Manifesto Games Closes Shop

By: Derek Yu

On: June 24th, 2009

Manifesto Games

After almost four years since its announcement, Greg Costikyan’s Manifesto Games is no more. The online independent games store, which was conceptualized by Costikyan following a particularly heated rant of his at GDC, aimed to provide a distribution channel for indies that was free of the typical publisher/developer bullcrap. (See: The Manifesto Manifesto)

We’ve been generally very critical of Manifesto Games on TIGSource since it went live. Greg’s heart was totally in the right place (and his words most definitely appreciated), but the implementation of his vision was subpar, in my opinion. Ultimately, the site’s selection of games did not reflect its manifesto, and it did not provide what news sites and developers themselves couldn’t do better.

These days there are a variety of distribution channels that take independent games seriously and treat them professionally – Steam, Greenhouse, GamersGate, Direct2Drive, etc. Indie games also receive a lot of promotion from The Independent Games Festival and Summits, which are now mainstays of the Game Developer’s Conference. Some of the developers are making big money from console publishers like Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony, too. (Castle Crashers just reached 1,000,000 players on XBLA!)

And for free games, artsy games, and general indie game news and criticism, you can’t beat TIGS,, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Destructoid, and Bytejacker. We’re even hitting the gallery scene thanks to guys like messhof and ArtXGame. Not to mention all the popular forums that are indie-curious. And hell, even Kotaku gets a few INDIE EXCLUSIVES every now and then!

Some of this is touched upon in Costik’s farewell post, although I feel like his outlook is, perhaps unsurprisingly, more gloomy and cautionary than it should be. Things are good right now. They can always be better, but… generally, I think the concept that Costik laid out in 2005 (that we ALL laid out in 2005), has been realized, if not by Manifesto specifically, then by the entire community.

  • tomelin

    Who IS this Costikyan guy ? What has he done ? Evolution ? God, that was a badly designed game. Anything else ? Why does he thinks himself a game developer ? Computer video game developer, i mean.

  • toastie

    I think web design and marketing have a lot to do with success in an online store and the rather… spartan site design of Manifesto Games and its seeming lack of presence outside the core indie circles probably had something to do with its eventual lack of success.

    As much as that screams “indie” and as endearing as buying obscure stuff from an unknown dingy shop might be, most people would probably be turned off by such things.

    Either way, Greg seems to be a standup guy, so I wish him much luck with his other endeavors.

  • Christian

    He’s awesome as a tabletop RPG designer. Violence is amazing: and he worked on Paranoia

  • Paul Eres

    @tomelin: he’s probably most notable for the scratchware manifesto (originally appearing on the-underdogs), for the article “I Have No Words and I Must Design”; he also has reviewed hundreds of games on his Play This Thing blog. as for computer games he’s personally made, he’s made a few, but i don’t think he refers to himself as a computer game developer; he’s more known for his board games than his computer games. but he has in fact made computer games, yes.

  • Skofo

    I never heard of Manifesto, but it’s always sad to see something die…

    Also, about your comment on Castle Crashers being an indie game: what makes it an indie game?

    I am not saying it isn’t, but it certainly is in a different situation than most indie games. Its development team is as large as some “mainstream” games’.

    The only thing I see that makes it “indie” in the sense that most original games that are considered indie, is the fact that it is 2D and that its company is probably not funded primarily through their games. So is that enough to classify it as indie?

    I know this is a bit off-topic, but I’m curious what people think about this matter. What do you think?

  • Dingbat

    Manifesto games didnt have the muscle nor the presence on the internet. I rarely heard about em, they never hit the news, never hit the mainstream. You cant run business like that. Now they finally make some noise and hey, they’re dead.

  • RobF

    I always loved the concept of Manifesto! Games, still do in fact. It’s a big shame that it never quite turned out how I expected it to.

    When it launched and turned out to be a pretty generic portal I figured “ok, not the best start, but early days” then every time I checked back it seemed that little ever changed. It needed some cool shit, I guess, and it never really got that.

