GAMES FOR PEOPLE, PART II [Author: delusion]

The Scratchware Manifesto

Phase Three: What is Scratchware?

The Scratchware FAQ

Everything you always wanted to know about scratchware games but were afraid to ask.

What is scratchware? The phrase scratchware game essentially means a computer game, created by a microteam, with pro quality art, game design, programming and sound to be sold at paperback book store prices.

A scratchware game can be played by virtually anyone who can reach a keyboard and read. Scratchware games are brief (possibly fifteen minutes to an hour or so), extremely replayable, satisfying, challenging, and entertaining.

Requiring brevity is one of the shortcomings of this concept. There are others; it’s probably better to open doors rather than close them. It might be more useful to suggest quality games don’t by definition have to be multi-hour epics rather than suggest that they cannot be.

Why the term scratchware?

Scratch; chump change; nickles and dimes.

Ware; warez; software.

And we come to the term itself which is problematic. It implies low value, and sounds like yet another term invented by independent software designers who want to release freeware or shareware and call it something cute. Cardware, giftware, junkware – these sorts of silly license terms serve mainly to cause users to ignore license agreements. Let’s settle on unambiguous functional terms: commercial software, shareware, freeware, open source, public domain. The call to action described in the Scratchware Manifesto has more to do with the process of game making than the process of game licensing anyway.

Why do we need scratchware?

We need scratchware because game programs cost too much for most people. Games are running $35 for last year’s model and upwards of $55 retail for the latest title. Most aren’t worth that much money.

Consider the one-time-through linearity, lack of replayability and derivative gameplay that many games suffer from, then reconsider the price that the publishers of these games are demanding again and again and again…

Cheapass Games is a board game company that manufactures and sells award winning board and card games for $3 to $7, and very successfully. It might be said that scratchware is to commercial computer games what Cheapass Games is to commercial board games.

Like Cheapass Games, the philosophy of scratchware embraces the idea of value; of worth. This philosophy provides for a new frontier of thoughtful ideas, reasonable design goals and careful and dedicated craftsmanship.

* * *

We also need scratchware because development teams are too large.

Imagine writing a song or a poem with ten other people. Imagine weaving a tapestry or painting on canvas or writing a novel with twenty people.

Now imagine making big budget computer entertainment. The design team for an Unreal based 3D shooter game, for example, would be comprised of fifty to one hundred people.

On the other hand, imagine making a computer game with one or two other multiskilled people. They might even be your friends or family members. Imagine doing this without the restraints imposed by deadlines or bureaucracy. Imagine actually being in control of content, gameplay, art and design rather than subordinating it to someone else. Imagine a game that can actually be made and make it.

Imagine scratchware.

Take note of another one of the pitfalls here: getting locked into a specific idea for developing software. The implication here is that anyone can make good computer games. I’m almost worried that the wrong people will take this manifesto the wrong way and immediately bite off far more than they can choose. We’ve have plenty of evidence of that in the MMOG genre; teams of people who assume the hard part about making a good game is coming up with good ideas for a game. This is wrong headed in the sense that coding experience is not optional when you set out to make an ambitious game…

…so start smaller. If someone and two friends want to make a game despite a lack of experience, it’s crucial that you tackle a project that won’t overwhelm you. Scour the net for many examples of the shells of projects that small groups of people started and never finished because the task wasn’t suited to a few people without any experience. Face it, if committee-style game making with actual programmers and artists is bad, committee-style game making with an HTML hero and a Photoshop jockey is idiocy. So for your first projects, don’t start out with the idea of dethroning EverQuest, out Quaking Quake III, or making the next Civilization-meets-Sim City
game. Hone your skills in incrementally more ambitious public domain, freeware and shareware offerings: not only is there no shame in starting with a project you can actually hope to finish by yourself or with minimal help in something approaching a reasonable time frame, it’s almost always better if you do.

