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Default Gamasutra - The State of Indie Gaming

April 30th, 2008, 18:47
This Gamasutra article by Juan Gril of Joju Games and formerly head of Yahoo Games Studio, takes a look at the current status of indie game development from a casual games perspective. He starts out with his definitions of 'indie':
There is a big discrepancy right now in the definition of an indie game. On one hand, you've got those who think that the word "independent" means "independent funding". In other words, the development is financed by the developer. On the other hand, you've got those who think that the word "independent" means "independent thought", which means those games where the design was not dictated by middle managers.

I'm more inclined for the latter definition, as the truth is that in most cases you will need a significant chunk of money to create an independent game, and regardless where you get that money from, what matters is that the game was created following a creative-led game design idea.

Here is then my own definition of an independent game:

An independent game is above all trying to innovate and provide a new experience for the player. It is not just filling a publisher's portfolio need. It has not been invented at a marketing department. And it has not been designed by a committee.
It's a six page article, going into such things as who is the audience, available platforms beginning but not limited to PC, the significance of downloads, browser indies, and concluding with the challenges of producing a profitable indie game:
How many good independent games have you seen that don't make money? I can count dozens every year. Adding more salt to the wound, if there would [be] a "Big Publisher" push towards the channels independent game makers are using today to get their wares out, it's just going to be even harder to compete.
We need to find a way to create an effective ecosystem to make sure that the good talent finds a way to economic success - including more and more public independent games festivals that have wider remits.

More information.
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April 30th, 2008, 18:47
"We need to find a way to create an effective ecosystem to make sure that the good talent finds a way to economic success"

Easy enough way to begin this process. We simply monitor al the file sharing services (i.e. Rapidshare) and report illegal links for the indie games (the others can sink or swim on their own). This should begin to give a edge to a struggling niche. Process is actually easier than it sounds, pick your favorite game, spend 5 minutes each day chinking (simple word search) 2 or 3 major link services, file standard, cut and paste report.
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April 30th, 2008, 18:55
Monitoring file sharing isn't going to stop people from sharing games. In fact, it probably isn't that much of a hit to indi developers, at least in the US. You can monitor it all you want, but bogus discs of the game will be floating around all over Asia.

The guys that did Sins of a Solar Empire have the right idea. You just have to ignore piracy and try to make a game that you think enough people will buy to justify the cost.

In reality, I doubt that services like limewire distribute that many indi games anyways. In order to get a decent download bandwidth, you need a lot of seeds, and we're talking about games that aren't that well known so there aren't going to be that many seeds. Add into that the massive size of these things and it's going to take you forever to get a game. Most games are at least a full CD, so 700+MB. Downloading that at a low rate is going to take a week or more. The majority of game players aren't going to wait for that.

Now sure, a major title is going to have tons of seeds and be able to be downloaded fairly quickly. The only way you're going to get a good download of an indi game is if the company itself is sponsoring downloads (like a free trial or something).

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April 30th, 2008, 23:56
Preventing unauthorized indie game torrents (or at least raging against those windmills) most likely will harm them more then it will help, especially for titels with niche appeals.

Indie games suffer from pathetically low exposure, and horrible "first impression" (reviews, screenshots etc).

Id wager a guess that the number of people who would never have thought about buying the game, but were convinced after playing (and maybe even finishing) the (hassle-)free game is more significant then the number of people who were getting out the purse when they discovered the shady download link.

See Prelude to Darkness (now free) - someone over at the Codex put it up on filesharing sites … and got 3 downloads. It is praised as one of the best RPGs in recent years (and besides the horrible technical issues, is a very interesting and unique game with a fresh setting and fresh, innovative mechanics) - yet people dont want it, even for free.

How many evil pirate kiddies have torrented it back in the day. How many of those would have actually spend cash for it?
And how many people would have stumbled on the torrent, tried it hassle-free, and thought "its flawed, but i can see the brilliant design shining through, and want to support the devs, so that they can make a better sequel" that never even heard of it years after it became free? Maybe the entire business model would have been better of as donation-ware?

In the upcoming age of high quality flash games - free of charge and free of "We reserve the rights on your first 3 children" EULAs, free of installation hassle, Indie game devs maybe should be glad that people actually even bother to download and "check out" their games.

Unlike AAA titles, indie games arent driven by "its so awesome, i MUST have it, CANT wait" (except maybe AoD, that one is aproaching game-of-the-year expectations).
People buy those games because they like the gameplay, want to see more, support the devs etc …

Obviously, this rant focusses more on hardcore niche titles, not on casual games. Yet i think that indie devs have so many problems they should sort out first before blaming piracy.

Ironically, piracy may actually help them. When the choice is - pay for GTA or NO GTA, how many people will chose "random indie game with dubious quality and way too short demo that may yet again suffer from rapid -content-decline-after-demo-area-syndrome"?
Noone has lived in a world without piracy yet- and i think many many people would be (negatively) suprised.
Last edited by Saerden; May 1st, 2008 at 00:04.
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May 1st, 2008, 00:30
Originally Posted by Saerden View Post
Indie games suffer from pathetically low exposure, and horrible "first impression" (reviews, screenshots etc).
I agree. I didn't know of any indie RPGs before I came to this site. I have regularly visited a different forum with emphasis on CRPGs for years now, and even there, I have never seen an indie CRPG mentioned once.

