The State of the Indie World
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.
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?