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The State of the Indie World

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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.


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?

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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."

 

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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.

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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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Hi everyone, this is Barrett Meeker, the guy Raymond mentions in the above comment.  I just want to make it clear that he took my statement completely out of context.  Raymond said in a discussion thread that putting a game on sale at particular times was "trying to milk an existing concept just trying to generate attention thus more sales, is slimy."  I responded using his word "milk" sarcastically, but I guess he didn't understand that.  

I was trying to make the point that a developer trying to make as much sales money from the sale of their game as possible isn't "milking" anything.  At least for me, I am hoping to make enough from the sale of my first game that I can continue to make games in the future.  I love making games and would be thrilled to be able to continue to do so in the future.  Doing what you love is not mutually exclusive from making a living.  I too would be happy to live in a utopian society where nobody needed to earn money to live on, but since we don't, I am working to make a living doing what I love.  Indeed, I wish that everyone is able to do that.

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This of course after being asked to remove said content and finding that futile; instead he joins the community just now, downvotes each post and tries to spin an ideal tale.  Guess he doesn't wan't the kickstarter backers seeing this in google searches.

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Woah woah woah, I never asked you to remove any content.  And dude I am just being honest, not spinning any tale.

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"Something that's marketed because it won't sell otherwise."

 

dat' unbridled truth!

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

 

It is always the case in the free market.

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Tom Novelli, I've spent my whole life making 3D art, these too have been hard-earned skills.  I don't see how the possibility of my success harms you in any way, or why I wouldn't deserve success just as much as you or any other video game developer that has worked hard on their craft and on their game.  

 
I am not spinning anything, I never had any negative comments removed.  I have been 100% open and honest this entire time.  I don't even know what back channels there are to "work."  And regarding the copyright dispute, she has no case, our videos were rightfully restored and we then chose to change the music to no longer promote her.  We aren't even using her music anymore.  
 
Tom, you honestly just sound really bitter, I think all of the great tools out there like Unity are fantastic.  I'm sorry you feel like your own skills are worthless.  I don't think attacking other people will make you feel any better.
 
 

 

Without transparency - if we can only say nice things about them - how can the bad players be driven out? It is perfectly possible for bad guys to dominate an industry -- think finance, military, government, publishing, social media, 'apps', and now indie games. With equity crowdfunding coming next year, it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

 

In retrospect, Raymond could have told us specifically what makes Lucky Pause an example of the above, without naming names... on the other hand, doing so has exposed Mr Meeker's vindictive side. He's running spin all over the place, working back channels, getting negative comments removed. Now I notice stuff like "Joy Autumn... recently has been falsely claiming that we don't have the right to use her music anymore." Why the disparaging tone? Why not tell her sorry, it was a misunderstanding, if you really don't want us to use your music then we won't...? Mr Meeker, I believe you have a double standard!

 

Without tools like Unity, indie developers never had TIME to engage in this kind of nonsense. Now you can grab some 3D content libraries, do a little modeling, make a pretty picture, a trailer video... snarf some music from Soundcloud... put it on Kickstarter, work some hype, and get money. If you ever deliver, it'll be a cookie-cutter product, just another 3D sim. This is very discouraging to folks like me. I've spent my whole life on programming (and art and music) only to discover that superficial bullshit is what sells, and my hard-earned skills are seemingly worthless in this industry. Welcome to the new Gilded Age.

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Barrett, you alone are not the problem, it's the tools and climate that favor the superficial. It's the mania that gives you 26 grand up front based on your AAA cred without any solo gamedev track record at all. Sorry to make an example of you in particular, though. I don't know you. I can only guess that you're in over your head on the programming side (like some other artist-led projects I know) and maybe you don't even realize that your "control the message" PR strategy is not cool... you are just antagonizing the wrong kind of people :D

 

Want to see a blatant example of 'indie slime'? I just noticed that one of the headliners in the latest bundle-which-shall-not-be-named is a sleazy pay-to-win game... talk about milking it. Milking kids. Deplorable.

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Anyway, let's not dwell on Barrett and his possible motivations... those details will probably come out over the next year or so. Meanwhile, what do we know? 1) People are using canned game engines, and 2) Certain people like Schafer and Schilling have used their fame to obtain funding and exposure. These shortcuts to 'success' are feeding the gold-rush mentality, causing an unusual proportion of developers to act like douchebags.

 

The big question is, can we foresee how all the repercussions will play out? And, how can you get through this chaos if you're a programmer? artist? new blood? old guard?

