Industry Vets Launch New Independent Games Company

Fed up with the current business model that limits independent game developers today, industry veterans Greg Costikyan and Dr. Johnny Wilson today announced the formation of a new independent games company called Manifesto Games.

Costikyan and Wilson have been frustrated by the fact that the video game industry has made it increasingly difficult to bring "offbeat and niche" games to market, and they lament the notion that any game that sells fewer than 1 million units is deemed a failure.

Building a Viable Path to Market for Indie Games

According to the press release, Manifesto will employ a digital distribution method to sell its games. The site will offer gamers a place where they "can find 'the best of the rest,' the games that the retail channel doesn't think worth carrying." Manifesto breaks down its offering into three types: truly independent, original content from creators without publisher funding; the best PC games from smaller PC game publishers, including games in existing genres like wargames, flight sims, and graphic adventures; and niche MMOs. They expect the site to carry content by early 2006.

"The typical game store only has 200 facings. They can only carry best-sellers. On the Internet, there is no shelf space and you are limited only by how well you can market yourself, your site. This is where niche product can rule," explained Costikyan, Manifesto's CEO.

"The game industry has become moribund," continued Costikyan. "Because of ballooning budgets and the narrowness of the retail channel, it is now essentially impossible for anything other than a franchise title or licensed product to obtain distribution. Yet historically, the major hits, the titles that have expanded the industry to new markets and created new audiences have been highly innovative. It is time for us to find a way to foster innovation, because it's not going to happen if we leave it to the large publishers."

Costikyan believes that Manifesto will be unique because it's not targeting the casual crowd or trying to generate revenues from publishers' back catalogs. "Many companies are entering the direct download space, but in most cases, they're either focusing on casual downloadable games, or on offering the back catalog of major publishers," he said. "It's amazing that casual game publishers can succeed selling games to people who, historically, haven't bought them, but we'd rather try to sell games to people who already buy them. By offering greater exposure to independent games, we'll be introducing gamers to a universe of games they haven't already seen--and that, we think, is the winning strategy."

Creating a 'New Day'

Costikyan's partner, Johnny Wilson, will serve as Manifesto's Executive Vice President for Community and Content. Wilson has been disappointed that many of today's games have been very derivative, but he's excited to get the chance to bring more original indie games to market.

"I left Ziff-Davis Publications after 18 years when I realized that electronic games were becoming so mass-market that they didn't have the appeal for me that they once had," commented Wilson. "Games were becoming as homogenized as the movies. The big budgets required to keep pushing the technological envelope were proving to be self-fulfilling prophecies of an era of sequels, imitation and indistinguishable, derivative material. So, I moved back to table-top gaming for a while. Now, I am thrilled to realize that the downloadable potential of cerebral, thought-provoking 'indie' games is giving me a chance to move back to the kind of in-depth, exciting, quality coverage we enjoyed providing back 'in the day.' The only difference is that we're not 'back in the day,' we have a very real chance to create a 'new day.'"

More than 50 years of experience

Costikyan and Wilson have a wealth of combined experience that will no doubt be instrumental in getting Manifesto up and running in the right direction. Costikyan has been working in the game industry since 1974. He's designed more than 30 commercially published board, roleplaying, online, computer, and mobile games, including the first online game to attract more than 1 million players. He also served as a consultant for IBM, Intel, the Sarnoff Corporation, France Telecom, Roland Berger & Partners, and Wieden + Kennedy. Additionally, Costikyan was co-founder of Unplugged Games, one of the first North American mobile game start-ups, and is an inductee into the Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame for a lifetime of accomplishment in the field. He most recently served as a games researcher for Nokia, but left his post to start Manifesto.

Wilson, an ordained minister, comes to Manifesto from the editorial side of the industry. He's been covering computer games since 1981 and served as Editorial Director for Ziff-Davis' Computer Gaming World magazine until 1999. Following CGW, he served as Group Publisher for Wizards of the Coast magazines and eventually helped to spin-off the publications to Paizo Publishing, LLC, where he served as President. Along the way Wilson has also written or co-authored nine different books about computer games and he's appeared in more than 200 radio and television interviews.

Costikyan plans to describe the process of building and funding his company on his blog. In his first entry about Manifesto (posted Tuesday), he describes his fears about leaving his job at Nokia and his aspirations for the company; it's an interesting read.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.