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the scratchware manifesto

with its original home, the home of the underdogs, gone – though rebuilding continues – it’s high time there was another place to read this important document. cly5m hosts it on his site, and i believe wikipedia has a copy. but is that the best we can do? i encountered the scratchware manifesto and the amazing anger and energy of its anonymous authors almost a decade ago, and it profoundly shaped my attitudes toward the creation, development, and distribution of games.

in 2008 i was commisioned to write a piece on the manifesto for notes on game dev. my argument in this piece, which was never published (the site stopped updating immediately after my submission, and the editor has never returned my emails) was that although the document itself is rarely cited, many of the creators on the margins of game development – the hobbyists, the small and free and independent authors, the videogame zinesters – embody the spirit, if not the letter, of the manifesto.

which is why i think it’s important for all designers and creators to read. also: it’s still relevant. the problems the manifesto describes still exist. what’s in this document are the same things i talk about all the time. we havn’t yet liberated our medium from a hit-driven industry, nor rescued its developers from a “crunch” method of development which destroys their health and stamina and burns them out within a few years. i present the scratchware manifesto: let it remind us of the work we have yet to do. happy may day.

The Scratchware Manifesto
Phase One: Prelude To Revolution

The machinery of gaming has run amok.

Instead of serving creative vision, it suppresses it. Instead of encouraging innovation, it represses it. Instead of taking its cue from our most imaginative minds, it takes its cue from the latest month’s PC Data list. Instead of rewarding those who succeed, it penalizes them with development budgets so high and royalties so low that there can be no reward for creators. Instead of ascribing credit to those who deserve it, it seeks to associate success with the corporate machine.

It is time for revolution.

Walk into your local bookstore; you’ll find tens of thousands of titles. Walk into your local record store; you’ll find thousands of albums. Walk into your local software store; you’ll find perhaps 40 games.

Yet thousands of games are released each year.

The only games that fill those 40 slots are those on which publishers have lavished millions in placement and promotion and advertising and marketing dollars. The only games that make it to the shelves are those on which publishers have advanced millions in development funding, because they know that only a handful will succeed, will ever recoup the millions or tens of millions they spend in developing and launching them, because to succeed, a game must pass through the eye of the needle, become one of the handful that make it to the shelves or to the cover of PC Games.

When millions are at stake, the publishers become terrified. Each executive knows that greenlighting something offbeat that fails will lose him his job. So they greenlight the same old crap, imitations of what’s on the list this month, simply to cover their own quivering asses. No one will fire them for going with the tried and true.

An industry that was once the most innovative and exciting artistic field on the planet has become a morass of drudgery and imitation.

A project that costs millions must have a development team to match; ten people, twenty, thirty, more. It must take years from project start to completion. It must involve so many talents, and so much labor, that no single creative vision can survive. Certainly, none can survive the clueless demands of marketing weasels and clueless executives drawn from packaged-goods industries and inexperienced external producers who think demanding unnecessary and counter-productive changes will prove their merit to their bosses.

We say: Basta! Enough! It doesn’t have to be like that.

You need thirty talents to develop a game? Bullshit. Richard Garriott programmed Ultima by himself in a matter of weeks. Chris Crawford developed Balance of Power sitting by himself at his Mac. Chris Sawyer created RollerCoaster Tycoon–last year’s #1 best-selling game–almost entirely on his own.

What do you need to create a game? Two people and a copy of Code Warrior.

You need millions in funding to create a great game? Garbage! As recently as 1991, the typical computer game lost less than $200,000 to develop. NetHack, still one of the best computer games ever created, was developedfor nothing, by a dev team working as a labor of love, in their spare time. TreadMarks, this year’s IGF finalist, was developed by a team working for scratch and paying their groceries with the meager earnings of a little downloadable game they’d put up on their site.

What do you need to fund a game? Food stamps and enough scratch to pay the electricity bill.

You need to imitate existing products to reduce the risk of publishing? Sheer and utter lunacy, a theory in complete defiance of the facts of the history of our field. The products that have become huge hits have almost always been startlingly innovative, amazing departures from what has gone before: The Sims, SimCity, Doom, Command & Conquer, Populous, Civilization, and on and on. The real risk is in developing the me-too product, the poor imitation, the incremental change from something else. The real wins come with creative vision.

