More Terrible Games, Please
I’m an intern here at Kongregate, which means that my responsibilities are varied and almost completely uninteresting to read about (but I’m not about to let a little thing like that stop me). For the past week or two, I’ve been spending most of my time combing through hundreds of old games, weeding out anything that seems broken or miscategorized. It’s very time-consuming, and although it can be tedious to wade through a tidal wave of unplayable games, it can feel like I’m uncovering bizarre artifacts that no one has touched in a long time. I haven’t played No Man’s Sky yet, but I’m sure the feeling is very similar.
Unlike No Man’s Sky (I hope), the variation starts to run out of steam very quickly. Sure, there are plenty of great, unique games in there, but everyone knows about those already. Those are classics. The untouched artifacts that I’m talking about here are of a much different, much more specific breed:
WebGL Pong clones.
I see dozens and dozens of Pong clones every day. I’m suffocating under them all. We have enough now. Dear God, please, we have more than enough... But it’s crucial that people keep sending them in.
WebGL is very important. This isn’t a post about WebGL specifically -- maybe what I should say is that web games are important. But WebGL is the latest incarnation, now that Flash is comically stumbling backward into its grave and Unity’s Web Player is no longer supported by Chrome. For better or worse, WebGL has to step up and carry the torch. I hope it can survive. It’s important. Really.
Let me clarify: I don’t mean that web games are important to players (though that is certainly often true) -- I mean that they’re important to the ecosystem of games at large, and primarily to young, budding developers who’ve never made a game before. It’s easier than ever to make games, but it can still be tricky to publish them. Steam, GoG, and the App Store all have lengthy and potentially expensive submission processes. Portals like itch.io and GameJolt are starting to bridge the gap, but it’s as true as it was in the mid ‘00s: putting your game on the web is the easiest, quickest way to get it out into the world.
There are some downsides to this fact. It can be more difficult to find the great games on sites like Kong. The same is true of Steam, now that Greenlight has opened the floodgates to games of widely varying quality. I think we have an advantage over Steam in this regard, though -- all of the games on the site are free and generally pretty short, so your opportunity cost for trying something that might be bad is pretty low. Players tend to be pretty open to giving weird little buggy games a shot, mostly because they don’t have to pay for them.
Another downside: it means that a person's first introduction to Kongregate might be through a game that isn’t incredibly polished. One of the benefits of a closed platform is that you can better control the experience of people visiting your platform, and ensure that their first impression is a great one. Though Kongregate does work hard to make sure it's easy for players to find the many highly rated games on our site, we made a conscious choice to be a place where developers are welcome to try whatever they want and we leave it up to the players to tell us if they like it.
Because the upside to letting anyone upload anything is extremely real: publishing a game is a very valuable experience for a first-time developer. I know this because it was a very valuable experience for me. Everyone’s first game is terrible (please don’t make me talk about mine), but the point of distributing your first game isn’t really to show off how great a job you did. The real value comes from the accomplishment of finishing something and setting it free. It’s a huge milestone. For a young developer, it can be massively encouraging to know that someone else has played your game (even if they hated it, which [spoiler alert] they probably will).
Do we need any more rudimentary Pong clones on Kongregate? I can say definitively that the answer is no. But I think we do need to give developers a place to put their awful first games so the world can grimace at them, and we need to encourage those devs to try again, and keep working, and maybe one day make something great. If WebGL can be the jumping-off point for those people (as Flash was the jumping-off point for so many others), I think we should treasure it.