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The State of the Indie World

Posted by EDI, 21 November 2013 · 2,944 views

Hi all,

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but I didn't know exactly how.

I have commentary that has been slowly forming on my opinion of the indie game industry for a while, and it has finally reached a breaking point.

Hopefully some here will find my opinions thought provoking, and I'm sure many will find them inflamatory and some maybe even ignorant.


Before Indie Game Development

From talking with many contemporary indie developers and fans, it seems there may be some warped idea about the history of indie game development.

It usually goes something like this:

"So there was Darwinia and Braid and Minecraft oh and Fez and that Super Meat Boy guy, that is when indie game development started."

But this isn't the case at all...

I might refer to that era as roughly the XBox360 era of indies; and many people think that is when indie game development started, but in reality I think that is when things started to go down hill, dramatically. </grain of salt>


As far as I remember however "indie" game development only became a thing around the time that Gish was released.

You remember Gish right, that game with graphics by Edmund McMillen? yeah the guy who did super meat boy...

Gish seems to be the first time I really started to hear about "indie" game developers... before that you were an 'independent' game developer.

I hail from this time before time, starting out around 1996, and getting serious in 2001; and I'm here to explain what it was like back then.


The Independent Game Developer Era

Sounds kinda old doesn't it?

Back then unless you were a AAA game development company nobody took you seriously; the idea of internet distribution of games was very new; and your goal in life was to be even a little bit as popular as AAA games of the day.

"But Raymond!" I hear you say... "That is what we still do today!"

No you don't. Today your competition is other indies, indies have become a market unto themselves, and are filled with blood sucking parasites as much as the AAA games industry is.

People who are out to make games, but mostly make SALES.

"Well, aren't we out here to make sales? Isn't that the point?"

No, that is not the point...

The point is to produce awesome games that you like to write and people like to play.... I'll say that again.

Your goal as an indie developer is to develop GAMES YOU LIKE TO WRITE, and that PEOPLE WANT TO PLAY.

"So we can sell them, right!?"

No..., you sell games, because you deserve to be paid for use of the product you created.

But the goal is not to be paid, it is a side-effect.

"This doesn't sound like sound business advice..."

If I just wanted a cash generating cow, I wouldn't be making games... games are sacred; like writing, you do it because you love it!


Now where was I, oh right...

Indie Games Today

Today the situation we have, is a saturation, an overpopulation of people using freely availiable, easy to use tools, to produce whatever they can, to generate enough money to put them on easy street.

...and keep in mind they have vastly lowered the bar of what 'easy street' is, in order to compete....

99 cent apps, humble bundles, all designed to attract many and flood the market to gain as much cash as possible.

meanwhile we hear stories of indies being happy as ever that they lived on the poverty line, busted their ass and made 20 grand a year. (ala dustforce)

To make matters worse, we have conscripted the player in many instances into beliving they can pay to fund various games and 'stick it to the publishers' using Kickstarter.

But what many backers don't realize is they are paying for risk, and not neccesarily reward.


In Closing

As with any goldrush or cash grab scenario, you need to be vigilient to maintain your own personal code of ethics and conduct between your company and your players.

Too many indies I meet these days are too concerned with how they can make the most money, the fastest with the least amount of effort and accountability.

Fankly, I've never been and will never be a part of that, or of that mindset. I brushed close to it after our third game was released, and found that all the will to create was slowly drainging from me.

When all you care about is how to make a big payday are you really an independent developer anymore?




Per my article, folks may be confused as to what kind of "indie" i'm talking about.

Here is a prime example:

Barret Meeker of http://www.luckypause.com/ raised 26,000 dollars on Kickstarter.

This is what he had to say in reference to tactics of overuse of 'black friday' and 'pre-sale' of games where no scarcity would be anticipated.