The narrow retail channel forces millions in promotional expense? Then kill it. There is no shelf space on the Internet.

You need hundreds of thousands in sales to recoup your costs? Yes, under the dysfunctional business model that rules today. But if you develop games the right way, the fearless way, the independent way, your costs are drastically smaller. A few thousand unit sales will pay the bills.

Death to Software, Etc.! Almost every PC in America is connected to a pipe that can carry bits. Why are we copying bits to a plastic-and-metal platter, sticking it in box full of air, and shipping it cross-country, when it is far easier, cheaper, and environmentally sensible to ship those bits down that pipe?

Death to EA and Vivendi! Your groveling to the retailers, your lack of understanding of what constitutes a game, your complete failure of aesthetic sense, your timidity in funding, your attempts to grow by choking off competitors, your inability to make developers and marketers understand each other, has led us to this pass. You are dinosaurs, your brobdignabian sloth nothing but a drag on what ought to be a field of staggering originality.

Death to Sony, Sega, and Nintendo! Your insistence on controlling every step of development, of ensuring that no product strays too far from your own blinkered twitch-game aesthetic, your absurdly high platform royalties, your gouging prices for development stations and SDKs, your boxes with the controllers wholly unsuited to a game of any depth make you irrelevant to anyone who wants to develop games of enduring merit.

Death to the gaming industry! Long live games.

We find our heroes not among rock stars, or game developers whose real desire is to direct movies, or designers who bare their breasts in the pages of Playboy. We find them among the men and women who created this industry, whose imaginative vision once sparked its rise, who developed games the way we mean to:

Chris Crawford, once vaunted as the world’s greatest game designer, now cast aside by a marketing machine that can’t figure out how to sell anything that doesn’t fit into its tedious categories.

Dani Bunten, who understood the importance of socialization in gaming far better than the Verants and Origins of the world, with their customer-hostile policies, spurned by a bigoted industry because she was a transsexual.

Richard Garriott, the virtual inventor of the computer RPG, cast aside like a used condom by a machine that thinks it’s sucked what useful value it can find in him.

Julian Gollop, languishing in obscurity, the fruits of his own labor denied him by an industry that values trademarks more highly than talent.

Will Wright, who somehow still manages to force his vision through despite all the obstacles the machine puts in his path.

As they did, so shall we do.We will develop for open platforms, not proprietary consoles.

We will work in the white-hot ferment of our own imaginations, striving to produce games of enduring merit, games so fine that generations to come will point to them and say, this, this was important in the creation of the great artistic form we know as games.

We will strive for innovation over imitation, originality over the tried and true.

We will explore the enormous plasticity of what is “the game,” thefantastic flexibility of code, seeking new game styles and new approachesto the form.

We will create games we know gamers will want to play, because we ARE gamers, not MBAs or assholes from Hollywood or marketing dweebs whose last gig was selling Tide.

We will work in small, committed teams, sharing a unified vision, striving to perfect that vision without fear, favor, or interference.

We will find our market not by bribing retailers to stock our product, buton the public Internet, reaching our audience through the excellence of our own product, through guerilla marketing and rabble-rousing manifestoes, by nurturing a community of people passionate about and committed to games.

We will create, through sheer force of will, an independent games revolution, an audience and market and body of work that will ultimately redound to the benefit of the whole field, providing a venue for creative work, as independent cinema does for film, as independent labels do for music.

We reject the machine. We reject the retail channel. We reject big budgets and big teams. We reject $50 boxes of air. We reject end-caps and payments for shelf-space. We reject executives and producers who don’t understand what they sell. We reject timidity. We reject the notion that “we know what works,” and commit ourselves to finding NEW things that work.

We will turn this industry on its head.

Tremble, Redwood City! The forces of revolution are on the march.

Designer X


First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win. Gandhi


WE are gamers, game makers, writers and readers of computerized media.

We think some things are deeply fucked in the game industry — no surprise, given how much is fucked in every other industry. We’ve figured it out: shareholders, corporations, managers don’t care how good a game is to make or play. They’re just looking for their return on investment to be higher than humanly possible.

We want to play good games, and we want making games to be an art, not an electronic sweatshop. This problem, also not unique to the gaming industry, is as old as Das Kapital and as new as The Matrix.

