Without services like Steam, XBL and PSN the chances of indie success are "reduced from tiny to almost non-existent."
At least, according to Sean Murray, Managing Director of Hello Games, the developer responsible for the excellent downloadable title, Joe Danger. In a recent interview, Murray extolled the virtues of services such as Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStationNetwork and Apple's App store.
"I think without the support of at least one of those outlets, the chances of success [For an independent developer] are reduced from tiny to almost non-existent," he said.
Though I can think of at least one glaring exception to that rule (I'll give you a hint, it rhymes with "inecraft") Murray makes a good point. Digital distribution services provide an excellent market place for indie titles while providing an established infrastructure that helps insulate cash strapped developers from, well, crap like this.
Murray made it clear however that getting your game onto one of these networks is only half the battle. "Often people are 100 per cent relying on it. Not just their approval process, but with someone like Apple you are 100 per cent reliant on them promoting your game," he added.
He did mention the tight control that these services maintain over game content (but not, sadly, quality, as anyone who's browsed through XBLA's indie section can attest) makes them a "scary place", but he argued that we're lucky to have them regardless. "If you look at the last generation, you couldn't make a PS2 game unless you were with a publisher and had a pretty sizable team. There were no other options," he said.
Of course, Murray has good reason to dislike traditional publishers. Hello Games' first title, Joe Danger, a brightly colored, PSN-exclusive, racer cum platformer with shades of Excite Bike, sold over 50,000 units in its first week, a big success for a downloadable title. Yet, according to Murray, publishers were initially dismissive of his initial pitch. Among the responses he got these, sadly unnamed, publishers were two absolute gems; "Collecting giant coins feels unrealistic to me" and my personal favorite, "We want games that are less about fun right now."
That explains so much.