Not all the great games come from big publishers. Case in point: GarageGames, a publisher from Eugene, Oregon, that has taken the role of publisher, distributor of independent games and even producer of an inexpensive game engine for small developers. Recently, we got to speak with Jeff Tunnell about GarageGames and independent publishing.
DG: Can you give us the basic idea behind GarageGames? What products and services do you offer to the gaming development community? What can gamers expect from the titles you publish?
JT: GarageGames was founded on the premise that it is time for the gaming industry to have a vibrant and sustainable independent developer segment. Our vision is to even the technology playing field to allow creative, independent developers with tiny budgets to make innovative and fun games. Once these games are complete, we then help them make money from these products. As we raise the bar on how good these games can be, we also intend to increase the level of public attention this “indie” movement receives.
For developers, GarageGames’ main claim to fame is offering our flagship Torque Game Engine to independent game developers for the extremely low price of $100 per programmer. The development community that has grown up around the Torque over the past two years is now one our biggest features. Based around the many free services we offer such as help wanted ads, developer and project profiles, resource submission and searching, and a forum system connected to over 30,000 like-minded independent game developers, our community can help people get started in game development, help them with problems when they get stuck, as well as keep them motivated then things get tough.
Once a game is completed, whether a developer uses the Torque Game Engine or not, we have a wonderful on-line publishing model that pays large royalties on a monthly basis, does not attempt to own intellectual property rights or box rights, and has contract language that treats the developer as a human rather than a commodity.
Gamers can expect a broad range of creative and fun titles at reasonable prices made by people who really care what they think. While most of our current games are arcade non-violent family-oriented games, in time you’ll see the launch of other categories including the GarageGames Core line. The hallmark of quality for all our games will always remain the “fun factor.”
DG: What’s the history of the founders of GarageGames?
JT: GarageGames was founded by myself, Tim Gift, Rick Overman and Mark Frohnmayer. We are all former employees of Dynamix, which was a division of Sierra On-Line/Vivendi until they shut it down nearly two years ago. I was the co-founder of Dynamix in 1984, where I either designed, directed, or produced over 70 original titles. Along the way, Tim, Rick, Mark and I worked on Tribes, Starsiege, and many other titles together. About 1997, when Tribes was deep in development, we started discussing ways to work together in an entrepreneurial way, but were not particularly interested in the traditional publisher/developer relationship. Eventually, the open-source movement sparked the idea for GarageGames and fostering an independent games community. A year and a half of negotiating with Sierra’s lawyers resulted in GarageGames. I have to say that without Mark Hood, the Sierra VP of Development, and now a partner at Capital Entertainment Group, our deal with Sierra could have never gone through. We can’t thank him enough.
DG:How successful do you feel GarageGames has been so far? How much do you see the company growing and expanding?
JT: Even though I have been working on GarageGames for nearly four years, and the other guys three, we have not even begun yet! A new venture with audacious goals is going to take a lot of work and more time than you expect. Getting the Torque to where it is, fostering a community of over 30,000 developers working on over 1,000 game projects and bringing six independent games to market, two of which are shipping in the box to retail stores, are all milestones of success, but we’re really still in the first chapters of our story. The real success is in the response our fans are giving to our games. They feel as strongly about them as we and our developer studios do, i.e. they love them!
Business-wise, our growth is on a very rapid increase. We are inundated with opportunities, but every one has to be evaluated with how it lines up with our vision and mission and sometimes recognizing the distractions, no matter how profitable they look. And avoiding them is the hardest part of bringing a young venture to its full potential. You’ll see a number of new announcements this year coming from GarageGames, many of which will be made at our very own IndieGamesCon here in Eugene, which is rumored to be happening in early October.
DG: So far, you’ve had some really interesting (and quite fun) titles ship out. What can we expect to see coming from GarageGames?
JT: We have our eye on a number of titles and teams that are working on promising projects. Most of them are in the action arcade genre, like the recently launched Tennis Critters. We are extremely excited about our just-announced addition of PomPom Games Mutant Storm and Space Tripper to our publishing lineup. These are two titles we feel demand to be “discovered” and brought to a wider audience.
As mentioned above, although our titles have had a very wide casual appeal thus far, we have many “core” gamer titles being developed, but have nothing to announce on this yet. Since most indie games are being self funded, the schedules are hard to predict, so keep an eye for announcements in this area.
DG: The Torque engine, which is what some of your products use, is based on the engine that drove the original Tribes titles. Every now and again, we’ve seen some forum postings about the age of the engine and how it needs to keep pace with newer engines. How do you respond to those types of sentiments? Are there any plans to overhaul or upgrade the Torque engine or do you believe there’s plenty of life left in it as it is?
JT: This is not a big issue. The only thing Torque cannot compete against is unshipped engines that coast hundreds of thousands of dollars that run on only the highest end shader cards. Sometimes is difficult to compete with screenshots of unshipped products? If shader support is what you are looking for, then stick with us and you will be very happy (see announcements above). Of course, we will continue to upgrade and add to Torque, but we are not making any specific announcements in this interview. For now, our response to anybody is that Torque runs very well on new as well as old cards, provides WIN, MAC, and LINUX support, still has the best multi-player networking on the market, has great terrain, animation, editors/tools, and scripting, and has proven itself in shipping games such as Tribes 2, Marble Blast, Orbz 2.0, Think Tanks, and Tennis Critters. In addition, you get more engine support from the GarageGames community than anywhere on the planet.
DG: Realm Wars, a GarageGames “community” project, had shown a lot of promise in early releases. Unfortunately, due to bandwidth issues, you were forced to remove the pre-release downloads. Will we be seeing open downloads of the title in the future? Also, how does the “community” development process differ from standard game development in terms of planning, timing and production?
JT: Realm Wars is still seeing great contributions from the community and an updated build should be widely distributed soon. This has always been what we term an experiment in the development of a large scale game – the constraints of time, distractions of new employment opportunities and in some cases great game projects from studios in our community can effect the ebb and flow of development. The design collaboration still has to be driven by decisions that may not be the popular view. The team has to be open to learners and yet set a standard for art and code contributions. We’re learning many valuable lessons about building a game in a more open source model and it is the passion of the community that moves the project forward.
Ed’s Note: The Realm Wars downloads are available again here
DG: Recently, there was an article on MSNBC regarding the price of videogames and how top tier titles may start to cost more. What’s your take on this?
JT: Currently, all GarageGames titles are under twenty dollars, yet offer plenty of original fun for gamers. It is our feeling that interactive entertainment will have a hard time sustaining higher prices in the future. We don’t want price to be a barrier to players having fun..
Our thanks to Jeff Tunnell and the crew at GarageGames for taking a moment to chat with us. More info about GarageGames titles can be found at their website.