It’s ugly,
It’s pervasive,
And it can and will be changed.

Designer J1


Marketing should be geared towards selling the game that the developers have created and not used as an extension of management. They work for you, the developer, not you for them. If they want a game with a feature list, then they should program it. If they can’t sell the game that you’ve created then fire them and find someone who can. Designer J2


We reject crunch time.

It is anathema to the principles of quality for which we strive. Nobody EVER does their best work at the end of a 12-hour day. And if you’re not doing good work, then what the hell are you doing? Go home. Sleep. Play with your kids. Mow the lawn. Watch some television. Then, when you have some creative energy to give, come work.

We will declare a game done when it IS done, not when marketing says it has to be done. If it’s not done, it will suck. If it sucks, then no one will want to buy it (or even download it for free) and no one will pay attention when we release the next one.

A corollary: no one should pay for being a beta tester. Listen up, everyone — yes, even you, id software: we will do our level best to make sure the damn thing is done. If it ain’t done, it’s a beta. And those are free. If we discover something is wrong, we’ll fix it.

Another corollary: our games are our responsibility. (You listening, Jason Hall, King of teh monstars?) If it’s broke, we fix it. We don’t blame it on other people, even computer and video card makers who don’t adhere to standards. If we can’t fix it, we let people know that we can’t, why we can’t… and we give them their money back if they ask.

What we’re about is credibility, in a fundamental way. We’re saying that games should be created by people who play them and love them. That comes with a responsibility to create games we would want to play — and we sure as hell don’t want to play buggy, unfinished games that make our systems crash.

Designer K


The original Incredible Machine was developed for $35,000, and went on to sell over 800,000 units. Dynamix


The Quotable R

Someone is raking in so much dough that even Zaphod Beeblebrox, or John Romero, would blush.


As for the state of game development…I need to use an even more disturbing metaphor: The Donner Party tragedy…their journey was also doomed to fail, and in the worst imaginable ways, due to inexperience, overconfidence, bad judgment, wasted resources, in-fighting, taking short cuts and heeding what turned out to be just plain bad advice…I have come to the conclusion that if game development is going to be so blindly ignorant that it only succeeds in causing itself to relive some bizarre version of the Donner party story again and again…then it deserves whatever grim fate awaits…


There is a denial of failure pervasive in this business, from top to bottom, that defies common sense. Taking risks and failing is an important part of the creative process. Denying one’s self of this experience is to enter the realm of the mediocre.


I see a utopia for game designers, artists, writers and musicians. I see a perfect balance of freedom, lifestyle and creativity as the norm, not the goal or the exception. However, this utopia cannot arise within a system which is based upon concepts of management, marketing and product development which are uncreative, out-dated, wasteful and ineffective.


Do you want an arcade-based, shoot-’em-up, puppet-show, Saturday-morning-cartoon aesthetic criteria to dominate the industry? Do you want more crappy games made with assembly-line techniques by yuppie puppies in luxury sweatshops?


Remember: John Romero wants to make you his bitch. As a matter of fact, so do about a dozen other game developers I know…

Designer R


Creator’s Bill of Rights

The full version of the Creator’s Bill of Rights that Scott McCloud created in 1987 can be read by clicking here. It is very applicable to the computer game industry.

The Rights are:

1. The right to full ownership of what we fully create.

2. The right to full control over the creative execution of that which we fully own.

3. The right of approval over the reproduction and format of our creative property.

4. The right of approval over the methods by which our creative property is distributed.

5. The right to free movement of ourselves and our creative property to and from publishers.

6. The right to employ legal counsel in any and all business transactions.

7. The right to offer a proposal to more than one publisher at a time.

8. The right to prompt payment of a fair and equitable share of profits derived from all of our creative work.

9. The right to full and accurate accounting of any and all income and disbursements relative to our work.

10. The right to prompt and complete return of our artwork in its original condition.

11. The right to full control over the licensing of our creative property.

12. The right to promote and the right of approval over any and all promotion of ourselves and our creative property.


The Scratchware Manifesto
Phase Two: Know Your Enemy

Power And Money In The Game Industry

What is wrong with the game industry? Why do games come out buggy, why do good game companies go under, why are the games we play today just like the games we played 5 years ago, with better graphics? To understand why this is so, and to understand what we can do to change it will require an understanding of how power and money flow in the game industry.