"I'm an indie dev and I'll be trying to 'milk' my game as much as possible, because the more money I can make off of it the more likely I can make a second game, the more likely I can make a second game without doing kickstarter again, the more likely I can keep making my own games as a career. Steam sales are all about milking your game and they offer a lot of guidance on pricing and sales etc. to help you do that."

 

Here are some thoughts: 

 

I don't know if I agree with your definition of an indie developer. My understanding of what you write is that you see two types of indies: the real ones and then others who are masquerading while being greedy at heart. I think this distinction is a bit too harsh. My view on that matter is that there are many developers and artists who are moving around in the business of making games. Sometimes working for larger studios and sometimes working for smaller ones. Sometimes they are working for free. 
 
Still, it seems that there has been a huge surge of cash pouring into the market of small games. Small games have traditionally been the territory of small game developers, such as indies. As developers and artists have seen that there is money to be made from small projects, lot's of people are claiming a part of the pie. It's a classical gold rush. Also bigger studios and publishers want's a part of it. 
 
I think the profit margins of these small games are shrinking. The large segments of players will be catered by the big studios, who can affort marketing and such. In this sense I think you are right. Big money has grabbed something (a market segment) that once belonged to small developers and hobbyists. One particular aspect of this makes me a bit angry sometimes. The big titles want to keep players and sometimes ship editors with the games, even though there is no possibility for players/content makers to earn money from their efforts. This makes me feel the big studios have grabbed the indie flag and are now using it as a marketing tool. One part of me likes it while another makes me feel cheated, as I'm doing work for the game company for free.
 
As for the future of the "indie stage": I think there are now there are now more players, more easy to use tools, more content and more platforms to develop on then ever. Even though this current gold rush will end and there might be a app-bubble popping, I think the indie stage will be more prosperous then ever before.

Thanks for your commentary mippy.

 

When the 'indie' flag got big, I was very happy, it felt as if we, collectively had won a spot of power alongside big publishers.

But now that the 'indie' scene has matured, there is a very different sentiment I find.  Many developers have abandoned the spirit of truly being beholden to no one, and instead fight tooth and nail for, XBox indie space, steam greenlight space, app store prominence, and recently Kickstarter funding.

When you talk to thee indies they often have all the same unsavory tactic of any big publisher rep you might hope to meet.

 

And they are flying under the indipendent gamer flag.

Could you link to the exact LuckyPause.com article? I can't find what you are referring to - you just linked to the entire website. On twitter, I thought you were linking to the posts about the copyright dispute when you said, "The slimy underbelly of of modern indie game developers".

 

Also... uh, why are you calling out an individual by name? That seems rather harsh if you're actually trying to comment on the state of the indie culture.

 

It's almost like you're saying all AAA publishers are evil jerks, and all indies are selfless artists, and that you are surprised that some rather unknown indie I never heard about is trying to run a business and *gasp* chose an artistic industry to start his business in. Is Louise Comfort Tiffany not an artist, just because he was also running a business?

 

If you really look into the famous indie developers - our mascots and 'heroes', alot of them are messed up people. We're all imperfect in some way or another - so I'm not quite getting your point. If you link to the article you are commenting on, perhaps it'd be clearer to me.

Servant of the Lord

It's not an article, it was a quote said directly by Barret in an indie game development group on Facebook.

I've called it out by name because it was said by name, in a manner where he seemed perfectly 'OK' to do whatever is required to sell as many units as possible.

You misunderstand, I don't think all AAA publishers are evil jerks; but they are certainly beholden to sales and profits above, pretty much all else.

And I am saying that many modern indies are acting this way as well.

I'm also not stating any love for.. famous indie developers; on the contrary, I feel that indie development is best captured by those not beholden to sales and not famous.

My post however is not commentary on one single article; it is commentary on my recent experience with the industry notably from 2008 to date.


For further reading I'd suggest browsing the climate of Indie game development groups on facebook; it's a lot more sickening than what is normally posted on GameDev.net; this community is still pretty wholesome on the whole.

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