209: A Delicate Balance

A Delicate Balance

As indie gaming has exploded in growth over the past few years, so too have the identity defining questions confronting this nascent movement. Have indie developers exploited a clever hole in the market? Or are they artists dedicated to the ethos of indie through thick and thin?

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I must say... that I don't really know what to make of this article.

I've always considered 'indie' games to be games developed without reliance on a financial backer who distorts and controls the creative process in order to maximise profit. Companies that I think of when I think 'indie' are guys like Introversion (Darwinia, Defcon), and Bit-Blot (Aquaria), and ThatGameCompany (fl0w, Flower). There are also plenty of individuals out there who make indie games, of course, but none spring immediately to mind except the maker of Dwarf Fortress, Tarn Adams, and the maker of Battleships Forever, Sean 'th15' Chan.

This is, at least, what I associate with the label 'indie'. But I've not really seen any pushes from bigger companies to try and mass-market the 'indie' genre. To try and make big studios make 'indie' style games. So... while I kinda enjoyed the read, I'm not really sure what the point Chris was trying to make was. Am I supposed to have a raised awareness of indie game companies? Feel wariness towards the (apparently looming) commercialisation of 'indie'?

I suppose at the very least, I've reflected on what 'indie' means to me. So I guess the article's done its' job? *shrug*

I love the creativity and inventiveness of the indie games available these days, and wish all of them the best in making it big in the future.

However, I think the part in the article about removing the profit motive is cruicial. When you think about profit, you aren't necessarily thinking about making something that you enjoy, or that you would love to see, you're thinking about the bottom line. That tends to change peoples focus, and you begin to think the same as every other developer: What's popular? What will sell?

In particular I love those small developers that just throw the conventional wisdom of the big developers out of the window. I am of course talking about all those indie point-and-click adventure game makers (Himalaya Studios), those makers of more traditional RPGs (Spiderweb Software, Iron Tower Studios) and those turn-based strategy makers (Battle for Wesnoth).

The games these people make are considered too niche for the big developers, they lack the mass-market appeal. However there are still plenty of folks like me who appreciate all the hard work being done by small developers.

As I said in the Editor's Note section, the sheer lack of boundaries and the ability to be as creative as you want is what I love so much about the Indie scene.

I would think of it as a shame for the indie scene in gaming to disappear into obscurity, as it kind of has with music and (partially with) the film industry, as it is one of the few parts of the entertainment business that haven't started to put emphasis on the business side of the balance rather than the entertainment side. Instead of just doing what everyone else is doing because what everyone else is doing sells and makes money, these people are trying to be original and don't care about profit margins and sales.

However, I can see the idea behind what Carlos Bordeu is saying as well, about "Indie should still be indie, whether or not it is mainstream." I can see where he's coming from there, but that's just not indie in my opinion. "Indie" is an abbreviation of "Independant", and I just don't think it's standing up to its original meaning and objectives if it is part of a mainstream company. If an indie company and a mainstream company were to make the same game, the mainstream one wouldn't be indie in my eyes. It would be "original", but not "indie".

All in all, I don't think indie itself matters as a genre after reading that article. What matters, is what it stands for: Creativity, original ideas, clever designs that we wouldn't expect as a player. These are all things that the major game developers could bring into their designs if they merely believed they would sell, but as it is they're playing it better safe than sorry and as a result just stick to the same ideas that sell lots.

Any company could do what indie ones are trying to do, it just happens to be that the indie ones are the only ones doing it, thus indie gets thought of as a genre for any game that is original and creative.

Definition discussions are not really my favorite topics and especially Indie Games is something that stands for quite a lot of things. But what I never liked was, that it should stand for independence of investors, or the Big Players, or money from a third party. I agree way more with what Petri Purho says in the opening of the article, that it stands for independence of profit maximization. I think one of the ways to achieve this, is to get someone else to take some of the financial load of the developers shoulders. And if the partnership is a good one, it means that you not only still make the games you want to make, but that you can make them even better.
I think ThatGameCompany, one of the examples Fenixius raised, is a good example for that, because they are exclusive to Sony, thus are dependent on one of the Big Players of the industry. Still they make games that are generally classified as Indie, and rightly so in my opinion. Why? Becasue they make small games that are focused on one specific treat of games, rather than doing everything that is needed of a AAA title today, and they polish that specific part to an extent that it can really shine. That one treat can be a game mechanic, could be a visual representation, could be transporting a meaning or could be putting the player into a certain mindset - like in ThatGameCompanys fl0w or Flower. I think that is something that all currently known Indie titles share. They are games, that are very focused on delivering a specific part, that can be made by a small team - because it's hard to communicate novel ideas during development to a lot of people - and that are not being made to maximize profit but to try out what our medium can pull off.

