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Why Indie?

In the markets of tomorrow the most successful game development
will be done by leaner and more sustainable practices.

– Ian J. Treu

Last week Games Industry International had a couple of great articles related to the topic;

Mobile evolution will make today’s market irrelevant

Free-to-play specialist Teut Weidemann says disruption of smartphones is just getting started, AAA already out of fashion,

for the first time since I’ve been in the industry, you have access to a worldwide market without ever having to leave your office.


And another article covering a round-table of several veteran developers who’ve recently left AAA to go indie.  I recommend reading it if you have the time but I found the most insight from Thor Alexander who I’ve quoted below;

Going Indie: “I’m more scared of staying in AAA right now”

I’m more scared of staying in AAA right now, with the big question marks hanging over the console market, than anything about going indie…”

Apple and Google are your publisher now. The legacy publishers no longer add enough value to justify the share of revenue that they are asking for. It’s not like they are masters at internet marketing…”

I think indie is the place to innovate. You can do it faster, cheaper and without all of the BS that comes from working on a big team with a big budget in AAA games. If you have a cool idea just bang it out and see what happens…”

I’m very skeptical of how much success this next generation of consoles will have. Play habits of users have shifted to a more accessible, digital, mobile and free-to-play experience.”

The indie business model versus the AAA business model is simply the leaner model better suited to the markets of tomorrow.  I’m not suggesting AAA developers won’t still hold a place, but consider the advancement of indie titles in just over the last year.  Ouya, a whole new console was funded by fans primarily for indie titles.  Steam launches Greenlight.  Both Sony and Microsoft have taken up indie development tracks.  But creating an indie title is not without risk.  I outlined some pros and cons of indie studios below.

Why Indies work

  • Spawned from the culture: For gamers, by gamers.  Everyone on an indie team will love games.  They will probably have a history of playing games, regular interactions with other gamers, and they will personally understands the rewards and woes of being a gamer.
  • Low entry barrier: There is a growing array of free software, cloud tools, tutorials, and other resources that make business organization exceptionally affordable.
  • Lean and mobile teams: An indie team can easily be a few people working together who have never met in person, each in a different part of the planet, and still be a fair balance of essential skills.
  • Build – test – modify approach: Smaller teams mean fewer barriers to decision making.  Getting something playable to audiences is faster than manipulating all the moving parts of a bigger team and as a result the game can modify quickly to audience feedback.
  • Personal crowd interaction: even a small team can manage large forums with free software and thus interact with their audience at a personal level and manage discussion of gameplay.
  • Success at a smaller price point: A smaller team is affordable with much smaller sales numbers, and so it can be sustainable with a more modest market impact.
  • Crazy ideas: Because indie titles are so sustainable on smaller audiences they can gamble on more out of the box thinking that is not likely to be adopted by mainsteam markets, where a AAA developer can seldom afford to miss the mainstream audience.

Where Indies fall short

  • Business skills: I constantly hear that indie teams stumble over the business of marketing and selling the games they create.  Fearful of traditional publishers many studios turn away from traditional organized business practices and climb a steep learning curve of trial by error.
  • Too many hats: Like most entrepreneurial endeavors people aim to do to much themselves.  Afraid that outsourcing and delegation give away creative control many studios will suffer from micromanagement and stagnation.
  • Money management  Often new to money management indie studios may learn the hard way about company reinvesting, taxes, and appropriate insurances, just to name a few.

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