Well, 2012 has been a good year for independence. Prevailing economic conditions globally have sort of spurred this glut of indie projects. It’s like the start of the new indie revolution. I don’t think there have been so many Indiegogo, Kickstarter, or Rocket-padding efforts ever. Or at least that’s the perception as a frequent browser and supporter of those sites.

What’s revolutionary about this sort of fresh perspective gamers have inherited is that it’s changing the way game developers think about their games. Eurogamer recently published an opinion piece by Tom Bramwell about the potential abuse of Kickstarter. I think it’s a valid concern, but I wonder if it’s not misplaced. To be clear, I tend to mostly agree with what Tom said. However, if vetted game developers are using Kickstarter to avoid “big business” of game publishing can we blame them?

It’s an opportunity for them to maintain their creative freedom. It ensures their independence. It gives them a much closer relationship with their gamers. If I were to make a game I’d have two options: find a publisher to help me get my game to market or go independent. Being indie has often meant living check to check, crowding into a single apartment with fellow passionate developers and living off ramen noodles while you fulfill your passion — at least at the extreme end of the spectrum. Or at least that’s the comparable case if you’re not the likes of Peter Molyneux (Project Godus). Tom takes issue with well-off game developers using Kickstarter as a sort of store front or as a way to wring ungodly amounts of cash from gamers who are none-the-wiser. I’m not sure what the case is here, but there’s something to be said for the feeling that these old guys should have the resources at this point in their careers to finance independent projects. He goes on to say that Kickstarter should be the place of genuine start-ups; projects for studios who are truly getting kickstarted, making their debut into the market or trying earnestly to succeed at a follow-up. People who really need a boost, who lack resources, industry contacts, and everything else a vetted developer has.

Then there’s the unnamed studios who, while independent and small, refrain from using Kickstarter. One has to wonder why.

Should Kickstarter and the like be reserved for non-rich/influential developers?

This is an opportunity for gamers and their developers to abandon the old system, in my opinion. The more developers are directly supported and funded by their target audience, the more freedom everyone has. Developers get to make their games in relative peace. Gamers get insight into the game development process and can even influence it. There’s no middle men to suck the development dollars out of the game, layoff our designers, or dictate features. It’s just gamers, game developers, and their games. The only people truly invested in the success.

There’s always a lot of finger pointing about the current state of game publishing. No one seems all that happy or comfortable with it. Couldn’t crowd-funding be the very thing to break the publishing industry down to size, humble it a bit?

The internet has done many wonderful things for mankind in a short time. It’s turned the nature of the marketplace on it’s head and empowered consumers. This is a very good thing. I think we can look forward to better products and better relationships with creators if we make even greater room for crowd-funding. I say get rid of publishers and marketing departments. Let’s all have a direct line to each other. Put people in contact who have similar interests, people who would otherwise never find each other in the vastness of Earth. Let those people with like interests support each other and we can get rid of a lot of the things we don’t like about the gaming industry! About big business itself!

But enough dreaming. For now, I’ll settle for the comfort of knowing the publishing sector of the games industry has a legitimate and formidable challenger. Game developers now have an out; they can be free of the tyranny of the EAs and Funcoms of the world and dare to get together with their fans to collaborate on funding their dreams. As we make that journey though, Tom is correct to point out that more projects will have to deliver on their promises, because most of them fall short and there’s the risk they won’t deliver at all. But that can be addressed and I’m not worried about it. If developers don’t deliver, they will only discourage fans from supporting their future endeavors. And most importantly, if they fail with this opportunity, they will reinforce and retrench the big bad business that we don’t like in our games.

Viva la indie revolution :)

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6 Responses to The Indie Revolution

  1. Milady says:

    I would love to see that, but I am not sure we will ever get rid of publishers. There is a limit to which audiences can support a new project. Games like SWTOR would have never been crowd-sourced. Which perhaps is a good thing. But games like WoW, would they have been possible on a lower, public budget? Or Mass Effect, with all the cutscenes and voice-overs?

    I’m happy with what a low budget can provide, I don’t need all those fancy cinematic additions, but a lot of people have grown used to them, and game companies have to address them too. Thus they go through publishers to obtain the big funding.

  2. Kishmet says:

    Sounds good the problem is the masses will alway chose the brand. Even when it comes to crowd sourcing. I know lots of players who for instance genuinly enjoy Diablo 3 not neccessary because it’s awesome but because it’s a Diablo game. Same with CoD, MW, FiFa etc.
    I think t would be great for indie’s to get more room to innovate and become a forc to be reckonned with but as long as there are people to whom gaming is just a part of their past time, who don’t care about mechanics, player- dev relationships you name… basically everything that is lifted up in the blogosphere daily you will have these types of games and you will have the publishers.
    If you really want to eliminate them educate the gamers but then again do we really want that? Can’t the publishers and Indie companies co-exist? I dont know but I wish so…

    • I think your first point about brand is fascinating and spot on. I think this happens with every product on the market and I’m guilty of this myself. When I see a new, unknown brand of product I’m actually less likely to buy it even if the known brand is awful. There’s something comforting about being familiar with the devil you know.

      As to the question …so far they co-exist very uncomfortably. Their interests aren’t aligned in many cases and this makes for a really bad situation for making games.

      • Kishmet says:

        Yet if we have more titles like TL2 where indies manage to make a game the publishers could not (iin terms of how good the playerbase sees it) maybe seeing indie games could get rid of the stigma of insecure investments, as far as money goes. With the brands I know what I am going to get with indies not always…

        That would make indies what i called ” a force to be reckoned with” and the co-existance would be less uncomfortable.

        Then again this could also lead to said indie companies developping a sense of hubris and prices going up for the games as the brand name is developped.

        It all comes down to how long you can stick to your ideals I guess. The way I see it you will always have an underdog and an alpha-dog in every industry that partially saves it from stagnation due to the internal critique, which is good. I merely hope the co-existence of those factions needed not be so hostile, but more co-operative.

  3. Brian Green says:

    I’ve written other places that I would have liked to see Kickstarter be a place for a scrappy indie to fund a game that would have no possibility of being funded otherwise. The new era of big names drawing big bucks means that the little guys will get drowned out. We’re also seeing the start of people worried about projects not being completed; this will push people toward the names they recognize, attributing “trustworthiness” to a familiar name.

    The other problem is that throughout the history of the game industry, whenever you have had a gatekeeper they have always, ALWAYS worked to take more out of the process for themselves. It started with the publishers; at one point EA’s marketing focused on how awesome their developers were. Now they’re the emblem of everything wrong with the game industry. During the casual downloadable game boom, portals were formed to help developers defray marketing costs but having a one-stop site for new games. Eventually the portals squeezed more and more out of the developers. (This is a great look at that process: http://trac.bookofhook.com/bookofhook/trac.cgi/wiki/PyrogonPostmortem ) In the more recent era of social network games, we saw Facebook put the squeeze on games by requiring them to use Facebook Credits for a period. Facebook dropped that as it was obvious to them that even they were squeezing the remaining life out of the remaining developers.

    So, why would Kickstarter be any different? As the attention of games increases, we’ll see Kickstarter become just another gatekeeper. It might take a bit longer since games are only part of what they do. But, of the 11 campaigns that went over $1M this year, 7 were games. And, as the scrutiny about failed projects becomes more intense, we might see a lot more restrictions and regulations and costs being piled on top so that KS can cover themselves.

    So, enjoy it while it lasts. History shows that it won’t last forever.