One of my big reasons for heading to this year’s Christian Game Developers Conference is to get some wisdom from people on what the future for my Bible adventure game should be – and one of the huge questions behind that question is how commercially viable the very concept of a Christian video game is.

If experience is anything to go by, I suspect the answer is almost certainly “not at all”. There are a minority of Christian video games that have even got to the point where you could describe them as “well known”, but I have no idea if that’s translated into profitability – in the case of the Left Behind games, I presume not, given all you hear about their company. Without the ability to reliably bring in revenue, it becomes very hard for Christian video games to break out of the stereotype they’ve developed of being poor quality and amateurish, since it’s really not easy to produce professional-grade graphics and so on purely through volunteers.

Sam Washburn, over on the Christian Developers Network, said this recently:

“I had a stark realization tonight… that Christian Games is a “scene”–not a market, not a business, not an otherwise profitable venture… And while, just like any “scene”, some commercial success may arise from the extremely talented and money driven, honestly, most just do it because they are passionate about it. It’s fun. …
Could it be that we… have been focusing too much on monetizing a project, when what motivated us initially was our passions?”

Making a game of reasonably size and complexity is expensive work – certainly once you factor in the cost of your time – and maybe it can only ever be done as a labour of love, rather than to turn a profit.

I think there’s a lot to be learnt from observing the wider indie gaming scene. Games like Braid, World of Goo, Fez and Super Meat Boy. Even some of these had budgets well beyond what I could afford, but at the same time they have played to their strengths: they’ve not tried to compete with AAA titles at their own game; rather, they’ve focussed in on stylised graphics, unique gameplay and a level of quirkiness and originality that would be too much of a risk for big name studios like EA.

As Sam pointed out later in that CDN thread is that the problem we’re battling against is that with so few examples of ‘success’ in the Christian Video Games space, people don’t have the categories and frameworks within which to imagine a good Christian game. Indie Games generally are a quite well established concept, and people know what to expect. In the Christian games market, you really don’t want to live up to “what they expect” – because what they expect is for your game to be a complete load of rubbish. You’re essentially trying to establish an entirely new market, which really is no mean feat.

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3 Responses to Are Christian Video Games Commercially Viable?

  1. John says:

    If you think about it, Christian games kind of seem more “indie” than the indie scene itself.

  2. […] Are Christian Video Games Commercially Viable? […]

  3. […] If you’re an indie game developer, then hopefully you already know about and read Jeff Vogel’s blog The Bottom Feeder. Jeff is the man behind Spiderweb Software, purveyor of old-school RPGs since 1994, and so I think there’s a lot to be learnt from him about how to make a successful business out of games targeted at a niche audience (which, let’s face it, is going to be the case for most Christian video games). […]

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