiculous – such as passing the Stop Online Piracy Act bill – to alienate it. Think about it; no matter how much money has been pumped into marketting the Modern Warfare series, it pales in comparison to the free publicity Activision & co. have received from the likes of Machinima.
If you're going to want people to continue to play your game throughout the duration of the year then you're going to need to come up with a solid hook to bring them back. For most companies the easiest way to achieve this is by developing a solid multiplayer, for others such as the aforementioned Minecraft and Media Molecules' LittleBigPlanet series it is granting the player immense freedom in the games world.
The only catch with doing this is that by hoping gamers will stick with your game until you release the next iteration in the series, you will need a team dedicated to preserving that games quality; things such as server problems and glitches will all need to be addressed throughout the year if you wish to maintain a steady usership.
In order to achieve the money required to keep this team working on the game, you'll need to harness the almighty power of downloadable content. The key to good downloadable content is value for money; while series such as CoD can exploit their massive and dedicated following by charging the Earth for a selection of mediocre maps you'll have no such luxury, so put away that horse armour and get thinking.
Of course, you could always go the Valve route and simply reward gamers for being loyal to your company by giving away free DLC or, in the case of Team Fortress 2, free massively popular multiplayer games. Sure, this will be a risky venture at first, but it will please the gaming hardcore and help win over a few gamers who will commend you on your ability to refrain from trying to wring your fanbase of every last one of their pennies.
Now that we're making our first tentative steps into 2012 everyone is finally coming to the realisation that motion-control and 3D were failed experiments. Yes, the Wii was popular at some point, but since Sony and Microsoft bulldozed onto the bandwagon and further proved Nintendo's unofficial slogan of "It's Fun For 20 Minutes On Christmas Day But Then It's A Waste Of Money", motion-control has given us nothing but false promises and an aching right wrist. A bit like marriage, then.
Similarly, 3D was reintroduced as a method to combat film piracy, but ended up being SO POPULAR that they started developing 3D TV's and 3D videogames. The problem with this is that the western world is in massive amounts of debt, which means that not everyone can afford the luxury of having an enemy alien walking out of their 50" television and sitting in their living room with them.
If you want to ensure that your game is played long after we've all decided that trying to headbutt our TV screens isn't so revolutionary after all then focus on making a good game, rather than a game that tries to help justify spending $150 on the EyeToy HD.