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Commercial Adventures are Dying? Hooray!

We’ve heard it before. Publishers have become wary of story-oriented games and now turn their eyes toward the easy buck. The few commercial adventures that get released are panned in the mainstream press for being too boring. Developers are less likely to produce an adventure game as a result. Countless theories abound on the subject, so I won’t get into that here. The commercial adventure game is a dying animal and we all know it.

Personally, I think this is great news. Yes, you heard me right. Publishers don't want to take the risk anymore? Fantastic. You can't find adventure games in retail stores? Terrific! I'm crying out in rapture. And before I get tarred, feathered, and burned in effigy, allow me to relate a little personal experience that explains my way of thinking.

I live in an area of New York City known as the East Village, which is a mecca for artists of all types. Every day I witness brilliant creative people struggling to make it big and getting nowhere. Last summer, there was a poet who stood on a street corner near my apartment building. Sweating profusely in the heat, he would hand out small booklets of his poetry to random passerby. He was there all day, every day, with a wide optimistic smile on his face. Most of these booklets ended up in a trash bin down the street. A few blocks south, there was a woman giving away free posters of her paintings. In the local park, you would hear any number of musicians, toiling away for hours. They don’t care about money. They just want their message heard. They are all talented and hard-working, but they will more than likely live and die in obscurity.

And that, my friends, is why I’m happy that commercial adventure games are no longer mainstream. Think about it, would YOU want to compete against Sierra in their prime? The prospect is enough to intimidate the most prolific amateur adventure writer into throwing in the towel. It’s the equivalent of one guy with a video camera taking on Spielberg.

There are no fans like adventure game fans. We all love the genre, and mourn its fall from grace. We long for more. We are HUNGRY for more. We want intelligent games! We want a thought-provoking story with likable, interesting characters! In other words, we are a willing and built-in audience, eager to play new adventures. For an artist trying to get noticed, this is a perfect situation. The chances of a game being played by people are practically guaranteed. Your creation will be seen, experienced, and appreciated. Feedback is instantaneous.

Amateur adventure game creators don’t have to answer to anybody. Not to a publisher, not to an accountant, not even to the customer. This creates endless possibilities for artists, who can experiment and expand upon the genre without worrying about the bottom line. A few enterprising writers have taken it upon themselves to do just this. Keptosh: The Search for Junc is an excellent game with a hidden message about the virtues of socialism, something that would have been impossible to publish commercially. The Reality on the Norm project gives people the opportunity to expand upon a virtual world. Examples like these are few, but the amateur adventure scene is still quite young. I expect to see the adventure genre continue to evolve as these independent artists experiment with the form.

Orson Welles once said that art was two percent creation and ninety-eight percent hustling. “I’ve spent 98% of my life hustling,” he said in a 1982 interview. “Is that a way to live a life?” It’s a shame he was never able to write an amateur adventure game. As an art form, it is ideal. If you are willing to put the time in, as well as the blood, sweat, and tears that are necessary to create a brilliant piece of work, then the rewards are great. You have the potential to become a household name within a small, but fiercely loyal niche group of people. There is no other art venue in the world where you can achieve such success simply by being good at what you do. Disagree? Try telling that to the pretty young actress trying to make it big on Broadway.


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