To call modern game development risky is an understatement. It’s no secret that developers are investing big and losing their shirts over it. Budgets and team sizes are swelling while sales expectations are dropping. For some reason we’ve been working to ape our brothers and sisters in AAA game development and focus on polish and marketability. But why? Games don’t have to tell sweeping narratives spanning tens of hours, sometimes they can take an intimate experience and share it in 15 minutes.
I’ve recently fallen in love with Bitsy games. If you’re not up to date on your game editors, here’s a crash course: Bitsy is an expressive game editor that forces tight constraints on the developer. The strengths of Bitsy come from these core limitations. I’ve never seen a Bitsy game that could be mistaken for a multi-million dollar project, but I could point to dozens of small and interesting experiments that affected me and judging by the number who download some of these games, they’ve affected plenty of you too.
Bitsy is also accessible. If the frequent Bitsy jams are any indication games can be developed in as little as a weekend, and the gulf in quality between jam games and full-on Bitsy releases is narrow. With the limitations inherent to the engine, the usual hallmarks of polish (graphics, gamefeel, length) hit their ceiling very quickly. But none of this is a bad thing. By stripping away the padding and veneer of polish, these games say what they need to say and nothing else.
Sure there will always be a place for mass-market experiences, but let’s also place value in intimate conversations between developer. Let’s look toward games that don’t stretch on for 100 hours but ones that can be completed on your lunch break. Profit and acclaim aren’t foregone conclusions in this model either. We’ve featured Everything is Going to be OK several times on this blog, and it made it onto IGN’s Game of the Year list, and according to some resources Gone Home and Tacoma have sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
This isn’t to say that every game needs to be made with Bitsy (engines don’t necessarily determine what games are made on them) or that every game has to last less than an hour, but I think we can take a look at the strengths of these projects and learn from them, and more importantly: learn to value rough experiences that come directly from developers without being dressed up by a marketing machine.
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