Greetings, and welcome to part two of our five-part interview with the one and only Edmund McMillen. Yesterday’s entry was all about upcoming title The Basement Collection, a compilation of some of McMillen’s work before Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac.
Today, we tackle a broader subject: The current state of the gaming industry. There’s talk of parody games – including ones created by McMillen and Team Meat partner Tommy Refenes – along with what it is that makes video games so special as a medium. The answers, as news previews often like to say, may shock you.
The rise of the App Store has been great for some people, but it’s also perpetuated this notion that the lion’s share of those who puts out a game on it will be rolling in dough.
Yeah. It’s a bad way. I hate the gold rush stuff. I hate when someone is like “I’m going to make a game for the App Store because you can make a lot of money on there.” I try to explain to them, you know, it’s kind of a crapshoot. It’s a gamble. It’s the lottery. Yeah, you could [succeed]. But the chances of that happening are really low. And how much time are you going to invest? You could make nothing.
I feel like something needs to give before the userbase is like ‘I can’t find anything in this store.’
I looked at it like that for a really long time, and then Tommy and I started working on Super Meat Boy: The Game, which will be on iPhone and iPad. I looked at it more like, because the market is so saturated with garbage, real games stand out. And a game like Sword & Sworcery that made a million dollars or whatever on the App Store? It sounds horrible, but there’s no reason a game should make that much on there because the market for the App Store is garbage. People only buy garbage. Yet they are willing to buy something that’s an abstract adventure game for $5? People want it. People want good games.
“Super Meat Boy: The Game
Didn’t Tommy put out a parody iOS game?
He and I do a lot of parody games. We did a parody in Super Meat Boy in response to PETA, and he did a parody — less a parody and more an observation — where he put up this game called Zits and Giggles, and then he started as an experiment by raising the price…When he put it up for $1 no one was buying it, but when he put it up for $5 people started buying it, and then he put it up for $10, then $20, then $30, and it got up to like a couple hundred dollars — I think it was maybe $700 — and people were still buying it, like 1 or 2 people. And then he did a talk and it got removed right after he did the talk.
I feel like people are starved for substantial games, because they’re not there anymore; it’s just timewasters. And they become more and more empty, and all the abusive garbage that people throw out there with all the ‘you can pay $5 instead of actually playing the game so you can get all the things that you would be getting if you played the game.’
“Zits and Giggles
It’s hard to enjoy a game that’s so transparent about the fact that it wants you to give it money.
It’s pretty funny. I don’t know if you saw the game by Peter Molyneux [Curiosity]. So, spoiler alert, one of the secret games in the collection is a remade version of AVGM, which was a very obscure game that I made in 2009. It’s the same game [as Curiosity], except mine’s a joke. Mine’s making fun of that whole thing.
[Editor's note: At this point, Edmund showed me a clip that was recorded long before Curiosity was announced. It was originally filmed for Indie Game: The Movie. While the clip never appeared in the final film, it explains AVGM as a game that's comparable social games like FarmVille. In it, players will flip a light switch over and over. The more times they click to flip the switch, the more new things show up.]
Almost all the games that I’ve done come from something in my life. There are times like the AVGM thing or the PETA thing where I want to use this art form as a protest – as educational in a satirical way. That’s one of the awesome things about this art form is that you have the option. It was one of the things I loved about the end of Meat Boy’s development. After it came out and we had the PETA stuff happen, we were able to have fun with it and actually jab back at PETA in-game within a day, so that was cool.
PETA’s (lighthearted) response to Super Meat Boy
Not many developers do that kind of thing; using games as a means to get people to think about salient issues.
Not so much now as in the past, but there were a few underground places like awards shows and stuff [that featured such content], but the games were really contrived. It was like starving kids in Africa; it was this literal thing where you’d see starving children, and it’s just like… they’re trying.
But yeah we’re at a point right now I think in games in general where we’re learning the vocabulary. It’s been torn apart by business, it’s been pushed back by business, and I think people are still getting their feet wet and learning how to speak in games.
A lot of people still think video games are art and you can express yourself through video games because they encompass other art forms like video, movie, music, and illustration. Well yeah, they do, but that’s not exactly what makes video games special as an art form. It’s the ability to interact with the player and have this conversation with them about something in a way that stimulates their mind. It’s a more hands-on learning experience, where you’re not exactly controlling everything they’re doing, but more or less giving them a start of a conversation and then they get to take it where they want. And that’s what makes games special, and that’s what makes them a unique art form. And we’re just learning that now.