RISE OF THE INDIE OR SMALL STUDIO DEVELOPER?

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So with the controversy and rumors that have been coming out this past decade so far concerning big companies like Nintendo, Capcom, EA, Bioware, Ubisoft, etc.

That many people have been turning away to not work with these companies considering the hard truth of what they do to their employees, and their creations (more on that).

It's been said from what little information I know of this situation that when you sign up for a big game company, and you present ideas to them that chances are you're not going to see most of that money due to the contract. This in turn has caused many would be game developers to turn to STEAM and GOG first before dealing with console gaming (in fact this is becoming more of a consistent trend nowadays). Though there are exceptions, but you have to be careful what you're signing up for.

Also there is the case that indies make doubly sure they copyright their work first because there have been cases of these video game companies trying to make false claims and such to try to get a hold of their original IP. At first I wasn't sure whether to believe that, but I've been hearing more of these cases.

This could be why so many developers we knew and love have departed away from the companies we have known for so long (though some cases are different), and why so many IPs went away along with them (though there are exceptions).

There is also a story out there that there has been less developers entering into these old video game companies and I don't blame them considering what's been going on. These days you're better off starting something on your own with your trusted friends to make it big before ever dealing with the behemoths that don't seem to have a moral compass anymore (or if they ever had one to begin with). Also as a side-effect it could be why RPG Maker as of late as gotten more popular, and attempts at making original IPs has been rising (though success is varied depending how much effort was put into it).

Don't get me wrong I don't want to see these old companies fail (except EA, EA is pure trash) but they really need to change their work culture before it starts to leave a black mark on their name.

I've been meaning to discuss this with you all, and see everyone's thoughts on it.
slash
I didn't want to wake up 40 years old and working a job that I hate.
3891
It still holds true that if you want the most possible creative freedom, going out on your own is the way to do it. However, your biggest tradeoff is obvious - a single person is limited by their own hours and magnitude of creative output.

It's not exactly a binary chart, but a one-person studio has the most potential creative control, and a 500-person studio has the largest potential game scale.

But, you're right, the advent of more powerful & especially more approachable creative tools like RPG Maker has led us to today, where it's entirely possible for a single person to make a game. It's still a massively daunting task, and for every successful team you see, there's likely 100 teams that never finish or release a project. And like I mentioned before, there are some types of games & levels of polish that are really only possible with a large, coordinated team. A solo dev trying to recreate something at FFVI's level is difficult - trying to create something at FFX's level is nigh-impossible.

It's worth noting that there are a lot of reasons people leave or avoid major studios:

1. Creative control is a huge one - it's unlikely you'll be able to pitch your dream game to a studio, and even if you do, you'll have to share your ideas with the other devs, marketers, and people who keep the lights on.

2. The mainstream game industry is also notoriously corrupt, overworking and underpaying employees. Many, many people who work in the game industry could take their skills elsewhere and make better wages, and have better benefits. It's hard to enjoy the creative process when you're sleeping in the office and working 60 hour weeks to pay the bills, or are constantly being laid off.

3. The AAA industry is also very isolated location-wise. Studios are almost always in major cities, and certain countries have a few or no studios at all.

I'm personally uninterested in working mainstream because I can save up more money working elsewhere, and then use that money to fund my own ideas & make my own games. Plus, I'd rather not spend 60 hours working, and I honestly rarely play AAA games nowadays... I don't have a ton of interest in making them.

My dream gamedev setup is to be in a small team of folks who know their craft really well (2D artist, musician, etc.) that I can totally trust to have complete control over their area of expertise, working on a project that we all believe in together.
After watching Jim Sterling's stuff for too long, my hopes for the AAA industry is not that big.
It's work, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

Slash summed it up beautifully.
I feel like the "rise of the indie" happened a couple of years ago and it was a bit of a bubble thing that happened that later burst... ish. I mean in that bubble-era or whatever back when Steam was somewhat curated and the like a dev knew they would make a bit of money if they, for example, got on Steam.

Now that the floodgates have been opened with all the trash everywhere it's a lot harder to get noticed. It's not quite as bad as the mobile market yet and I feel like it has been noticed in time so that it probably won't be as bad as the mobile market.

But there's been plenty of fairly decent indie titles that just don't really sell at all. Titles that just a couple of years ago would have sold like crazy. Basically it's no longer enough to make a new game, an indie dev have to put work into marketing it too. (and generally being small-time that's a skillset that many don't really have)

Also there is the case that indies make doubly sure they copyright their work first because there have been cases of these video game companies trying to make false claims and such to try to get a hold of their original IP. At first I wasn't sure whether to believe that, but I've been hearing more of these cases.