* * *

We need scratchware because there is more than one way to develop good computer games. Corporate computer game making is in a panic right now. Game publishers seem clueless and in denial. They aren’t willing to admit that they may be insufficient judges of developer maturity, management ability, audience intelligence or design originality.

Meanwhile scratchware game designers, by their honest indifference to the computer game industry at large, can ignore all of this nonsense and simply create great games…

Does the term scratchware refer to other applications besides games?

Absolutely, although scratchware applications and tools probably already exist.

How are scratchware games made?

One to three people design, build, test and release them. They are made using normal software and hardware tools for the average computer system. They are made at night, on weekends, during vacations or whenever one can.

Tasks are delegated or shared. Anyone involved should have at least two of the following skills: writing, programming, art, game design, sound design and/or music production.

A scratchware game relies primarily on 2D art, which defines both its look and design. Most of you realize the distinct advantages of this. 3D games are complex and costly. [3D is discouraged unless one can program an engine one’s self and are, or are working with, an artist competent in 3D tools, model making and textures.] 2D game art is faster to create and implement, and certainly possesses unplumbed aesthetic potential.

Again, don’t box yourselves in like this. There’s more to this concept than limiting development teams to three amateur programmers or developers. They key is to get out of the existing situation where creators are treated like widget makers. There’s a lot of room here for the concept of cooperative game design; a game company concept where there’s plenty of room for profit shared equitably rather than the lion’s share of it heading to the CEO of a publishing company in the form of a sweet tax-sheltered investment option or a multi-million dollar bonus check that is completely out of proportion to his negligible contribution. Squad-based cooperative game development where the people who actually do the work share the spoils of the work. It’s criminal that this is a radical concept in American business.

Who makes scratchware games?

Nobody intentionally makes scratchware yet; the concept is fairly new.

Some of the better low priced shareware games might fall under this category. Some low priced shelfware games might qualify.

If the game has original content, offers great gameplay and replayability, has a professional look, is bug free, costs $25 or less for the complete program, and was made by three people, it is scratchware.

The point here has been missed. Judge the concept by who profits, where those profits came from, and the quality of the software. Don’t get caught up in the trap of limiting design teams to an arbitrary number. There’s plenty of room in this re-evolution for groups larger than three; just keep the jackals off their backs.

How much do scratchware games cost to design and make?

Each person involved puts their talent and tools into a pool. The question is then asked: Which one of our game ideas can we create using only the skills, assets and tools we already have?

In essence, it costs little or nothing to make a scratchware game. If a special tool or asset library is required, freeware programs and sources are recommended over shelfware, beyond what one can personally afford.If scratchware costs anything to make it probably costs about as much as your average hobby, like golf, photography or mountain biking.

What game genres are appropriate for scratchware?

Any, either in terms of broad category (adventure, strategy, puzzle, etc.) or specific setting (science fiction, historical, fantasy, etc.). Any genre or category, really.

How much do scratchware games cost to purchase?

$10 to $25. Downloadable or on CD ROM.

What do I get for my money?

A good game, with professional quality art, programming, writing, design, sound and music, at a reasonable and worthwhile price.

Who distributes scratchware?

Nobody. Currently no distribution models or systems exist outside of the shareware model. When shareware is readmeware and not responsible enough to remind the customer of its price up front, it might as well be freeware. A slightly more aggressive approach is needed.

The author makes an extremely important point. I stressed this earlier, and it bears repeating: silly “fun” licensing concepts serve no-one. If you’re going to make software for money, charge for it. If you’re going to make software for free, do not. Asking the user to do “cute” things like sending you a post card, used CDs, or donating $5 to your–or their–favorite charity sounds pretty harmless, but what it in fact does is tarnishes the concept of paying for software you’ve actually tried (shareware, or commercial software with a demo or preview). Don’t confuse the issue: Shareware, freeware, public domain, open source, and commercial software are nearly universally understood terms. You owe it to yourselves and your users to inform your users as to which of these your software is.

