Thursday, November 15, 2012

What is an Indie Game Developer?

It is clear that independent game development isn't what it used to be - it's now a lot easier for anyone to create and publish a game. The number of indie game developers has been increasing dramatically every year, and crowd-funding of games has become more and more effective. I've heard a lot of people wondering if all these developers inundating the scene are actually indie at all, or if there are even any "indies" around anymore. They seem to be asking: what happened to the penniless, sleepless independent developer working from their garage and suffering for their dream? Why is there so much money involved now? Some independent developers have been able to make thousands, even millions, have teams behind them, and may even have real office spaces (the horror!). Some seem to be wondering: "how are they even indie anymore?" A "true" indie couldn't dream of charging money for a game or making anything remotely "traditional," right? I disagree.

Who's the "true" indie dev? (From EGW 2006)
The game I am currently developing (Havencall), while it has an interesting story, is a point & click adventure game, and it is not particularly weird or experimental. And I'm not going to deny it, I do want to make money on it so I can pursue my goal of making game development my full-time job. I even plan to eventually run a kickstarter to help fund the game, despite the fact that a lot of people have been looking down on that route. So I began to wonder: was I wrong to want money for my games? Could I truly call myself indie even if my games were not wildly experimental? What does it even mean to be an independent developer?

I eventually started wondering if I should make Havencall more weird or experimental in order to fit in as a "true" indie.  But then it struck me: that would defeat the whole purpose of being indie in the first place! And that was when I had my answer. Indie means just what it sounds like: being independent; it means making what you want to make and not letting producers, money, notions about the market or anything else get in the way of that. If I had changed Havencall to fit into the indie community better, I would have ended up compromising my independence, just as if I had a producer who forced me to change the game for money. Being indie is all about the spirit of making the game you want to make, not the game others want you to make, or the game that you think will make the most money or get the most recognition. Being indie means being true to your own personal vision, and not letting anything get in the way of that, no matter what the size of your budget, your team, or your workspace.

Next I thought about kickstarter, and how so many indie devs were pushing campaigns and fighting for funding goals. Some developers seem to get so caught up in funding and how to please their backers, that they lose their vision and indie game spirit. However, I see nothing wrong with trying to reach out to fans and get funding from kickstarter or sales in and of itself. Personally, I will be looking for the funding to let me work on my game full time, as are many other game developers just like me. As many of us know from experience, working on games part-time in off hours is slow, and games can take years to finish that way, and when game projects take years, all sorts of trouble can occur (I know this all too well from Aero Empire). Wanting to make money on your games doesn't make you any less indie, as long as your true passion remains in the "making games" part of things and not the "making money" arena.

So, if you ever start thinking solely along the lines of: "oh, this game would make me lots of money, I should make it" or "I should add microtransactions so I can release the game for free," stop and consider if that is really the game you want to make. Do the microtransactions ruin the gameplay you dreamed of? Is a game that is likely to bring in lots of money really the idea you're passionate about making? Are you doing that sequel because you really want to make it, or because you're fairly certain it will be a success? If you come to the conclusion that you're making the game that you really want to make, then to me, you're indie. Whether you work from your garage or a million dollar office space, if you stay true to yourself and your vision for your work, then you're an independent developer.

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