The game industry is first and foremost an industry like many others in the world. They call it the new economy, as if it is in some way fundamentally different than what has gone before. Is it? Hell, no. When you get right down to it, the industry as a whole is populated by economic players (corporations) headed by people who are doing all they can to make money for themselves and another group of people (the stockholders), while getting as much money as they can from the customers, and paying as little money as possible to the people making the games.

The Vampires Of Wall Street

If the economic and political world were a first-person shooter, it would be infested by the undead. That’s right, the world is controlled by a bunch of vampires. Ever wonder why Exxon, Microsoft, Monsanto and all their buddies run so many commercials on how great they are? That’s because they have to hide the truth to us. Vampires control the world, in the form of corporations.

What are the characteristics of vampires? Well, they’re immortal. Strangely enough, a corporation can live forever, too. Morgan Bank, Ford Motors, and General Electric – they can go on and on and on. Another characteristic of vampires? They live by sucking blood. You know the feeling you get when you boot up a new game and it crashes five times in the first 15 minutes? That’s your blood being sucked. The corporation exists for one reason only (and don’t let them tell you otherwise) – to make as much money as it possibly can. It’s like we’re cattle, kept alive for the greedy bloodsuckers to get as much profit as they can out of us. (They treat the Earth the same way, too – ever seen a clear-cut forest? Corporate vampires in action!) Vampires are notoriously hard to kill, and so are corporations. Exxon spilled oil all over Alaska – but it’s still going. Union Carbide killed thousands in Bhopal, India, but it’s still trucking. You can try and sue a corporation, but they have millions of dollars and thousands of lawyers to make sure their evil undead masters remain in control. Bridgestone/Firestone made a bunch of shitty tires, which killed a whole bunch of people in their SUVs. They might get in some trouble, but you can be sure that the corporation will go on. (An interesting fact: many of the faulty tires were made in the Decatur Illinois plant, where the regular workers were on strike. The tires were made by ‘replacement workers’, also known as scabs. Vampires and scabs? Some coincidence.) Vampires also have nests; usually the basement of some dusty castle. The vampires who run America have a nest, too, but theirs is called Wall Street. Vampires have a dark charisma; corporations spend billions on advertising.

Benjamin Franklin The Vampire Slayer

The founding fathers of the US were an interesting bunch; some of them were into some strange things. Many were members of secret societies, with hidden knowledge and rituals. You think the eye in the pyramid on the back of the dollar bill doesn’t have some hidden meaning? Right. These people knew of the evil arcane power of the vampire-corporation; the British controlled the colonies with a few huge and powerful corporations. After the Revolution, they let corporations exist, but they reserved the right to plunge a stake into their hearts at any time. For the first 100 years of the US, corporations were highly limited. But they were plotting and planning their release. They got their big break during the Civil War. At the same time that black folks were getting freed from slavery, the vampires of Wall Street were slipping their bonds, setting up a slave system for all of us. In 1872, they convinced the Supreme Court that corporations had all the rights of a person. And that’s what we have today; America Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of GlobalCapitalists’R’Us.

We Are All Renfield

They’re crafty, these undead princes. Most people rely on them for a paycheck. They have created this hierarchy of slaves; from the zombies at the bottom to the cherished and pampered few at the top. They love dangling carrots, almost impossibly high. There are a lot of carrots in the computer industry right now – you too could be a dot-com millionaire! At the same time, the shortage of skilled computer workers has them trying to ship in people from abroad with the H1-B visa proposals. Now, there’s nothing wrong with an Indian, Thai, Finn, or German wanting good work; remember, they’re vampire-food too, but these visas tie these workers to the companies that hire them, which results in more company control. And the wage rates for all computer workers go down.

While they’re crafty, they’re also stupid. You’d think immortals would have a longer outlook, but the rules of their nest – sorry, Wall Street – have caused them to focus more and more on quarterly returns. Ever wonder why some buggy game got rushed out for a Christmas release? Fourth-quarter profits, friend!

