Why Playonix? And where did we go?

Image is by Jim Sheaffer, and used under the Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.

Viewers of this site might have noticed that updates dropped off as we reached October. I feel as if I owe everyone an explanation, and this post is an attempt to provide that.

Playonix is a project of passion for me. I tend to be fairly opinionated and outspoken about the games I play and as I’ve entered my thirties I’ve grown particularly jaded with the state of the gaming industry on the whole. In effect, it’s followed Hollywood’s example – mega corporations seek mega sponsors to produce mega-expensive AAA “experiences” full of Hollywood-style production quality, and movie-like cutscenes. The problem with that is a game can be successful from a critical and gameplay standpoint, but still be declared a massive failure in the market place. Tomb Raider is a recent example of this.

In the earliest days of the industries, games were about simple mechanics, functional graphics, and deep, rewarding gameplay. The game was the thing, and the pretty graphics and frequently memorable music was a bonus that rounded out the experience and kept us coming back.  Now games like the Super Mario series or even DOOM are far and few between, and titles like Beyond: Two Souls and Call of Duty: Ghosts are the norm. Companies like EA push for yearly iterations to keep the marketplace full of EA products and profits consistent.

While I have no doubt many of the game developers are still passionate about their projects, is it any wonder why so-called “casual” games are on the rise? Be they mobile games where the lack of physical buttons forces simple controls or the growing Indie market where teams are again small, and budgets are smaller. Incredible experiences of yesteryear were often made by teams of singular persons – trying something new, experimenting, pushing games in unexpected directions. You can’t do that with yearly updates to franchises.

I realized that for the last few years I was buying remakes and sequels to games I’ve already played and owned. Gaming can be an expensive hobby – dropping $50, $60, and up on each title adds up. I had fallen into a cynical attitude where I wasn’t willing to risk that sort of money on an unknown title. And when I just wanted to sit down and play a quick game, more often than not I fired up one of my classic consoles — or an emulator — and would try a game I never got around to the first time!

Around that time I started watching a show called Bytejacker on Revision3. The host, Anthony Carboni, would introduce and review indie titles. Many of which were free or cheap, and reminded me more than a little of those games of yesterday. I was hooked! I would tune in every week and grab the top-recommended download. And I realized that there’s this little underground movement. The heyday of gaming wasn’t gone, it had just moved out of the spotlight.

Playonix is my attempt to celebrate and provide a spotlight for those titles. There are some amazing games out there that aren’t getting the market penetration they deserve simply because, well, they can’t afford it. Most indie titles are made on a shoestring budget and in their honor, I’m funding Playonix out of pocket.

Unfortunately that also means I have to make my money elsewhere to pay for bills, my gaming habit, and this site. So I can’t devote as much time to it as I’d like. And it also means I can’t afford to pay my contributors. It’s a volunteer system – and when things are volunteer, well, they need to make their money too. Or attend college. People move, focus changes. And when I’m not paying anyone, it feels awkward to “act like a boss” and shake people down for updates and reviews.

Frequently we’re reviewing games we bought or installed on our own. I can’t afford a capture card or afford to build a high-level PC. That’s what leads to us using Youtube trailers to show off games. To kind of sum up, I don’t currently have the money to buy up systems and games and send them to my volunteers. I have no funding or capital. And forming a new site like this – unproven and without a multitude of viewers – means approaching Youtubers to syndicate content hasn’t gone well either. Many PR folk wouldn’t reply when I’d try to introduce them to the site and ask how to get on their media lists. (I have to give a HUGE shout out to Evolve PR for giving us a foot in the door and generally being awesome.)

I got discouraged and I let things slip.

Very, very recently – within the last week, in fact – I was struck with the desire to return to Playonix. To brush off that first layer of dust and fire up the lights again. We all start somewhere. Those indie games I wanted to spotlight are developed by people who frequently quit their day jobs and survive off instant ramen, with the support of an understanding spouse or significant other. Building something from nothing takes effort, time, persistence.

Consider it a lesson learned.

Playonix has returned. I’ll be bringing on some new contributors and coming up with a few new columns. I’ve made changes on the backend so we can keep track of who is working on what. I’ll be writing up a style guide for reviewers. I’ve incorporated a new mobile theme, which I’ll be customizing. We may be introducing a podcast or two. And we’ll even open up reviews to non-indie, non-free games because there are definitely lessons we can learn from the big budget titles. I’d like to talk about what’s wrong with a few of them, too – and perhaps why AAA publishers could stand to learn a thing or two from the smaller guys.

Of course with the Sony PS4 just launched and the Xbox One only a day or two out (in the US at least), a lot of attention is pointed at them. And rightly so. But some of us can’t afford to upgrade to the latest hardware just yet. Some of us are primarily PC gamers and Steam OS is just around the corner too.

Playonix is back, and there’s work to be done. I hope you’ll join us.

I’m a child of the 80′s. My first console was the Atari 7800 and I have a ton of great memories of playing NES and SNES games with my mom. I’ve been playing console and PC games ever since.

I think more time is spent making games look good than crafting fun gameplay. So I created Playonix to try and showcase the creativity of Indie games and games with small dev teams.

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