[*10mg* Is The Future We Need](/blog/articles/10mg)
I don’t think anyone expected 10mg to move massive numbers and rightly so because it did not. Right now, something like half of the games have 6 or fewer reviews on Steam. This is no Genshin Impact. Nevertheless, this is probably the release that I’m happiest seeing this year.
The games themselves are a fun group. :) was interesting and chaotic. You Are a Soft and Round Kitten was another great use of the form and HANDMADEDEATHLABYRINTH was a very interesting piece. Cover Me In Leaves was a great Twine piece, Always Down is in the best tradition of Flash games and Sealed Estate was terrifying. The really nice thing though is how even the games that didn’t really hit were fine for not overstaying their welcome. I was not very fond of Locked In and Stroke, but the beauty of the 10mg experiment in that the games ask for so little from you that a couple of misses don’t really matter.
Given that each of the games only takes 10 minutes to play, I really don’t have to invest a lot to play each one. It takes away a lot of the obstacle of playing a game. I’ve been trying to get into EU4 for work, but the investment it requires makes that hard. I’ve even left A Short Hike unplayed because it’s hard to find even the couple of hours that it needs. Like every single other person with a Steam account, I’ve lost count of the number of games that I own and want to play but just haven’t found the time for. Knowing that a game was designed to take you from zero to completion in ten minutes is incredibly freeing.
A lot of the time, when I have the time to sit down and play something, I’m not looking to spend a lot of mental energy figuring out how to play. If I’ve had a long day at work, I’m often just too tired to start something new. This is how I keep going back to comfort games like Hearthstone. When a game promises me that I’m not going to have to invest that much, it makes it much easier for me to get over the hump of just opening the game.
This low investment also takes a lot of pressure off the games. Stroke really didn’t work for me. I appreciate seeing people make games about experiences like the titular stroke, but I personally spent much of the last year in a series of family health emergencies and the game just didn’t ring true for me. However, there was a moment there where the player has the chance to talk to a stranger waiting there for a family member of his own. I don’t actually remember anything of the conversation in the game, but I spent a lot of time waiting outside operation rooms and I’ve had conversations with people while waiting there. It’s a very unique experience and one that I was glad to see reflected in a game, and given how small the game is, that moment where the game clicked felt like enough to justify the entire game for me. When my investment is so low, it’s easy for me to get back value. Too many games don’t respect our time.
It feels like the medium right now is not great at making small points. We do some of that now, but it feels like the space is dominated by GameMaker and Twine now in the way that it was once dominated by Flash. There’s nothing wrong with that as all of these tools have been used many times to make great games. I have nothing to quibble about with either the tools or the aesthetic of these games. However, I feel that there’s a lot more space than has been defined and exploring that space can only be good for the industry.
For instance, I remember the first wave of mobile games very fondly. I remember in 2009, it felt like all you needed was a small idea that worked well on the touchscreen and you could put it on the App Store for $1 and turn a profit. It now feels like that market has been flooded out, but there were some really fun things to come out of it. These spaces where game designers can sustainably explore quicker, smaller ideas are exciting to me.
I stayed in San Francisco for three years and there are two quick things from my time there that I’ve always wanted to put down. Firstly, in my first week there, I got a coffee from someone who was very patient while I was scattered. Secondly, I want to talk a bit about the constant weight that the Golden Gate Bridge puts on your mind while living there. Both of these are things that I could easily pad into a Medium article or put down as a series of tweets. I could easily see them as a TikTok or in song lyrics, even though I have no experience creating for either medium. I’m just not sure how exactly I would put them down as video games. I might be able to embed them in something here or there, but I can’t make either of them the star.
I’m honestly offended by this fact. I’m not sure how best to approach a small thought like this as a game and I don’t like that. If we can establish more standard patterns to use to approach these problems, then we can build from them. Laying that foundation drastically simplifies making a shot.
There are lots of small games coming out everyday. Itch is constantly buzzing with activity of this kind. What’s missing is a way to get them traction. My hope is that collections like 10mg can solve that. Packaging a series of small games together can hopefully shortcut the value calculation for the player. It essentially amortizes the risk by giving the player a number of spins of the wheel. If you buy ten games for $10 and 100 minutes, then it’s okay if some of them don’t quite do it for you. It doesn’t feel bad to have a mixture of how much you like each game when you get ten. It does feel really bad though to spend a dollar on a game that you don’t like. That transaction feels like a mistake and no one likes making mistakes.
Also, more prosaically, it’s hard to get around to buying a new game. First of all, you can’t ignore the barrier of just going to a store and purchasing a game. There’s a big gap between someone deciding to buy a game and actually purchasing that game. It’s effort for a player to do so and reducing that effort is meaningful. Secondly, and to greater effect, it’s hard to convince people to buy a game at all. Packaging a bunch of games together can help split that effort.
Packages are a big part of video game purchases now, but a package where players are actually expected to try and finish all of the games in it is radical. Currently, game packages are value propositions, not curated experiences. They appeal to our penchant for collecting and our love of value, not to our desire to play.
Also, as a quick aside, this collection feels like an album. I can approach it as a bunch of singles or as a whole in itself. Separate from everything else, I like seeing video games draw from the norms of other media. We’re far too incestuous. Anything that’s different, anything that takes us out of our comfort zone of other video games, anything of that sort is a good thing.
My hope with this is that albums can prove a sustainable model for independent games. It’s no secret that the current model of just hoping to strike it big, or even just to strike anything at all, leaves a lot of people behind. This is not an industry to bet your livelihood on right now.
Possibly this space between game jams and current commercial releases might be able to provide for people. It does feel like the $1 space has largely been lost for commercial games. By making packages like 10mg, we may be able to reclaim some of it
If I only need to deliver $1 and 10 minutes of gameplay, then a lot of game ideas that didn’t make sense suddenly become feasible. I don’t need to have something fully fleshed out if the stakes are so low, I can just deliver a fragment of an idea and see if it does anything for anyone. That’s just the beginning though. If the financial risk is so drastically cut down for any single game, then that allows people to add risk for what the games say and do. It lets me make a game that’s totally off-the-wall as a single failure no longer risks breaking me. It also lets me get more personal with what the game says as I don’t have to worry so much about alienating the player. It might get let us make games that get players to engage more with the idea of creators as people.
If I can take a small game I make and package it together with other small games, either my own or those of other people, and together present a single, compelling bundle to a player, then the potential is there to change the entire way games are made, to free developers to take experiments that are essentially prohibitively risky today. 10mg itself may not be the games that opens the gates, but hopefully they are a forerunner of what is to come.