Over the last few years one voice has spoken loudest and most clearly about the nature of the PC as a platform for independent gaming. It's a voice that has told us, in no uncertain terms, that PC gaming no longer needs shops, or even publishers. PC gaming can be fully independent, and it can be that way thanks to the internet.
The voice belongs to Greg Costikyan, an iconoclastic veteran developer. Working for board-games manufacturer Simulations Publications as an unpaid designer, Costikyan's first published game was a wargame he created at the age of 16. From there he went on to work for celebrated roleplaying game company West End Games, before moving into videogames and working for Prodigy, Crossover Technologies, British Telecom and Nokia. Now, well into the third decade of his gaming career, Costikyan has become convinced that there must be more support for independent games, and with his new company, Manifesto Games, he intends to provide just that.
What is Manifesto Games? Costikyan told PC Gamer: "I've been frustrated for years at the industry's increasing aversion to risk, and decreasing willingness to fund any games that are not viewed as sure things - franchise titles and licensed dross for the most part. I first wrote about the need for the gaming equivalent of independent music and film - an alternative path to market for lower-budget, more creative work - in 1999, but never really saw a way to make it work.
"Two things changed my mind: First, the spread of broadband, which makes downloading even multi-hundred Megabyte games feasible; and second, the success of the casual downloadable market, which provides a working business model. It seemed to me that the timing was right."
Manifesto Games is not a publisher in the traditional sense, but instead a website that enables gamers to find independent games, and aspiring creators to find their audience - however small. For a few dollars you can download the games to your PC, but Manifesto is more than just an online store. It provides user blogs and forums. The editors will use their presence to do more than say what games have been added - their current posts read like a state-of-the-industry address.
The Manifesto project will not be without difficulties. Being independent means that Costikyan's portal, and the dozens of independent games it supports, have to do without the inflated wallets of the big games publishers. "The site was cobbled together by volunteers, students, and with the assistance of some web design gurus who like what we're doing," says Costikyan. "We've managed to get the rights to over one hundred titles by dint of sheer hard work; and we've assembled the core team and partners we need to make things work through sheer force of will.
"Our proximate challenge is to scale up usage, although we've not yet embarked on our marketing and promotion campaign (which will also be done on a shoestring). We're at the inception of the process, not the end. I won't feel that we've gotten there, really, until people start talking about independent games in the same breath as 'casual' and 'mobile', and as a rapidly growing category - and until we start seeing serious competitors."
Serious competitors will, of course, only appear if initiatives like Manifesto manage to be successful, but the potential of a huge casual gaming industry is there. Costikyan recently pointed out that global revenues from PC gaming have dropped by a billion dollars in the last ten years. Manifesto is a clear attempt at tapping into that stream of money, and at the same time allowing creativity to once again flourish by rewarding the developers properly for their work. They'll be offered as much as 60% of the revenue.