Silicon Sweatshops

So the computer game industry is getting caught up more and more in a blood-sucking scam. Venture (vampire?) capitalists make sure everyone knows what side the bread is buttered on. The large amount of blood – sorry, capital – that is required to make a game nowadays mean more and more of the small development shops are being forced out or forced into ‘partnerships’ with big corporations. At the same time, working conditions in the industry are getting worse. Crunch time (crunch, like the sound Renfield makes biting into the carapace of a tasty bug?) seems to be more and more common, and to go on longer and longer. Descriptions of crunch seem to have a lot in common with the kinds of work practices you find south of the border. Here’s one from Ion Storm Dallas, as reported in Salon (link: How do game developers hack it?). It’s rife with ‘I love my vampire masters’ baloney.

All-nighters, 18-hour days, sleeping at the office — John Romero‘s posse keeps up a “death schedule” to get Daikatana out of beta.Since Daikatana’s inception, elite and obsessive gamers have road-tripped from around the world to work with their hero, Romero. They’ve quit school, left relationships and literally built beds under their desks to live and breathe nearly every breath in the house Romero built. Their commitment to a self-described “death schedule” — the final, endless rush to perfect their game — isn’t just some start-up novelty, it’s a way of life.

The commitment of a Mexican maquiladora worker to their imposed ‘death schedule’ isn’t a choice — it’s a hard economic decision in a poor country.The first 14 hours are always the easiest.

“Aaaaarrggggggggh!” Shawn Green screams as he thrashes his computer keyboard against the ground. It’s midnight in the coders cove of Ion Storm and the cubes are as dark as the city below outside. Green, a stocky, long-haired programmer in a paunchy black T-shirt, hunches like an ape at the beginning of “2001″ and whacks keys across the floor like loose teeth.A skinny programmer stretches his neck out of a nearby cube to observe the tantrum, then nonchalantly returns to his work. Green brushes the hair from his face as a smile creeps across it. “Nothing like a little stress relief,” he says, tossing the battered keyboard down the hall.

Nothing like a little violent behavior induced by an insane schedule. This is Texas — will the next step be to grab a handgun and whack loose teeth across the floor after trying to eat a bullet?

Green, the 28-year-old lead coder on Daikatana and a veteran of id Software, is 14 hours into one more 18-hour day. In a few minutes, he’ll take his first and only break, heading off to an abandoned abortion clinic to practice with his doom-metal band, Last Chapter

The great thing is, if people in the industry were paid hourly, crunch time would be a clear violation of even the miserable US labor laws. Mmmmm… I love working 18 hours with one break. Sign me up, oh dark lords of capitalism!

Everyone teeters on the brink of self-destruction during crunch mode, the ruthless death schedule that comes during these final months of production.

That’s got to be healthy!

The sheer relentlessness of crunch mode, Romero insists, is the only way to make sure everything gets covered.

The sheer relentlessness of global competition, sweatshop managers insist, is the only way to survive. Back to work, lazy sheep!

To hack it, survivors like Green have transformed crunch into their high-tech frat’s equivalent of hazing — the upperclassmen being the machines, and the pledges, the humans who serve them… Brian Eiserloh, a bushy, 29-year-old coder who goes by the nickname Squirrel, set the office record for spending 85 out of 90 days without going home. “You can get an amazing amount of work done,” he enthuses via e-mail. “I thrive under [short bursts] of pressure.” The thing is, Daikatana turned out to be a long burst.

They get longer and longer. And soon enough, they become the expectation. This is called ‘reduced expectations’, baas and moos, and it’s one of the favorite tools of the vampire.And this one has to be the crowning glory. We’re so much better in the US than in other parts of the world. There, you have other people forcing you to work in unlit, unventilated workplaces for 18 hours day in and day out. Here, we get people to convince themselves to do it voluntarily. Aren’t we so superior?

Now Ion Storm’s 31 game developers don’t just work in the shade, they work in the black. To get into their cubes, they part felt… It was a fairly awesome and ironic sight as I wandered through the glass-domed gamers’ haven last October. All I saw were rows of caves. And of these caves, Weasl’s was the darkest.”I call myself a mushroom,” Weasl told me as I crouched inside, “because I’m always working in the dark.” With a couple extra layers of felt draping his cube, there’s not even the slightest trace of light, let alone fresh air. But Weas… doesn’t seem to mind. “Darkness is really helpful when you’re trying to shut out outside influences,” he explains, tweaking an animated pool of lava on his screen. “After you spend enough time in here, your personality adapts.”

After you beat a child repeatedly, it’s personality adapts, too.

