Wolfire Games is a very fascinating independent game developer; they promote and publish their own games, utilize social networking to spread messages, create their games from the ground up, utilize impressive features (dynamic combat, ragdoll physics, weather, etc.), encourages fans to contact them and currently maintain a strong fan base of their own. In addition, they retain 100% of their sales, which is enough to work on their current game: Overgrowth. They have a very interesting business model for Overgrowth where users pay for the game in full and have access to weekly builds to play with.
They have a great sense of humor, are very communicative and make it clear that they listen to their fans and just about anyone with questions. With all this in mind, I decided to write them a letter about Star Control. I received a reply from John Graham:
Thank you very much for your support. It means a lot to us to hear that you have been with us from the beginning and are enjoying our open development process.
I hadn't actually heard of Toys For Bob until you mentioned them but having visited their site they seem to be fairly accomplished developers. You are raising the age old question in this email. Is it better to build your own IP or work on someone else's?
Having just heard Dan Connors, the CEO of Telltale games, speak at the IGDA meeting in San Francisco, he would tell you that using established IP's is a lot safer than rolling your own. Telltale has become pretty huge off of the borrowed IP strategy and you'll notice that a substantial portion of mainstream games end up being sequels these days. So I think most people would say that the immediate profits lie in using established IP's.
If our fearless lead programmer, David Rosen, had wanted to maximize his revenue in the short term by making games, he would be working for a big company like Crytek right now. Instead, he created Wolfire where he could retain creative control, and we're working more than full time on Overgrowth. It's a lot of work and arguably high risk but it's also a lot more fun.
We haven't tried the guns for hire approach yet. Thanks to the continuing support of Lugaru sales, preorders we should be able to last well through Overgrowth. I would guess though that a company could only do so much 3rd party IP work in a row without itching to make a go at their own projects. There's no easy answer, but our attitude at Wolfire has always been to just go for it. Star Control III sounds like it could be pretty sweet and with the rise in online distribution, maybe TFB doesn't need a publisher.
Thanks again for your interest in Wolfire. Feel free to follow up with me on an IM program sometime if you have more questions for us. If you want to help us spread the word please subscribe to our YouTube channel and Facebook page.
Regarding TFB publishing their own Star Control game, I don’t hear about much developers publishing their own games. For example, when Activision turned id Software down for their game Rage, Electronic Arts took over as publisher. Even first-party games are developed by one company, then published by a console company (e.g. Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony).
Thank you John for taking the time to write back to me and I wish you success with Overgrowth.