But to get back to the articles title, yes, it is a delicate balance because independent developers should be able to earn a living by designing games. And that's why I think that it is a bad idea to stick to an ideology of financial independence. If a developer can make better games by partnering financially with a third party they should do it, because what we, as developers, should care about is - as Svedäng says it - is "moving the art form forward" and we are most likely better in doing that if we don't have to worry about paying the rent.

Greets
Felix
Broken Rules

As an indy game lover, to me it dosent matter what's going on behind the scenes or how much money is going into pockets. I realize that as the article states, independance from invenstors is the driving force behind indy ingenouity. And I agree that "fake" indy games are just around the corner.

The thing is, I dont think the true indy consumers are going to be fooled by a lable though- we're still going to be looking for an innovative experience, and dont forget that a lot of us also like the moderate price tag! I dont think corperate indy games are going to be able to produce that.

"I think the people who put their soul into moving the art form forward will survive," he says. "Anyone not trying to do that is wasting their time, so I don't mind if they fail."

And that's the truth. Anyone who'd fall for a large company's safe version of experimental gameplay was never interested in indie games at all, just on feeling smarter by playing games other people aren't playing.

Too bad that some people who'll put their soul into moving the art form forward won't survive, but I'm sure no one who's not will.

It's weird to bring up the Scratchware Manifesto when there's another article right there about how its creator's distribution platform failed, but there's a bit in there that I loved, which I'll now paraphrase: If your marketing team wants you to have extremely modern graphics, or adaptive AI, then they should program it.

Chris LaVigne:
Crayon Physics Deluxe's Petri fears the worst. "I think indie games are going to become a 'genre' of games," he says. "And the 'genre' doesn't have anything to do with independence or budgets, but it's mainly something marketing people have coined so they can sell artsy stuff."

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good thing? I don't care if a game was made on a shoestring budget or by a multi-million dollar corporation; I care about content. If the current indie movement encourages big companies to make artsier content, all the better in my opinion.

boholikeu:

Chris LaVigne:
Crayon Physics Deluxe's Petri fears the worst. "I think indie games are going to become a 'genre' of games," he says. "And the 'genre' doesn't have anything to do with independence or budgets, but it's mainly something marketing people have coined so they can sell artsy stuff."

Am I the only one that thinks this is a good thing? I don't care if a game was made on a shoestring budget or by a multi-million dollar corporation; I care about content. If the current indie movement encourages big companies to make artsier content, all the better in my opinion.

See, and that's the thing about games; games made of mechanics, and anybody can come up with those mechanics. Yes, those mechanics can be tweaked to more 'realistically' reflect our knowledge of gravity, human interaction, etc, but at the end of the day the game has set a rule that we're trying to use to navigate through the field of play.

Anybody can set those rules. The questions are; are the rules fun, and are they being implemented in such a way as to maximize fun for the player?

Smokescreen:

Anybody can set those rules. The questions are; are the rules fun, and are they being implemented in such a way as to maximize fun for the player?

Or in the case of art games: are those rules being implemented in such a way as to support the creator's main idea.

Because let's face it, "fun" is a pretty nebulous term here...

boholikeu:

Or in the case of art games: are those rules being implemented in such a way as to support the creator's main idea.

Because let's face it, "fun" is a pretty nebulous term here...

That's a good point; perhaps playable might've been a better term. Still, games are meant to be fun-by some definition-so supporting the creator's main idea just isn't enough to me.

Smokescreen:

That's a good point; perhaps playable might've been a better term. Still, games are meant to be fun-by some definition-so supporting the creator's main idea just isn't enough to me.

Well, the idea that fun is central to games has always been up for debate... I don't want to derail this thread though, so if it's a debate you'd like to take up feel free to send me a PM. =)

I like your use of the word "playable" though.

I just read an article that totally made me a pessimist regarding the Indie games.

However, this one breathed some hope within me. I hope Lazy 8 studios will not become a corperate publishers like Activision and can secure independence from the market to generate fresh and innovating ideas.

Lately, the top AAA+ titles aren't so unique anymore.

I think Svedang has the right attitude. As a gamer, I play both indie and mainstream games and I've found the same problems in both. I've seen mainstream games like Mirror's Edge really push the envelope and be a spectacular commercial failure and I've seen indie games like Unstoppable Gorg which is likely a commercial success while bringing very little new to the table. I think the crux of the matter comes down to us gamers. Are we willing to risk our money on something that could be entirely uninteresting to us in the hope that we will find a gem like Bastion? I don't know. Certainly, however, digital download services make the market better. The less barriers between me and the developer, the better.

 

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