Luke “Weasl” Whiteside is the newest level designer to join the Daikatana team and, in a way, the most enigmatic. Since he came to the company just a few months before my visit, Weasl managed to miss out on Ion Storm’s tempestuous back story. He’s still so awed to be working here that sometimes he doesn’t leave. Underneath his desk there’s a pillow. On some nights, he hunkers down below his computer, munches some M&M’s and goes to sleep. For Romero, who dreamed of populating a company with gamers as intense as himself, Weasl is as hardcore as it gets.

Sounds like poor Weasl is suffering from a case of vampiric possession. Concentration camp victims identified with their oppressors, too. Not to say that the much (and probably accurately) maligned Ion Storm is the only company where this happens — no, not at all. It’s all over. Doesn’t that make you feel better about the games you buy? It’s a good thing that CDs don’t carry bloodstains well.

Slash And Burn Development

So the companies are getting more work out of people under worse conditions, and making them like it. At the same time, they are increasing their control over the fruits of worker’s labor. When you say it like this, it sounds great: ‘Intellectual Property Rights’. Who could complain about people having control over their own work? Well, brothers and sisters, it’s not the worker who has the control, it’s the undead. Work for hire contracts leave computer creative workers with no rights whatsoever. Further, there are many games that get lost in the mad scramble for guaranteed profits. The industry is littered with the corpses of games that had funding pulled at some point. And who owns that work? The corporations. So thousands on thousands of hours of work have disappeared into the secret vaults of the demon princes.

An Unholy Alliance

How does something this wasteful and evil manage to keep going? One way is through good-old-fashioned anti-competitive marketing strategies. Why is it that every game in the world has to retail for $55.00 when it comes out? Well, the vampire lords of the gaming industry have made a pact with the vampire lords of the distribution giants to make it so. And the lackeys of the computer gaming press, both online and in print, keep up the scam. The computer hardware masters don’t mind either, as these games are pushing bigger and better hardware sales. And the Demon King of the computer world, Microsoft, does it’s part too.

Moo! Baa!

And let’s not forget the ‘keep the cattle in line’ strategies. The dark masters of our industry are well aware that they are outnumbered, both in the workplace and in the gamer community. They have used the time-honored methods of divide and conquer, baffle them with bull, and keep them in the dark and feed them shit. The most common way people have fought for their rights as workers is to organize themselves, often into unions. Well, unions have been on the butt end of a bad-PR campaign that has gone on since the 1930s. Certainly these warriors of the new economy wouldn’t want to take part in something as stinky as a union. We’re Game Professionals, not autoworkers!

The Sun Is Rising

Our vampire overlords don’t do too well when the sunlight of truth is shined upon them by well-educated workers and gamers. You can see signs of the rising sun all over. Microsoft’s operating system monopoly was one of the forces that has helped the LINUX movement to grow. LINUX is deadly to vampires, because it works directly against one of their main sources of control – copyright of software. Without that, the cattle can slip out of the pasture, grow horns, and do all sorts of dangerous things. The whole open-source movement draws many people who are tired of the way the corporations do things. Another great anti-vampire example is Napster, and the other MP3 swapping schemes. People are really tired of vampire radio, vampire music companies, and vampire CD stores. The Indymedia movement is another example of resistance to the reign of the undead, particularly in their control of the media (baffle them with bull, keep them in the dark). Alternative forms of organization abound on the Internet, from everything to internet collectives (www.tao.ca) to Quake clans. Some of these are aware of their dark bondage, some are not.

Putting A Stake Into The Heart Of The Game Industry

Our vampire masters know their rule is precarious. Resistance is growing, from the Seattle uprising against the WTO to this manifesto. The corporate hold over our ‘democratic’ politics is slipping. There is a simple, three point plan that can take these guys out.

First, we need to pull the blinders off our eyes. Wake up. Games don’t have to be shitty and buggy, working on games doesn’t have to be some equivalent of slavery. We need to get mad and get active.

Second, we need to educate ourselves on the real story in our industry. Look for alternative sources of media. If you get the feeling that someone is trying to bullshit you when you read some news story, you’re probably right. Find out the truth.Third, we need to organize. This is what makes them tremble – that the cattle and the sheep are getting together. We need to take direct actions to change things. We need to organize ourselves into a new industry, find new channels, and use our economic power as buyers and our labor strength as workers. We need to get out from under the thumb of the corporations, either by tearing them down or by making them obsolete.