I don't know about this. I think you are confusing things here. It sounds like you're talking about the stuff where it's sometimes confusing as to who owns the rights to certain things and when a "creator" jumps ship off a company the stuff they created does not come with them. And through various acquisitions sometimes games are caught in a weird limbo (Noclip's GOG video has a bit about just how hard it can be to get the rights to re-release a game).

And then also the fact that companies trademark their stuff so that other people can't make copies. (or make money off fangames)

But I haven't heard of a single instance where a bigger company would have just stolen someone else's work claiming the rights belonged to them.


There was a time when we had a bunch of mid-tier publishers. Back when indies couldn't make boxed copies and boxed copies were all we had. Most of these went away like ten years ago but I have a feeling it's these that are rising from the dead. There are smaller publishers that take under their wing indie devs and make sure the word of their games get out there. Paradox is the one that survived the collapse of the mid-tier. But Devolver Digital is one that comes to my mind immediately. But I have no doubt there are also others who have a kind of "brand" and try to release indie titles through that and get it to actual people that way.


I don't have much to say about the big companies. They make their money and occasionally they even make okay games. There's nothing wrong with a UbiOpenWorld game. I mean I know exactly what I get whenever I buy one of those so it's pretty safe.
author=slash
2. The mainstream game industry is also notoriously corrupt, overworking and underpaying employees. Many, many people who work in the game industry could take their skills elsewhere and make better wages, and have better benefits. It's hard to enjoy the creative process when you're sleeping in the office and working 60 hour weeks to pay the bills, or are constantly being laid off.



I once heard that game developers make decent salaries, but when you look at the hours they work they earn less than CostCo employees.

On the main topic, I said this to a friend a couple of years ago: In the middle ages, writing a book was difficult and expensive. Nowadays, anybody with a functioning computer can write a book the size of War & Peace if they set their minds to it. Maybe tools like RPG Maker, game maker, etc and more people are becoming computer-literate is causing a similar situation.
Sooz
What if posting was like Mario jumping on a goomba
4225
Indies are fantastic, but they come with a lot of troubles:

-Less budget means lower salary, no benefits, less access to high-end tools. Also, less time to spend on a game, since most indies need to keep their day jobs.

-Fewer staff, so you're on your own with everything from central game makers to admin to QA and marketing. As a creative, I've personally seen how much time and energy can be saved by getting someone else to do the non-creative business end, and it's invaluable. Most indies simply can't afford that.

-Absolutely, ludicrously flooded market, which means that without the money and connections for a big marketing push, you run the risk of never finding an audience, just because there are too many games for anyone to find you.

-Audiences expect AAA quality at indie prices from small studios.

-If you're not coding-gifted and use an engine geared toward you, good luck getting any attention, because a good chunk of the audience just says, "Pff, that can't be good!" and walks away.

As a player, I'm really happy about the rise of indie games, because the big studios have decided that they're only happy with making a bunch of samey blockbusters, rather than the mid-tier variety that I enjoyed growing up. But right now it's a pretty thankless job to make the indie games unless you're incredibly lucky.
The rise of the indie is well and truly over. Theres too many games, too many GREAT games even, and people dont have the time or money or play them all. Its only going to get worse over time as the barrier to entry is lowered.
Sooz
What if posting was like Mario jumping on a goomba
4225
author=visitorsfromdreams
Its only going to get worse over time as the barrier to entry is lowered.


Not necessarily. There's an opportunity for new platforms with heavier filtering, as well as curated lists. It's not great, but there are opportunities for improvement still, IMO.
Illy
Professional Amateur
3398
author=slash
My dream gamedev setup is to be in a small team of folks who know their craft really well (2D artist, musician, etc.) that I can totally trust to have complete control over their area of expertise, working on a project that we all believe in together.


100% This. I have the same aspirations myself.
slash
I didn't want to wake up 40 years old and working a job that I hate.
3891
Yea, Sooz summed up the indie development risks really well. Indie is romantic and appealing, but there's a lot more stability in a studio job.

With regards to the "indie bubble" popping, I think it's closer to a gold rush that's winding down. The huge surge of indie games in 2008-2012 brought in indie games that saw massive success and made millions - Braid, World of Goo, Super Meat Boy. However, these were the first of their kind, moving from the free Flash scene and breaking into a new market of small, affordable, but well-made and super-polished games. They had the advantage of being the first and only ones on the scene. Games during this time could get away with little marketing and even good-sized flaws because there was little competition.

Nowadays, as tools improve rapidly and the development space becomes more accessible, making an indie game is easier than ever, and people have realized that it can be a sustainable business model. So, we've slowly settled into a space where making an indie game can be profitable, but it takes some time and a lot more work than it did before, and the results aren't as astronomic. I think that's okay! But it would be preferable to reach a point where indie game dev wasn't so obscenely risky.

