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For The Love of Indie

In a week where sequels and threequels are being released we reflect on the business that brought us these titles and broke the system for the little guys.

This week is one strange week when it comes to major game releases here in the US (as well as in some other territories).  The primary three games released, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, Fable 3, and Rock Band 3 are (obviously) each next game in their respective series.  Heck, even Hasbro's Game Night series and the Petz series even saw games with '2' or '3' attached to their ends.

The year is wrapping up and consumers are picking up copy after copy in preparation for the holidays and then... well... wrapping them up.  We see hundreds of games released each year, and often times just before the end-of-the-year shopping season.  It is a viable marketing strategy to take advantage (in a good way) of this time of the year.  Sales are probably going to be up anyways, why not release in that time frame to try to boost your sales?

But what I'm more worried about is the focus the games industry is taking on IP (intellectual property) after IP and tacking on a 2 or 3 to sell another million units.  I liked the original Force Unleashed and was a fan of the first 2 Fables.  And, I adore the Rock Band series, so much that I have been know to play so much that I wake up at night kicking in mid air trying to hit a foot pedal (seriously).  Am I against a sequel or two?  No.  My problem lies within the hundreds of millions of dollars that go into producing these games instead of taking a risk by supporting indie developers.

Putting your money in an indie developer is a high-risk situation, sometimes they produce a mind-blowing experience, and sometimes the experience just blows.  But I don't see why a proven indie developer couldn't be backed by a (seemingly) financial game development company like Epic Games or even Microsoft.

I propose large game development companies start investing in small indie projects.  Almost like a large music label creating a smaller independent label.  The game dev studio still benefits from a portion of the profits and the indie developer retains a good portion of the creative control over the project (however, there should be some requirements/restrictions from the studio).  At the end, the studio heads (or designated project heads working for the studio) get the final say whether the game is up to snuff or if it needs more work.

Obviously, as with typical game development some sort of schedule is needed and an aspect of project management should be worked on as a cooperation between the studio and the indie developer.  This should ensure there aren't weeks and weeks of no progress with the client simply spending the studios money.

What I've Been Told

Once upon a time, a few years back, I decided I'd look for a new forum related to game development.  My standard, GameDev.net, was/is great but I wanted to travel to other game dev realms and see what other developers thought.

I stumbled across a certain website dedicated to indie games which, for the purposes of this article, we'll call IGames.  Around this time there was a series of posts on GameDev and on IGames related to a small group of developers called JForce Games who (at that time) recently started vlogging their game dev updates on YouTube as a PR stunt.  (FYI, I have a deep dislike for JForce Games but that's another post...)

I couldn't tell you how I ended up on the subject, but essentially I replied to their post on IGames and seemed to have stomped on the bee's nest of indie developers.  We got on the subject of what defines an indie developer.  Here is a synopsis of what I was telling them I thought an indie game developer was:

I believe an indie game developer is someone who develops video games without being backed by a major financial investor.  For example, someone who is developing a games with a multi-million dollar deal with EA with billions in adversiting and development costs, they are not an indie-developer.  A small team running a full project on $200,000 is an indie developer.

I was harshly met with the response (from numerous people) that boiled down to:

No, indie developers have no financial backing.  They build their games without any investment and blah blah blah...

Ok so I might have paraphrased their last few words but their whole point was an indie developer apparently doesn't put any money into a developed project...

Now I obviously don't agree with this, but using what I believe about indie games, the following is becoming a sad reality:

The problem with the current state of the industry, is that if you aren't producing a sequel and/or aren't a full blown, financially-backed studio; then you can't make great, well-known games.

Conclusion

So this post was a mish-mash of hate and love for indie games and 'mainstream' games and it probably ended up being a bit incoherent, but I don't want the games industry headed in a direction where we go to the store only to see Rock Band 10, Fable 14, and Final Fantasy 41.  As an industry we should ban together and put the focus on unique developers whether they're independent or not and not just stick with what's comfortable.

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