    I’m glad Greg is keeping up Play This Thing, his writing on board games and computer games is always a good read and it’d be a shame to see that disappear with the site. Sadly, it became the only segment I visited in the end.

  • O

    I check Play This Thing every other day and I never new it had anything to do with Manifesto. In fact today is the first time I’ve ever visited the Manifesto site (from a link on the PTT version of his shutting down post), after having completely forgotten about it, even though I visit PTT all the time.
    So yeah, I think it’s pretty easy to see their biggest mistake. I have to know you exist before I can buy anything from you.
    Also the design sucks.

  • Andy

    @Skofo- The Behemoth doesn’t have a development team as big as other games… I’m not sure the actual number of full time developers but it’s between 3 and 5. They also had interns and one business guy. They weren’t funded by Microsoft, though they did have income from Alien Hominid. They certainly had more money and a bigger dev team than your typical garage indie, but they built the game independently and are certainly one of the biggest (if not the biggest) indie success story of all time.

  • Kenzya

    Very critical lately at TIGsource

  • raiten

    Skofo, Castle Crashers isn’t an indie game?

    Tom Fulp, the game’s programmer, started Newgrounds when he was still in high scool, and is still the site’s owner and administrator. He’s gone on to hire people who contributed to the Newgrounds community. Tom Fulp and the game’s artist, Dan Paladin, first game together was a short flash game called “Sack Smash 2001” where you play as a character with an enormous testicle sack.

    Castle Crashers is entirely self-funded* through Newgrounds revenue the sales the game got from their previous game Alien Hominid (that started out as a small flash game), itself a small renassaince for 2d on next-gen consoles.

    The music in the game was made by Newgrounds musicians. The voice acting was made by community members. The game was designed by Tom Fulp who also programmed the game (together with 2 more programmers and 2 “additional programmers”), by Dan Paladin who did all art (except character portraits which were done by a Newgrounds member). Is this a development team the size of a mainstream game’s team?

    If Castle Crashers isn’t indie, I don’t wanna be indie.

    *I don’t actually know this for a fact

  • avoidobject

    I knew it. This site is all about art games. You can’t beat TIGS indeed.

  • avoidobject

    Joking aside. I read the guy’s manifesto and holy crap I agree with the man and his comments about games being all about big budgets, etc. It is indeed about all about bigger rather than “better.” That’s not how things should be.

    His heart definably was in the right place. Too bad what he tried to do with it, was a bit too little and too late.

  • avoidobject

    *definitely (firefox apparently doesn’t have this word in its spell check dictionary)

  • Sigvatr_

    I’m predicting that this comments thread is going to become huge.

  • Kropotkin

    Ah, Castle Crashers… You know what was indie-scene in music and what it has become? And the same is happening with games. I don’t like that kind of “indie”. I like “underground indie”.

  • jeanes

    I read the title banner as “Man Festo.”

    What does this say about me?

  • Bood_War

    Eh, needs some love. It’s where I discovered indie.

  • Muz

    Man im starting to get tired of people that disown something as soon as it becomes too succesful.

    I think you guys need to look at “why” you like indy and stop arguing semantics.

    Isnt the whole idea to promote more unique gameplay concepts and experiences that arent restricted in a mass market like they are in the pro league?

    On topic, it seems sad to see this go down, but i would have to agree that they didnt advertise themselves well, im one of the many that had never heard of it….

  • O

    Booty_War, I love some PTT, it’s my favourite indie blog. It’s well-written and the analyses are really interesting, plus board game design is my second love and now that I know the blogtender is a board game designer I appreciate it even more.

  • Paul Eres

    “Isnt the whole idea to promote more unique gameplay concepts and experiences that arent restricted in a mass market like they are in the pro league?”

    for me the whole idea is developers owning their own IP rather than publishers. developers having the creative control, and making games they enjoy rather than games publishers think will sell well. i don’t care if it’s unique or not, successful or not, etc.

    whether castle crashers fits that, i’ve no idea. could they release it for PC if they wanted to? or does microsoft have that right? things like that are what make it an indie game or not, not things like its success or its uniqueness or its team size or budget

  • JoeHonkie

    I love Costikyan back from Paranoia and Price of Freedom (and he’s written some books, too), but he always came off as cranky and bitter about the video games industry. He was often dismissive of perfectly good mainstream games like Mass Effect and Fallout 3, and it certainly didn’t help draw people in to his way of thinking. I also felt like the selection of games on Manifesto was more crap than quality (and most of the quality games I could easily buy from the developers themselves, thus even further going to the idea of indie developers being their own clearinghouse).