If I had to postulate based on what I've read and heard, these are just a few of the problems making indie dev difficult:

1. The frequency and expectation for hyper-sales (Steam Summer Sale, Humble Bundle) creates a consumer expectation that an indie game is rarely worth more than $5 or $10, so devs are often pushed to selling their games at an unsustainable margin.

2. The few online game retailers (Steam is the big one) have monopolistic control and so have the ability to demand high cuts (the going rate has been 30% for a long time) although some newcomers like itch.io are shaking things up. This cut, alongside publisher cuts and many other little finances, adds up when you're not making million-dollar games.

3. The idea that game development is a labor of love and that devs don't need to pay bills still exists (as it does in most creative fields) and that's shared in the mainstream AAA industry as well. This can lead to consumers believing higher-than-cheap prices aren't justified.

4. There's a lot of untraveled ground in the indie space that needs to be figured out - especially marketing. I think the rush of 2008 or so gave the impression that a really well-made game would simply sell itself, and that doesn't fly nowadays. How to manage the whole process, from creation to sales to support, is something many indies are learning and the ones that figure it out are typically seeing positive results.

The doomsaying around the death of the indie scene is overwrought, for sure. I'm hopeful for the future of smaller games and I believe the scene will grow and continue finding space amongst the superstar titles. It'll never die, that's for sure - there will always be people determined to create, no matter what.
kentona
tired of toothy mimics. i want a mimic to just fucking deck me
20442
author=Shinan
But I haven't heard of a single instance where a bigger company would have just stolen someone else's work claiming the rights belonged to them.


Ever hear of King.com?

https://kotaku.com/candy-crush-saga-is-ripping-me-off-says-indie-develope-1521728191

Anywho, I am hoping that there is still a slice of the pie leftover for me once I dive in.
author=kentona
author=Shinan
But I haven't heard of a single instance where a bigger company would have just stolen someone else's work claiming the rights belonged to them.
Ever hear of King.com?

https://kotaku.com/candy-crush-saga-is-ripping-me-off-says-indie-develope-1521728191

I forgot about those. But this is more like the whole clones thing. Where everyone and their grandmother makes clones of something else. With barely enough difference to make it not infringing on copyrights (or trademarks).

Since you can't copyright game mechanics.
who has time to play indie games when everyones playing mmos, mobas and battle royales
The Switch was looking like it was going to become a good home for indies but now Nintendo has said they want 30 - 40 indie games released on the store front a week. Ehhhhhhhhh...
My thought on it is that while the game industry is saturated by games of varying quality (from indie titles to big budget titles), there's no attempts to find a good middle ground. There's already indie developers on the rise, but my concerns for independent development is there's not a lot of that business drive to get the game done and marketed. Sure, one has a lot of creative control for whatever game one wants to make, but if the end goal is to create the game you want AND NOT profit at all, then don't be disappointed that the market says otherwise. Also the big businesses that creates the big titles that the market knows and loves is the whole "playing it safe" route from those big businesses. If people are criticizing those big companies for playing it safe, then criticize the developers who make those games and the demographic that keeps buying those games. That's the reason why those big companies still stand...they realize that the market is not too fond of change, and if they are then it harks back to what they're familiar with.
author=vigaman
My thought on it is that while the game industry is saturated by games of varying quality (from indie titles to big budget titles), there's no attempts to find a good middle ground. There's already indie developers on the rise, but my concerns for independent development is there's not a lot of that business drive to get the game done and marketed. Sure, one has a lot of creative control for whatever game one wants to make, but if the end goal is to create the game you want AND NOT profit at all, then don't be disappointed that the market says otherwise. Also the big businesses that creates the big titles that the market knows and loves is the whole "playing it safe" route from those big businesses. If people are criticizing those big companies for playing it safe, then criticize the developers who make those games and the demographic that keeps buying those games. That's the reason why those big companies still stand...they realize that the market is not too fond of change, and if they are then it harks back to what they're familiar with.

I've had to make peace with the likelihood that I will never profit off my creations, assuming anyone but me even plays them and I'm fairly certain no one but me will even like them. If I didn't, I would've given up already and I've only got a design document and some sprites.

Game development and fiction writing are not get-rich-quick schemes. Some people don't get that.

And what really doesn't help you guys that actually put forth honest effort to sell your creations (I wish you the best of luck) is the mountains of half-assed asset flips all over the place now. And now we've even got crypto-mining malware disguised as games popping up.
Illy
Professional Amateur
3398
author=bicfarmer
who has time to play indie games when everyones playing mmos, mobas and battle royales


Sooz
What if posting was like Mario jumping on a goomba
4225
author=vigaman
My thought on it is that while the game industry is saturated by games of varying quality (from indie titles to big budget titles), there's no attempts to find a good middle ground. There's already indie developers on the rise, but my concerns for independent development is there's not a lot of that business drive to get the game done and marketed.


