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The Internet as an Open-Source Creativity Engine

Forget chasing "standard" software such as 3DS Max, Unity, and others; the Internet is the small dev's most powerful tool. In this post, I'll explore how the internet has changed how we create media and the opportunities available to the little guy.

Christopher Totten, Blogger

March 16, 2013

5 Min Read

This is a repost from my personal blog, DevFromBelow, a weekly development blog about my adventures being a small game developer and gaming academic. 

"Ideas" word cloud

Today, we’re going to talk about the Internet: the small developer’s most important tool. The Internet is not only where an indie can find tools for their work such as BlenderUnityGIMP, and other free software, but also holds other superpowers that are becoming increasingly apparent. Indeed, this is not your parents’ Internet. Where we once used it simply as a method for delivering faster communications with e-mail, instant messaging, and the like, it has evolved to become a powerful engine for content creation, delivery, and promotion.

YOU, not “they”, are in the driver’s seat now…

Let us consider the case of the Slender Man, the Internet horror character popularized by the Marble Hornets YouTube series and Mark Hadley’s 2012 game, Slender: The Eight Pages. The Slender Man first appeared as an entry into a 2009 “Paranormal Images” contest on the Something Awful (SA) forums. “Victor Surge”, the user who created the images, accompanied them with text describing how the tall, faceless figure in the images would stalk and capture children. The unsettling images and brief stories spawned other similar images utilizing the character. The character would evolve further through Marble Hornets, a YouTube film series, and through Slender: The Eight Pages, a horror video game created so the designer could learn the Unity game engine. 

It should be noted that the key figures in creating the Slender Man character, which has now evolved into a full multi-media project at the scale of Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, are not professional creators or companies, but Internet users. The Slender Man content was delivered on social media and websites, however, not in movie theaters or retail stores. Yet, these projects are garnering the same positive attention that many traditional media gets: Roger Ebert as called Marble Hornets “remarkably well done.” Review sites such as Eurogamer and IGN likewise lauded Slender: The Eight Pages as “absolutely terrifying” and “pure horror.”

In the BBC Radio program Digital Human, projects such as Slender Man and others are cited as indicators that human culture has passed what is called the “Gutenberg Parenthesis.” During this time period, encompassing the time since the printing press was invented, human communication focused greatly on print media rather than oral tradition. Digital media, it is argued, delivers written word information in ways much more closely resembling older oral traditions. In the case of Slender Man, the project was created in a very open source fashion: multiple creators contributed to a mythology by following self-imposed rules on adding content while respecting established tropes.

To take it a step further, increasing accessibility to tools such as cheap recording devices, production software likewise allow creators to spread their work on this viral creative network. The recent boom of indie game development further alludes to the closing of the Gutenberg Parenthesis, as it is no longer only the big guys with printing presses (in this case expensive development infrastructures) that can put out work.  

The Internet is your most powerful tool

For the independent creator, the Internet offers a plethora of opportunities for creativity, delivery, and promotion. Again, access to free tools and development environments greatly increases the number of people who can develop high-end creative projects. Tools such as Blender or Unity, free analogues of other software packages that can cost thousands of dollars, break down barriers in the ability to produce. Likewise, a variety of internet-based markets such as the App Store, Google Play, the Amazon App Store, Steam, and even personal websites allow creators to choose their method of delivery rather than giving power to retailers. Two games launched on personal sites: Slender: The Eight Pages and Minecraft have done remarkably well: Slender’s download links have crashed from the number of people trying to get the game. Minecraft officially launched at its own convention attended by several thousands of fans that had played the beta.

Lastly, the Internet offers great opportunities for idea exchange and promotion. The most obvious delivery method for information about projects is social media such as Twitter, Google +, Facebook, and others. These allow you to send mass messages to followers that can likewise evangelize your projects. Some creative projects, like Marble Hornets, even use social media’s format in their drama: the antagonist of the series sends YouTube responses to the hero. Likewise, blogging is a powerful tool many creators overlook. While blogging can be a creative work in its own right, it offers a bully pulpit for creators to get their ideas out in a quick and accessible fashion. I myself used the free blogs at Gamasutra as a gateway into the game industry – utilizing them as a forum for idea exchange and networking. Indeed, the Internet is a new global salon, social gatherings popular in the 17th and 18th centuries for intellectuals to exchange ideas, where the only stopping you from having a meaningful conversation with industry leaders is the willingness to hit “Send.”  

You can find more here: http://devfrombelow.tumblr.com/ and follow me on Twitter @Totter87 Don't forget to pick up my latest game, Swarm!, for iPad and the Amazon App Storehttp://www.slidedb.com/games/swarm-mobile-game


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