Consoles and Independent Developers: A Penetration Issue

Matt Barton's picture

When it comes to the old "computers vs. consoles" debate, I've always come down on the computer side. Even though nowadays the PC has lost much of its edge when it comes to graphics and what-not, you can't beat it in terms of versatility and software diversity. I doubt very seriously if I'd be playing 1/10th of the point-and-click adventure games I love so much if I were limited to a console. Most of the games in my queue were developed by "small time" developers who can afford to cater to a "niche" audience. But why aren't we seeing more independent development on consoles now that there's such a good online distribution system in place? According to SimonC, it's because of the costs of converting a game to work on more than one platform. Small time developers just can't flourish under the current conditions. To my mind, it's a good take on the issue, and I wonder if somewhere down the road the big three will be able to agree on some kind of basic virtual platform so that at least more "casual" games can appear on all of their systems:

Oddly, both Nintendo’s and Sony’s reluctance to come out swinging in this area seems to be down to insularity or issues relating to corporate control. Why not relax a little and give the consumer a bit more choice and make indie development much more viable along the way?

You tell'em, Simon. Still, one has to wonder--if insularity is such a problem, why didn't the GP32 fare better? Are there enough independent developers out there for anyone to care?

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Bill Loguidice
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The GP32 line didn't (and

The GP32 line didn't (and won't) fare better because it's not conducive to commercial gaming, be it independent or otherwise. It's a decidedly niche product by the very nature of its independent design. In other words, the company doesn't have the resources to promote the console to anyone other than a hardcore niche who keeps up with such things already and can understand the benefits of emulation and open source developments. Further, being emulator friendly and open source excludes it from having any commercial software viability (i.e., worthwhile sales). The two simply can't co-exist. If it were possible, then surely Linux would have a much stronger commercial software presence than it does now. If Linux can't do it, how can a barely funded handheld do it?

Speaking of handhelds, there are some exciting developments on that front, with some true "competitors" to the GP2x line coming down the pike (like, the Flashback 2 portable (transfer 2600 images from your PC to the device via USB and the GamePort, which goes one step being emulation and like the Commodore One, all but becomes the platform whose software its going to run: http://www.gameport.tv/faq.html)

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Mark Vergeer
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The gp32 company went bust

The gp32 company went bust, the gp2x is produced by an independent company.
I don't agree with Bill about Emulators and commercial software not bening able to co-exist on one platform - them being mutually exclusive. Emulators are almost always old-school games, whereas commercial games most often are more high tech new games. The two don't overlap and actually don't have much to do with one another.

The Nintendo DS Lite is a prime example where both emulators and commercial software does co-exists. With a flashed DSLite it is possible to play Snes, Nes, SMS full speed now (especially the latest Snes emulator is just jawdropping) retrogaming, also a fairly good c64 emulator is out on the DS now (Frodo), MSX and Amstrad CPC is also quite good, spectrum emulation is simply 100% - but those programs do serve a niche in the DS gaming culture. Most DSLite users run commercial games, I myself run a bucketload of commercial games on the DSLite despite it's emulating capabilities. Those white game boxes keep on filling up my gaming book-case. There's a subset of users that flash the DS for running Emulators besides using commercial games and of course there's also a subset of kiddies that will flash the DS to be able to play pirated games. I count myself to the first category. Most DS Users haven't flashed or cracked their device, so although the DS is not officially capable of running homebrew software it is possible and fairly easy to accomplish. So it does co-exists and doesn't ruin the DSLite commercial success.

PC gaming has existed for years, so have emulators on PC. Both do co-exist. A note on the side he Gp32 is NOT linux powered, the gp2x IS and boasts more commercial games than the gp32 ever did. The gp32 had a poor business plan behind it, although it fared quite a bit better in it's native Korea than it did in the West. The gp32 never became a commercially viable platform, nor does the gp2x. There's just too limited a number of units sold.

http://xbox360homebrew.com/
On the XNA developers part of Xbox360 one of the users has created an emulator for running on the X360 using the original developers tools without the need to patch your 360. The only thing needed is an XNA enabled account. So for now this emulator on 360 seem to be legit. Commercial emulation on the GBA, DS, PS, PS2, PSP, DC, Xbox and X360 does work and is interesting for game publishers and people are willing to pay that extra buck for yet another version of Joust, Digdug or pacman.

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Bill Loguidice
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I'm not talking commecial

I'm not talking commecial emulation. Commercial emulation is the same as commercial software. Commercial emulator is never just an emulator that allows you to use your own ROMs, it's always just a small selection of emulation ROMs, a "ROM pack", if you will. Commercial anything can co-exist with itself.

Yes, people do have flashers and cards for their DS, as do I. It's relatively easy. Still, just like with modded consoles, it's a niche or subset of the greater population. As good as things like that have gotten in terms of ease-of-use, it's still a level of complexity that the average user - who, let's face it - really does just want to play a few games that they buy, doesn't want to bother with (or necessarily have the sophistication to bother with).

Again, nothing against the GP systems, as I like the idea, my only point was they're forever doomed as niche products for a variety of reasons and will NEVER have a notable commercial software presence for similar reasons. Each level away from the mainstream or from the "standard" business or operational model, the less commercial software will have an impact/presence. It's like going from Windows to Mac to Linux to Amiga (modern) to whatever. Each step down you take a huge drop in availability and interest, even by independents.

In any case, I'm very much interested in that FPGA-based handheld. That to me is the most exciting, even more so than the software-emulation GP systems...