    That being said, Play This Thing introduced me to a lot of great games and game ideas, and he certainly was trying to help, rather than hinder anyone. Best of luck to him.

    Also his Paranoia blog is really kickass.

  • IAmTheWalrus

    @Paul Eres reply,

    Yep, I’d have to agree with Paul there. Do the guys that made Castle Crashers have full control of their property? If not, then they are not indie. Indie is as Paul stated, the ability to make whatever decisions you want without the need, help, or direction of a publisher (or investors). If you can develop a game and have the full say as to what, where, when it’s going to sell then you can check off the old “I’m Indie” checkbox. If, however, you’re forced to adhere to the marketing, publishing, and media tactics laid out by another company, (this also includes launch dates – if you have no control over WHEN the game is released then you really have no control) then you ARE NOT INDIE. Simple really. The word Independent is simple enough to look up online.

    People can (and will) disagree – all they’re doing is living in denial.

  • RobF

    Look, it’s simple.

    No hat, no whip = Not Indy.

    Settled. You can thank me later.

  • Kamos

    Play This Thing! is awesome.

    And Costikyan was involved with Paranoia and that scratchware manifesto I read years and years ago? Then he is awesome too.

    I briefly browsed Manifesto Games but for some reason it just didn’t attract me. It’s sad it was closed, though…

  • Skofo

    @Paul Eres & IAmTheWalrus:

    Valve fits that description, but I don’t think that many people consider them “indie”…

  • Paul Eres

    @skofo – actually afaik valve still has some seperation into marketing d00ds and developers: the people that control the games are different from the people that make them. i haven’t looked that much into that particular company, but it’d surprise me if the developers (the people who actually make the game) have full control over their games and own the IP — as an example, let’s say the team that made portal wants to quit valve and make portal 2. could they, or could they not, because valve owns the portal trademark? if the developers doesn’t actually own the games they make at valve, i wouldn’t call them independent. of course there’s a lot of borderline stuff going on and this requires more knowledge than we have available to us, but it’d surprise me highly if there weren’t some guy in a suit and tie who was not working on the game saying ‘no, you can’t include this in your game, i’m the guy funding it and you just can’t do that, for marketing reasons’

  • Skofo

    Hm, interesting perspective.

    However, wouldn’t it be the same situation where one guy from The Behemoth wanted to leave, start another company and take Castle Crashers with him but couldn’t because at least one other person in the company didn’t want him to? Would it make a difference whether that one person (out of the five or whatever) was one of the programmers/artists or the sole marketer on the team?

  • Skofo

    Ahh, wait, no. I see what you’re talking about now.


  • Tom Sennett

    RobF already ended that discussion, guys.

    As for Manifesto, I was always curious about them, but never had any reason to buy anything from them.

    I suppose that was the problem…

  • Paul Eres

    they didn’t really have enough exclusives, yes. they should have, like, offered 85% to a developer in return for exclusively selling the game on their site. that would have brought some traffic if a few high-profile indies did that.

  • David DeCarmine

    What was the percentage they offered to developers, then?

  • Paul Eres

    it was pretty high, i believe around 60%. which is a lot higher than you get from most portals: big fish games gives you like 20%; most portals take more than half, and that manifesto gave the developer more than half was a good deal

  • raiten

    “If, however, you’re forced to adhere to the marketing, publishing, and media tactics laid out by another company, (this also includes launch dates – if you have no control over WHEN the game is released then you really have no control)”

    so I guess Blueberry Gardens isn’t indie then.

  • nullerator

    I think the easiest and most fitting description of indie is: if you have a publisher who controls your game, it’s not an indie game.