New Model Utopia

Picture if you will, a time when we don’t have to rely on our vampire overlords for our gaming or our game-making. Game development teams are small groups that share all the proceeds from their work and have control over it and ownership of it. Games are not bought in the mega-stores, but off the Internet or from your local independent game-download outlet. Games do not all cost 50 bucks – some cost 30, others 10, some are free for the first chapter and then 50 cents per chapter download. We have games about everything, from worker’s revolution and women’s rights to raves and pagan rituals to shooters and citybuilders. Faced with real competition, the current big players can no longer get away with releasing buggy product that’s just a rehash of last year’s hit title. We can do it, if we get mad enough, educated enough, and organized enough.

What do you want to overthrow today?

Designer J1


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.

Why the term scratchware?

Scratch; chump change; nickles and dimes.

Ware; warez; software.

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.

* * *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.

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.

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.

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


R E V O L U T I O N

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


The Scratchware Manifesto

The Scratchware Manifesto was began during the summer months of 2000. Written in collaboration, and inspired somewhat by the Cyberpunk Manifesto, it is meant to be a living organ; a message in a bottle; a battle cry. If after reading this first version you are moved to action, we encourage you to discuss your thoughts, revelations, experiences and ideas openly. Get the ball rolling, folks.

We also encourage you to make your own version of the manifesto, to suit your particular situation, outlook or needs. This, in fact, is the primary purpose of this document.

09.05.00

The Scratchware Manifesto
copyright © 2000 and beyond by USER

16 comments

  1. failrate wrote:

    Thank you for reposting this. It’s been years since I read it last.

    5/2/2009 at 3:43 am | permalink
  2. Fuzz wrote:

    It’s interesting how this was written in 2000 and refers to the need for an independent revolution, and now in 2009 we have already had somewhat of a revolution.

    5/2/2009 at 4:05 am | permalink
  3. HybridMind wrote:

    Great reading this again. It has been many years since I last read it as well.

    It is interesting to me to see what has come to pass relating to the last section on “Who distributes scratchware?”. I definitely see some great parallels to the Flash business space (which I’ve been slowly learning about recently) with the models continuing to shift more and more in favor of developers with new options like for example, MochiAds/GameJacket and Primary Sponsorships versus the older options of only having Exclusive Sponsorships and no ad networks to use as leverage in getting better deals for small devs. Marketplaces like Flash Game License that have helped level the Publisher/Developer playing field as well. It is quite helpful when one can get Publisher’s in any field into bidding against each other rather then when they can singly pressure a lone developer into taking their deal because it seems like the only option out there.

    Digital distribution networks like Steam and others have really changed the way I buy games and I imagine digital distribution options will continue to accelerate. It is also great in thinking about the lack of materials waste that it hopefully helps by not shipping those “$55 boxes of air” as described above.

    5/2/2009 at 7:34 am | permalink
  4. auntie wrote:

    that’s interesting, isn’t it? in the time since the manifesto was first published, we’ve seen the emergence of new avenues for the distribution of games. i don’t know if any of them are yet ideal, but there’s been a definite trend toward digital distribution in the last decade.

    5/2/2009 at 4:51 pm | permalink
  5. mirosurabu wrote:

    Interesting read. It’s weird I haven’t read this before.

    In any case, this sounds a lot like the kind of reasoning casual game developers cultivate nowadays. I am not fan of that kind of reasoning though. There is little to no substance to it and little to no evidence backing up some extraordinary claims. But there are several things I like about it – it encourages short, cheap, experimental games.

    Most of the rest of this manifesto sounds like failed attempt to clearly communicate one’s feelings.

    Thanks for this.

    5/3/2009 at 1:36 pm | permalink
  6. This came out when I was in 5th grade, so I guess it’s not surprising that I never read it. (Although it is surprising it’s the first time I’ve heard of it I suppose.)

    I have to agree with HybridMind about some of these desires being reflected in the Flash game model lately. I’m new to it, but I was blown away by how easy it’s been to gain a lot of exposure and net a solid chunk of cash with my first game. And it’s a game I wanted to make, and I made it my way.

