Disclaimer : this text is a relation of my first year as an independent game designer. Please forgive any misuse of English, this surprisingly tricky language of yours. I’m French and sometimes I write like one.
I like how words collide to create new meanings. Misunderstandings and typos are excellent way to « open » words and reflect on their full meaning and extension. Once, I introduced myself as an « indie game dev » to someone who, by the look of it, instantly translated that in « native-American non-domesticated animals regulator ». Fair enough.
So, I’m an Indian. One year ago, I stepped into the world of game designers. I started my second life, thirty years after the first: I moved to London, I married and I left my job (that was not at all related to game or code although I messed with amateur stuff for a very long time). I became an indie game developer.
Even if I kept money flowing through contracts and such, it was a bold and scary move, one that I wouldn’t recommend to everyone. And I’m not talking about skills or experience : you need backup, a good lot of it, on many levels. The word « independent » is quite deceiving and…
But no, let’s stop right away. I’m not writing this to relay sound advice and expert hindsight. You have more successful and better qualified people out there. Also I think we tend (as a community) to repeat the main messages over and over: have good ideas, work hard, playtest, add juice and be nice. In the end all these are certainly important but not really decisive because making a game is not a formal procedure, it is a creative process (thus depending mostly on opportunity, time, skills and minimal work hygiene).
Let’s take a tangent then, I just want to relate my surprises and discoveries, hopefully from a fresh standpoint.
Reflexively, entering the field in 2014 was quite an interesting timing. A surrealist worldwide competition with thousands of extremely talented candidates running after mostly hypothetical successes on a bunch of narrow mega market places (App Store, Steam, Consoles…). Also, a really ugly campaign that was certainly not about ethics in game journalism.
The game dev world is strange, it is an extremely fragmented global market. Normally, a global market is relatively homogeneous. Take for example the global market of paper clips and other stationery. You have big players (probably Chinese), you have medium ones, small ones. Some will bet on the « luxurious » paper clip (or « trombone », that’s a tip : always translate in French to sound luxurious), some on a cheap price, some on the service, some on innovation (the smart paper clip kickstarted by a design start-up in California)… but overall, it’s easy to « frame » the paper clip market, to regulate it and give it some structures. All that because you have a relatively homogeneous product.
Compared to the paper clip market, the games market is extreme : you have a maximal variety of products on a very large market but with drastically smaller and more concentrated market places (a dozen or so). Also, although the market is far larger, all the people playing on it (from the gamedev to the consumer) are able to talk to almost everyone else, peer or not, resulting in an ever expanding flow of comments, tweets, blog…
So much noise in that global promiscuity! I was puzzled the first time I saw an indie drama spread out like fire on oil with ten, a hundred people working on games or playing them giving their own anti or pro point of view on a random article from Polygon or Kotaku. It’s quite mesmerizing and exotic to watch.
Quite frightening too. Because of this extreme globalization, there’s no real « local market » to start properly. Everything is instantly diluted in the global game scene. It’s extremely difficult to find side paths and trends. Something is missing here I think, a way to sensibly cross-promote between indies, a way to exist « locally » around a trend or a genre that is not necessarily pixelarted platformers with roguelike elements. Of course you have places to discuss the weirdest genre. Being part of London Indies, I know there are millions of excellent occasions to share, discuss and work together. The thing is, at some point you still need to re-enter the mega portals where your niche game will probably not do very well.
Don’t get me wrong, that global promiscuity is also a positive thing. The game world is alive ! It is thrilling with inventions, new concepts and experiences. It is opening up to new skills and new narratives, it’s crossing boundaries, it’s slowly exploding, all this backed up by a very strong and active academic field. Contrary to literature, cinema and music, games are building something that wasn’t there ten years ago and it’s obvious. It’s a new language and just being part of that is an amazing achievement.
The trickiness of interactions in the field is that they all proceed from the same mechanics. Navel gazing, new ideas, insults, help … great and terrible things are happening at the same time on twitter and other places of the modern forum.
You should understand that by writing this post, I’m fully aware that I’m being part of this global flow of information like everyone else. I won’t deny the ambiguity even if this post’s ambition is mainly a simple feedback and thank you note for the community.
I’m essentially amazed by what I learned from you.