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C is not a game engine. Neither is OpenGL or .NET or Qt. But you cross a line into canned gameplay when you use Unity, Unreal, Box2D, etc. Then it requires a determined act of will to rise above the ocean of crap (including all the uninspired AAA titles which still have you completely outclassed in terms of visual content). If you're a good programmer it's actually less work to throw away the canned engines and roll your own. No you probably won't make a 3D game for Ludum Dare that way but that's irrelevant.

 

And BTW, I think a good programmer does need enough Assembly experience to have an intuitive feel for the performance limitations of fundamental algorithms, and the sense not to use Assembly in their games!

 

Re: sales, freebies, bundles, app stores... The problem isn't making money, it's that all these moneygrubbers have made it impossible to make more than $2 an hour except by slapping together cookie-cutter games using engines and gimmicks. Cheap crap from China indies! These moneygrubbing assholes have ruined it for the rest of us.

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"After all, it's not like we can have the government regulate the industry so that people can only produce and purchase "good" games using difficult-to-use tools and processes to preserve some kind of mythical purity. "

"I think we can all, every one of us, agree that people shouldn't act like assholes for any reason."

>First states not trying to adhere to mythical standard of purity.
>Then suggests adhering to mythical standard of purity.

Wait, wat?
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Why was this article accepted?

 

There are indeed smaller game developers that try to make a living creating eg. apps. If people like their games, they will buy them. Conversely, if they didn't - they wouldn't. That's Economics 101.

 

Are game developers not allowed to try to work 9 to 5, even if that game isn't a masterpiece?

What is this, kindergarten?

 

And what about using an easier/simpler toolbox is bad, in ANY situation?

What happened here?

 

Just in case someone are still conflicted - there is "bad" everywhere, such as in metal (the musical genre).

That doesn't mean bands can't put out the music they created. And guess what, they probably liked the music.

They put it out there, because opinions are like the behind - split.

I get it, this is an opinion piece, but GameDev is above this attack on other peoples tastes.

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Hold up a minute Kaptein... imagine you worked 9-5 for a year, coding and polishing YOUR game -- and maybe you tried some 'tools' but ultimately found them irritating and made a fresh start at a lower level -- and then nobody buys your game until you drop the price to $1, or FREE, if anyone even notices it, because of all the COOKIE CUTTER GAMES.

 

Players aren't happy about it, devs aren't happy, even the new devs lovin' Unity aren't gonna be happy when they realize that every wannabe gamedev is doing the same thing as them.

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Hold up a minute Kaptein... imagine you worked 9-5 for a year, coding and polishing YOUR game -- and maybe you tried some 'tools' but ultimately found them irritating and made a fresh start at a lower level -- and then nobody buys your game until you drop the price to $1, or FREE, if anyone even notices it, because of all the COOKIE CUTTER GAMES.

 

Players aren't happy about it, devs aren't happy, even the new devs lovin' Unity aren't gonna be happy when they realize that every wannabe gamedev is doing the same thing as them.

For the record, I thought this was an article, so I'm sorry about that...

 

Anyways, I see your point. But is this provably a problem?

If it is, then maybe that could be a debate itself, otherwise, I have to say I just didn't like the overall tone of the original er.. article smile.png

 

I think even if gaming is currently overall hurting because of the lowered barrier to game development, I trust that there will always be games that are worth more than $1. Of course, in the case of games that are incredibly popular, they could leverage prices as they see fit. You can't argue that Angry Birds is anything short of a really good and polished game, yet it costs almost nothing.

They also created the Pigs machine (can't remember the exact name) game, which also was very fun to play.

 

Again, there is that elephant in the room though, the red line between any other industry and this. Such as other types of content creation (music/video), and so it may just boil down to availability (platforms) and visibility (coverage).

Content is so accessible now that we are swimming in it. I won't pretend I know all the factors at play, but, take YouTube. Video content as a service. I subscribe to the channels I like, and that's pretty much my entire YouTube experience, with the occasional link from friends, just to see the new 'thing'. But if I wanted to I could watch just about anything, right now.

 

While producing a video game could take years, other content creation takes weeks or months, rarely years. A youtube video is typically watched only once, while music is something you can enjoy for weeks. Last, games are something you typically experience once, and then never again. It could take hours or just a few days to complete. So, I can agree to that games are undervalued severely in many cases. What or why, I couldn't tell you. Perhaps it is as you say, simply to get sales.

But I think the hardest part is just to get coverage - ANY coverage.

And that could very well be the root of the problem, and the difference between music & video content vs games.

 

For music you have services such as Spotify & Wimp. For videos you have youtube, and many others.

For video games, what do you have? The closest seems to be Steam Greenlight.

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