    In other words, it has nothing to do with experimentation or artistic values, the size of the development team, if it’s online-distributed or retail-distributed (or both), and all those things. What matters is how much control the developer has over it, and of course if the developer is independent or not. Getting publishing deals doesn’t prevent your game from being indie, as long as you set the terms and don’t give them control.

  • Raptor-Owl

    “I feel like his outlook is, perhaps unsurprisingly, more gloomy and cautionary than it should be.”

    This site’s getting negative lately. I found his statement pretty much the opposite:

    “In the years since we started the company, there have been hopeful changes in the independent games market”

    “I suspect (and hope) that this will be true of independent games as well — that within four years, it will be a large, fast-growing, and highly successful segment of the game industry.”

    Can we get a little positivity inside the ride please?

  • Derek

    “In the years since we started the company, there have been hopeful changes in the independent games market”

    Calling the stuff I described above “hopeful changes” is a serious understatement.

    “I suspect (and hope) that this will be true of independent games as well – that within four years, it will be a large, fast-growing, and highly successful segment of the game industry.”

    If you read the paragraph before and after that, you’ll see that Costik’s point was that he hoped the potential he saw when he began Manifesto would be realized in four years from NOW. I thought I very clearly stated that I feel the potential he saw has been reached and that we’re only going higher and higher from that point. To be blunt, I think Costik was hesitant to admit that things have gotten good for independent developers despite the shuttering of Manifesto Games.

    “Can we get a little positivity inside the ride please?”

    I swear, some of you guys make assumptions about the mood of the site and where it’s heading based on only two or three posts…! I’m not sure how I could be more positive about indie games than I was up there, man.

  • Alex May

    oh shit Paranoia was the best thing ever, props!

  • Kamos

    I still have my old Paranoia book somewhere. I really need to get a session running with some fresh me… I mean, new players. :D

  • Paul Eres

    “so I guess Blueberry Gardens isn’t indie then.”

    hm? as far as i know, they had full control over the game and could have released the game any time they wanted to — i’m not sure why you believe that their release date was set by someone?

  • Raptor-Owl

    Ok, that was overly harsh – I do understand your point Derek. At the end of the day his opinion is going to be coloured by having a failed venture, but I think he was trying to optimistic despite this… His language was cautiously optimistic if anything, which is a lot better than ‘fuck you, indie scene’ which I kinda pictured when I read your post haha. I suppose it’s just after the Langdell Fiasco, the Xbox Indie Games palava and a bunch of reviews, the games of which didn’t hit the spot for your guys, it could appear that the scene’s not in great shape to readers of the frontpage.

    But also I wasn’t specifically referring to you or the crew Derek, more a general bitchiness which seems to have descended on the scene as its grown. This is probably my own bugbear, and hence I’m projecting. So, sorry man!

  • David DeCarmine

    40% to pocket is a lot. No wonder the devs didn’t want to use them. And with them not having a huge audience, either.

    However, I don’t agree that Indie gaming is at the point that the creator of Manifesto envisioned. We have, TIGSource, and all that stuff, but it’s still such a small market geared mainly towards developers.

  • Paul Eres

    @david – 40% to pocket is *way* better than most portals give though, including things like steam; i don’t know of anyone who would say ‘no, you take 60%, so i’m not putting my game on you, steam’

  • David DeCarmine

    Ah, I definitely hear what you’re saying. For someone like Steam, with such a massive audience, it’s completely worth it. That’s the value of the service. I’m just fairly surprised that Manifesto would try to get away with giving 60% when their audience seemed so low. I’m going to have to agree with you. They should definitely have tried getting some exclusives by offering 85% sharing.

  • Deacon Lowdown

    um, was this site hacked? am I the only one who saw a bunch of gibberish on this post and then a rather poor analogy about indie gamers and fish?

  • Deacon Lowdown

    just a few minutes ago, i mean.

  • Paul Eres

    that’s a bug with the database or something, it happens occasionally; just reload and it fixes itself

  • Deacon Lowdown

    Your database, at random intervals, spouts out fishing analogies?

    God, I love this site.