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Mark Vergeer
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niche products because there's no good business plan

The gp2x and gp32 are niche products because they have a far too limited number of systems out there to ever become more than a niche system. So no software developer will want to risk a commercial project on there. Whether the systems openly support open source emulation or not is beside the point in my opinion.
Then there is the level of hardware quality. The gp32 had excellent hardware quality, but the gp2x systems are cutting it close to being a little trashy with a big variance in build-quality. Mine has been built pretty bad (1st generation gp2x) and I had to bring it up to a solid functioning standard myself, even replacing the joystick.
Then there is the level of firmware and the bugs still present in them. The gp32 had an awful first firmware where running homebrew software was hardly possible, unofficial firmwares remedied this and the latest official gp32 firmware also remedies this officially. The gp2x still has beta firmware and is a geek's product. The claims of media playback still are not all fulfilled! You'll not find it for sale in the major chains. If the firmware stuff, multimedia playback is rectified then you'll have a matured product, but both systems still are in their infancy and because of the poor business plans they will probably never get the chance to mature outside of their niches.
The mistakes made with both the gp32 and the gp2x is that their creators wanted to become more than a niche products but didn't have the money or recourses to invest into a mature product. The gp2x nor the gp32 will never be.

The Gameport console doesn't want to become a commericial product and if built quality is good, I'll definitely get one.

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Bill Loguidice
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Actually, from what I've

Actually, from what I've been following, the Gameport does want to become a commercial product. The creators (as in the Website that is active now) intend to "license" or farm the tech out to a manufacturer other than themselves to handle all the messy business of distribution and what-not. That probably makes sense, as I doubt they could get the funding needed to bring such a product to market in a mass produced and cost-effective manner.

And again, it's a valid argument, but I don't ever see a commercial software market for the GPx products, even if they did have sufficient sales. In my opinion, the purchasers of those systems go into it with the idea of investing in the hardware and then getting all the rest of the software for free. It will be the same thing with the Gameport. Unless the actual manufacturer/distributor somehow locks the system down and charges for each system implementation (unlikely), the money will be made on whatever margin comes out of the initial sale of the hardware. That's actually not a very appealing business model, all things considered, as we all know the real money is made in royalties on software sales. Still, business models aside, the appeal of both of those portables (and most portables) is pretty clear.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
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yakumo9275
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my gp2x mk2 is good the only

my gp2x mk2 is good the only downside is the battery springs (or lacktherof!). The GP32 was designed to be a commercial success (trying to get capcom to write games for it etc) whereis gp2x was refocused to homebrew (although payback is meant to be very cool on it I have not bought it).

My game will run on GP2x + PSP and be released simultaneously (hopefully), the big bear is the psp toolchain is horrendous and getting homebrew to work on psp is worse than horrendous.

it would be interesting to know the sales figures for payback and vektar. Craig says that quite a few gp2x units have been shipped (dwarfing the gp32 numbers).

I love my gp2x, fullspeed C64 emu on the go with tv-plugin ability just rocks! (I dont care about snes/nes etc), the new commercial Break Out Box is also cool (debating if I will get one....)....

-- Stu --

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yakumo9275
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ooh that gameport prototype

ooh that gameport prototype is FUGLY with some naf looking button layout eeeeee. It doesn't sound reassuring to have a company incorporated in Las Vegas then move to Guadalajara... Sounds as bad as the Gizmondo shenanigans...

-- Stu --

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Bill Loguidice
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Gameport prototype
yakumo9275 wrote:

ooh that gameport prototype is FUGLY with some naf looking button layout eeeeee. It doesn't sound reassuring to have a company incorporated in Las Vegas then move to Guadalajara... Sounds as bad as the Gizmondo shenanigans...

-- Stu --

That was just a quick prototype by the famous Ben Heckendorn to demonstrate the technology live. The actual product will be styled like and smaller than the clamshell Nintendo DS. We'll see how it all goes. It sounds like they're doing everything right in regards to implementing the technology (FPGA is probably the best way to emulate a system) and I'm fine with a pseudo-DS design. We'll see who ultimately bites to actually sell it once it's complete.

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Mark Vergeer
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getting the USB cradle for my gp2x....

My gp2x is one of the 1st models to be sold in Europe, it's a first generation one and from what I understand MK2 ones are of better quality. I am very much thinking about getting a new gp2x USB cradle which will allow me to connect it to a TV, USB mouse and keyboard, USB harddrives, USB gamepads, making it the ultimate emulation device!

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yakumo9275
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power supplies
Mark Vergeer wrote:

My gp2x is one of the 1st models to be sold in Europe, it's a first generation one and from what I understand MK2 ones are of better quality. I am very much thinking about getting a new gp2x USB cradle which will allow me to connect it to a TV, USB mouse and keyboard, USB harddrives, USB gamepads, making it the ultimate emulation device!

the new bob requires a different power supply instead of the old developers bob (without case).

and you need to be careful of the power requirements with the bob and a mk1 gp2x. (iirc the mk1's ran 5v the mk2's run 3v).. the mk2 requires a center neg power supply while the cradle apparently requires a center positive...

for a mk1 gp2x you need a ps for the gp2x and a ps for the cradle, the cradle uses a 5V/3A AC adapter.

Requiring two power supplies kinda suck :( (the mk2 can power the cradle but when you start plugging things in you needa second ps as well if the usb ports pull a lot of juice)

-- Stu --

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