Courageous Design

Saying that we love small games, or indie games, carries an implication of difference that is worth exploring.

Pareto’s Law

An economics concept with far reaching implication: 80% of output comes from 20% of the sources.

In a microtransaction based game, for instance, 80% of income will come from less than 20% of players.

For a challenging game. Less than 20% of players will play 80% of the content, or achieve more than 20% of the achievements.

The list goes on and on. This concept applies to game publishing as well, 80% of income will come from less than 20% of games a given publisher publishes.

Risk Averse

Large companies are risk averse. As they should be, and must be. They prefer to allow the smaller companies to be courageous, to take risks, the either make competing products or buying said companies while continuing down a (now) successful path.

Surely, it must be cheaper to incubate your own small ideas, while praying for Pareto’s Law to take hold of one of them, than, to pay 2 billion dollars for Mojang’s Minecraft?


Can a peach orchard, even with 2 billion dollars, begin to produce apples, however?

Not the best metaphor, but my thought here is that deep down inside the DNA of large companies is risk aversion, the antithesis of courageous design.

Larger companies necessarily have a degree of myopathy towards experimentation. They didn’t get big, and stay big by taking unnecessary risks.


Courage, as a concept, is an attempt to define the antithetical to risk aversion. Large companies have issues simply paying out to incubate a large set of projects to see which ones will work. Inevitably, if 80% of your products are losing money, someone with financial sense will take note, push things towards safer margins. After all, imagine the money we would make if ALL of our products, at least, broke even. Pareto’s Law be damned.

Imagine that this hypothetical company invests several millions to incubate 20 ideas, and 2 rise to the top. They are kooky, weird, and experimental. They all target niche audiences (of course, by definition, something can not be “risky and courageous” and also appeal to a large, known demographic).

The tendency will be, then, to water down these two ideas to appeal to a larger audience. As a way, of course, to ensure that costs are recouped.

This will invalidate the original intent of the exercise.

Catch 22

Sadly, courage is more commonly found in smaller companies that lack the money required to invoke Pareto’s Law, and produce 20 games hoping for 1 big success. Typically, a few courageous dreamers simply refinance their house, max out credit cards, and hope that their idea really is “the one”.