I always say that you can really see that you don't have a chance to earn a penny when you don't find your product on a torrent site. With many independent products, this is unfortunately the case. As you said, people don't even want them for free.
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May 1st, 2008, 01:11
The problem with Prelude to Darkness, is it's TOO buggy and this is a huge turn off with Indie games. I gave up after an hour with it. Indie's have to be GOOD if they are to have any chance of success and they need to be virtually bug free. I think Eschalon has set a standard that others need to emulate and then surpass. We actively support Indie devs at the Watch and do our best to help them market their game. If you want to help the Indie community, tell all your friends to visit here regularly!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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May 1st, 2008, 03:53
Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
The problem with Prelude to Darkness, is it's TOO buggy and this is a huge turn off with Indie games.
Ah, yes. The trailing cursor during character creation, followed by a hard reset during the first conversation. I didn't get further than that, but I'll have to look whether I can play with some settings.
Originally Posted by Corwin View Post
If you want to help the Indie community, tell all your friends to visit here regularly!!
I'll do that .
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May 1st, 2008, 12:46
Originally Posted by Turjan View Post
I agree. I didn't know of any indie RPGs before I came to this site. I have regularly visited a different forum with emphasis on CRPGs for years now, and even there, I have never seen an indie CRPG mentioned once.

I always say that you can really see that you don't have a chance to earn a penny when you don't find your product on a torrent site. With many independent products, this is unfortunately the case. As you said, people don't even want them for free.
This leads to a problem many (most?) indies have, and which is theoretically avoided in the standard publisher model by hiring specialists:
Indies often do not know how to sell their games! It starts with simple things like having a good website, "good" meaning easy to navigate and consequently optimized on selling games using at least the standard tools like SEO, mailing lists, etc.
Many indies are not willing to spent time on this because it slows down game development. But it΄s unavoidable if you want to sell games.
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May 1st, 2008, 14:35
Too many problems.

What we *really* need is a strong allience of indie games supporting web sites (like this one) and maybe even kind of a society, wherein all Indie developers can meet and gret - and exchange their knowledge on how to overcome certein problems.

With "the big publishers" at the closed door, of course, because if they would find out, they's be the early bird who catches the worm before the other early birds can.

The "gathering of developers" was imho initially a brilliant idea. Sad that it failed this far.

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May 1st, 2008, 16:37
The truth is most Indies are horrible at marketing. Just horrible. They make the game, set up a website and then just sit back triumphantly and expect sales to come rolling in. Doesn't work like that. One has to make PR efforts, build up hype and community before the game is released, build it up so it peaks as you release…and then you work doubly hard to keep that momentum and build on it.

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May 2nd, 2008, 00:23
I've emailed several Indie devs over the years asking them to keep in regular contact with us so we can help them with game PR. Many never even bothered to reply!! Sad and STUPID!!

If God said it, then that settles it!!

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May 2nd, 2008, 06:49
Ditto.

And Prelude to Darkness is an excellent example. In the time I was with RPGDot, we received no official communications or press releases that I saw. They built their community at RPG Codex, which discourages broader fans (those that dislike or are intimidated by the Codex). In the end, their customer base came down to those few thousand people.

Edit: CP McBee did contact me when the game went free, which was appreciated, but too late to help Zero Sum.

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Last edited by Dhruin; May 2nd, 2008 at 07:02.
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May 2nd, 2008, 07:15
For one piracy is definetly not the problem since if you try to look for indie games on P2P it is either impossible top find or very rare to find. I have done searches to see what I can find and if I find anything it would be a rare file on ed2k and never on torrent. When it comes to indie games I haven't found anything I like or the ones I have thought would be good never came out. I am going to try "Frayed Knights" though since it seems like one I would like.

A good idea to help indie games is to create a group that actively markets indie games. The group can do everything the publisher does from advertising to contacting game sites/magazines to attending the conventions. Since the game developers don't have time to create advertising material the dev can provide the game and product design papers to the marketing group and they could make advertising matterial for the game. With this group in place the devs could focus on their games and the group could focus on advertising the game.
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May 2nd, 2008, 11:12
You dont have to *sell games* to be successful. You have to *earn money*.
This is a very important distinction.

The most obvious way is to sell discrete "game boxes" (though they are actually licences). But that doesnt seem to work that well now … so what other options are there, especially for small, independant devs?
-Donationware
-"Flatrates" (works alot better for portals etc)
-Advertising (mostly flash)
-MMO-like elements
-Sponsors / Backers (i.e. "educational" (read: propaganda) games for the government etc)
-Episodic content

I think the power of fundraising and / or episodic content may be underestimated. Software isnt a good you can reasonably keep under lock, so maybe looking at it as a service may be the way.

Fundraising: This is mostly a rough idea, but wouldnt it be smart to involve the community when it comes to financing a game, not just hope that enough people buy it when its done? Very similar to a donation-ware aproach. This would work well with small projects with a defined mission statement ("Say it ain't Fallout 3 - Post Apocalyptic adventures without Nuclear Catapults or Radcrabs") or "diamonds in the rough" (see Mount&Blade for field study of something very similar).

A game like Frayed Knights could work very well in episodic format, especially if the world and characters end up popular.
Use the main game to iron out the game mechanics and the design process, then create modules with varying length and content (some optional).
You already did all the work, so why throw it all away just to be pseudo-creative? (Good example: Spiderwebsoftware)
Dont be afraid to branch out / sell out. Spin-off Webcomic, merchandise, casual game tie-ins ("Smack a thief" settlers promotion minigame) etc might all create a positive income and / or publicity that helps staying afloat.

Another option might be to create "mods" / content to user specification. This is very esoteric at the moment, but software works best as a continueted service, so it is definitly worth consideration.

A effective (=brutal) crackdown on piracy will ruin a free society (shorterm), therefor prosperity (medium-term) and therefor your future customer base (longterm). Adaption and innovation may work out better (for everyone involved).

It is interesting to see that many successful indie devs went untraveled paths (Massproduction of Avernum / Geneforge, "buy before its done" M&B) and had success where many others failed. Games may be art, but game development is business.


Next rant: Longterm publicity (=pray that people pirate turnbased games, otherwise there wont be any in 10 years)
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