    It’s certainly a good start. And it seems like there are more and more publishing options opening up to indie games – Steam, Xbox Live, WiiWare, PSN, etc. Here’s hoping I never have to work a 14 hour day in a cubicle.

    5/3/2009 at 2:48 pm | permalink
  7. Teclo wrote:

    It’s a great read, though it’s kind of sad to see “death to Sega” now, though not as sad as seeing Will Wright being held up as an example of originality and as an antithesis to “the man”.

    An EA game such as FIFA can be played by 4 people in the same room and, if you like football – not unlikely since it’s the most popular sport in the world, it’s a lot of fun. It can be fun even if you don’t though obviously in a diminished way. It even allows for things I know appeal to you, such as interaction between players outside of the game world. You’ll have players knocking each other in real life as they try to put them off in the game, or trying to take a sneaky glimpse at their opponent’s control pad so they know which way to aim a penalty kick.

    Will Wright’s The Sims, on the other hand, is a god damn abomination and with its endless add-ons and sickeningly obvious audience targeting, easily represents the kind of lazy and cynically made games that this manifesto is so against.

    5/3/2009 at 6:39 pm | permalink
  8. auntie wrote:

    will wright’s a tool and chris crawford’s head is so far up his ass he hasn’t seen the light in years. but i nevertheless think it was valuable of designer x to include something so personal as a list of heroes. i like that the manifesto isn’t homogenous, that you can distinguish separate and sometimes contradictory voices.

    5/3/2009 at 6:48 pm | permalink
  9. daphny wrote:

    the sims wasnt out yet in 2000

    5/3/2009 at 7:27 pm | permalink
  10. daphny wrote:

    there was still hope

    5/3/2009 at 7:27 pm | permalink
  11. gnome wrote:

    Ah, reposting that was so nice of you and it’s always nice to see I’m not the only one that remembers the manifesto. Would have liked it to feel more like something written in 1848, but it still is makes for a great -and active- read.

    5/5/2009 at 7:03 am | permalink
  12. Acosta wrote:

    Ah, long time since I didn’t read that, thanks for reposting it. The HOTU restoration project (http://www.hotud.org/) should put this online there too, not sure if they did already.

    It´s still true, and I’m seeing it happening in some way. At least there is Manifesto Games, created by Greg Costikyan, author of the piece. And there is more place to independent studios and small projects (World of Goo for example).

    I would like to add that Will Wright is not responsible of the add-ons, he had no control over it. Great designers and creations will always be great designers and creators because we have their games as a testimony of that. Judging them about what they made yesterday, ignoring all their career, it´s a huge mistake.

    Thanks for the repost, I suggest searching for the The Escapist prece wrote by Costikyan about the creation of this, it´s a great feature.

    5/5/2009 at 3:52 pm | permalink
  13. agj wrote:

    I had never read it before. Some of it is so obvious, it borders on naive (maybe because it was written nearly a decade ago), but I loved the part about the vampire corporations!

    5/5/2009 at 5:39 pm | permalink
  14. WANDERING WONDERER wrote:

    The last sentence encourages the reader to make their own version.

    When will we see yours, Auntie?

    5/11/2009 at 6:03 pm | permalink
  15. auntie wrote:

    you’re on auntiepixelante.com, aren’t you?

    you’re looking at it.

    5/13/2009 at 4:50 am | permalink
  16. John Faulkenbury wrote:

    An niggle/opinion (which may be colored by my position/experience within the industry): I don’t feel that Dani was ostracized by being tv, she was ostracized for the same reasons the others on the list were; she was a designer that didn’t want traditional, obvious, war-like conflict in her games.
    She was willing to push back on the default mode of thinking (more guns! more bombs!) to the point of the fairly famous story of why a sequel to MULE never came about.
    As a side note, it’s fascinating to watch how the anti-violence, pro-cooperating mindset of some of the above-mentioned designers are now front and center in the ‘social games revolution’. Players of Facebook games aren’t interested in guns+bombs=death scenarios, they want to run tiny businesses and manage tiny farms in order to share them with friends to see who does it best. The money is now somewhere else in the new gold rush and it’s fun to watch people come around to that mindset.
    I’d like to see discussion of how Scratchware applies in that space.

    12/14/2010 at 8:39 am | permalink

7 trackbacks/pingbacks

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