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The Quiet Rise of the Hobbyists

During the past three years, a growing number of successful games has been developed by hobbyists. They're not quite indie, and they're transforming the industry.

Ramine Darabiha, Blogger

January 27, 2016

2 Min Read

The rise of the hobbyists
To most people, the idea of making a game can seem pretty intimidating. Where would you even start? It's not as approachable as picking up a guitar and making music, or filming something with your camera.

Fortunately, plenty of tools are making it easier. From RPG Maker to Game Maker Studio or even Twine, the barrier to entry is getting lower by the day. These tools have replaced what Flash used to be in the late 90's and early 00's: an easy to use, visual tool that anyone could use in little time. But with sites such as Newgrounds and Kongregate making way for the App Store and Steam, the ability to create and distribute these games has increased a great deal.

During the past three years, there has been an increasing amount of games made using these tools. Spelunky, Gunpoint, Hotline Miami, Samurai Gunn and The Consuming Shadow (disclaimer, I was its producer) were made in Game Maker. Sure, they may not have the flashy shaders and 3D of more advanced Unity projects. They're made by an increasing amount of hobbyists, people who don't usually make games beyond participating in Ludum Dare or Global Game Jam.

Not your traditional indie
They didn't leave a big name developer to start their own thing. They're not building a business. If you look at the forums for Adventure Game Studio or Game Maker, you'll find people who are curious about how games are made. Often, they start with fan games. Making their own take on Mario or Monkey Island. Or trying out grand gameplay ideas "Zelda, but as an MMO!".

They're not developers who decided to make their own games. They're non developers who are eager to create games.

What's great about making it easier for more people to develop their dream game is that the industry is seeing an increase in diversity. In a sense, it never went away: most games on Flash portals were really different and creative. The tools and platforms hanged, but the creativity didn't. And with more creators joining, we're likely to see more games tackle issues that would be difficult to tackle for a game studio or a commercial project.

A growing industry
Back in 2006, the late Satoru Iwata said he expected gaming to reach probably up to 500M players. The market opened up, with with the Wii, then with the iPhone.

You'd be hard pressed to find a computer that isn't able to run Gunpoint or Hotline Miami, even outside Western markets. In fact, my experience with The Consuming Shadow is that a large audience was in Eastern Europe. As indie studios ship bigger and bigger projects, hobbyists are building a new niche or scrappy, snack sized work of auteurs. Here's to a new frontier!

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