Scratchware needs very creative distribution methods. Solutions to this problem will vary but innovations in how we communicate and do commerce on the internet seem to offer the best possibilities at this time.

Creating a distribution system for indie games and scratchware should be very attractive to the more business minded entrepreneurs among us. Such a thing could be very profitable.

With the right kinds of creative online placement, spotlights and reviews at game oriented web sites, and a fair bit of guerilla marketing, these hurdles could be overcome…at least until scratchware distribution networks, which are inevitable, come to be.

Designer R


You say you want a revolution

Well, you know we all want to change the world

You tell me that it’s evolution

Well, you know we all want to change the world

But when you talk about destruction

Don’t you know that you can count me out…in

Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?

You say you got a real solution

Well, you know we’d all love to see the plan

You ask me for a contribution

Well, you know we’re doing what we can

But when you want money for people with minds that hate

All I can tell is brother you have to wait

Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?

You say you’ll change the constitution

Well, you know we all want to change your head

You tell me it’s the institution

Well, you know you better free you mind instead

But if you go carrying pictures of chairman Mao

You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow

Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right?

John Lennon, Paul McCartney

August 30, 1968

Lest my critique of several specific parts of this document seem too critical, I’d like to state that the Scratchware Manifesto is a wonderful piece of work. As such, I’d hate to see people dismiss it because the third part tries to define the concept too narrowly.

To once again hop on the horse and beat it, it takes more than merely keeping development staff down to a single level and number. An excellent case in point is Atari’s 1976 arcade classic Breakout. Breakout was designed by Atari employees Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of later Apple fame. Nolan Bushnell, founder and CEO of Atari, described the concept of the game to Jobs. Jobs accepted the work as a design task for himself and Wozniak to complete. Jobs, an idea man then and now, wasn’t the one who was going to be doing the actual design–that was Wozniak’s calling. For their work, Jobs agreed to an even share of the profits. Jobs accepted $5,000 from Bushnell and informed Wozniak that he had been given $700, by which he only gave Wozniak $350. The truth came out later.

The parable serves a purpose: it illustrates that coercive management practices don’t magically pop into place once an organization becomes large, they can exist in groups of two. This makes the case for focusing on an honest, collaborative development strategy rather than putting on the blinders and paying attention only to thenumber of people involved.

The goals of the Scratchware Manifesto are ambitious. They amount to no less than changing how games are made and creators making more than slave wages from the process. In order to achieve these goals, it is imperative that the gamer–the potential customer–is aware of the movement.

The customer has to participate in this process.

\’c2\’b7 Accepting poorly executed work because the game has potential to be worthwhile in a few patches is ludicrous. It harms both the programmer and the customer, and serves to increase marketing budgets for future products.

\’c2\’b7 Pre-ordering products whose quality is unknown is insanity. It’s a result of hype machines that are woefully out of step with actual product development, and falling for it makes quality take a back seat to marketing.

\’c2\’b7 Consciously choose where you buy your software. Support stores which focus on software and are able to consistently offer useful advice.

\’c2\’b7 Word of mouth is extremely important for quality games that otherwise might fall off the radar. If you discover an overlooked gem, tell others about it. Write to the people who shouldn’t have overlooked it in the first place–gaming magazines, websites, and media reviewers–and tell them about it, too.

\’c2\’b7 Engage in guerrilla development and marketing. Avoid webpage committee game design where all sorts of people talk about making a game that none of them have the skills to make. Rather, focus on making software ambitious enough to be a challenge to you without overwhelming your resources.

<br />
Don’t go around being wooly and delicious.”>In all of this, remember that in the existing distribution structure, the most successful producers have entire marketing staffs whose primary job is to deceive the customer into thinking their next project is the most important, best designed, and most entertaining title ever to exist. Judge the merits for yourself, you’re not sheep.</p>
<p>Are you?</p>
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