I think it's more that most creators just aren't business people, so they don't really KNOW how to market and sell a product. (And learning to do so takes away from time and energy that could be spent on creating.) It's definitely a set of skills far apart from the kind needed to code, make graphics, compose, and write.

Also the big businesses that creates the big titles that the market knows and loves is the whole "playing it safe" route from those big businesses. If people are criticizing those big companies for playing it safe, then criticize the developers who make those games and the demographic that keeps buying those games. That's the reason why those big companies still stand...they realize that the market is not too fond of change, and if they are then it harks back to what they're familiar with.


Honestly, no, the big companies aren't doing that great. The reason they still stand has more to do with accounting wizardry and income from unrelated products keeping them going (not to mention severe employee abuse!), rather than actual profits. Not that they're circling the drain, but they're not titans of knowing the industry, they're just the only game in town for most people.

Time and again, AAA have focused on a single game style and ignored everything else, because it's easier and cheaper to market a shiny blockbuster than a mid-level niche game, despite the fact that the niche games will sell reliably, just at lower levels.

If someone can manage a good market, indie games stand to do very well in that niche market. It just requires actual human curation to filter out the utter bullshit, which is unpopular because companies are deathly allergic to paying money to anyone who isn't a shareholder.
slash
I didn't want to wake up 40 years old and working a job that I hate.
3891
I actually kind of like the industry practice of tentpoling your studio with your huge AAA franchise, and using the profits from that to experiment on the side.

A lot of studios will use this money to fund their own offshoot studios and small in-house that serve as AA studios. Or, they'll use the money to act as a publisher to collaborate with smaller teams. This allows them to have a hand in more groundbreaking or experimental games, without risking the millions that come with massive AAA titles. Square Enix is a great example of a studio that does this, publishing games like NieR: Automata and Life Is Strange and seeing success with those titles while still being carried by Final Fantasy and other mainline franchises.

As far as indies markets go... yea, the discovery problem is a big one, now. I don't know how it'll get solved. It's really hard to break out of the idea that Steam is the only way to buy & play computer games today. Maybe it'll be new indie-friendly stores like itch.io? Maybe the indies that stand out will be the ones that know how to market? Maybe it'll be an overhaul of game reviews & games journalism? There's still a lot of undiscovered paths, I think.
author=Bluefeathr42
I've had to make peace with the likelihood that I will never profit off my creations, assuming anyone but me even plays them and I'm fairly certain no one but me will even like them. If I didn't, I would've given up already and I've only got a design document and some sprites.


I say just be realistic with your end goal. You can be still be at peace since you created a game that you and others can enjoy. You have to look at yourself first to see what demographic you want to impress.

author=Bluefeathr42
Game development and fiction writing are not get-rich-quick schemes. Some people don't get that.


Agreed. It's all hard work with the hope of getting someone to play your game.

author=Bluefeathr42
And what really doesn't help you guys that actually put forth honest effort to sell your creations (I wish you the best of luck) is the mountains of half-assed asset flips all over the place now. And now we've even got crypto-mining malware disguised as games popping up.


Thanks for the heads up. I hope that crypto-mining malware disguised as games won't be a huge set back.


author=Sooz
I think it's more that most creators just aren't business people, so they don't really KNOW how to market and sell a product. (And learning to do so takes away from time and energy that could be spent on creating.) It's definitely a set of skills far apart from the kind needed to code, make graphics, compose, and write.


Yeah, marketing a product/service is also a very arduous task. I have it where if I feel like I have enough content on my project to be considered a 'demo' then I'll be making devlogs, which I feel is a 'marketing on no budget'.

author=Sooz
Honestly, no, the big companies aren't doing that great. The reason they still stand has more to do with accounting wizardry and income from unrelated products keeping them going (not to mention severe employee abuse!), rather than actual profits. Not that they're circling the drain, but they're not titans of knowing the industry, they're just the only game in town for most people.


Yeah, it's pretty much royalties from other things such as merchandise and licenses to other IPs that's keeping the big companies afloat. I want to be in that position, though I don't want to abuse the employees who helped develop the games.

author=Sooz
Time and again, AAA have focused on a single game style and ignored everything else, because it's easier and cheaper to market a shiny blockbuster than a mid-level niche game, despite the fact that the niche games will sell reliably, just at lower levels.


Yep...business as usual.

author=Sooz
If someone can manage a good market, indie games stand to do very well in that niche market. It just requires actual human curation to filter out the utter bullshit, which is unpopular because companies are deathly allergic to paying money to anyone who isn't a shareholder.


I rather have it that the market knows what goes into developing games...it's not always a 'fun' job to develop games. But eh, indie or big business, it'll be nice to see a business that takes care of it's developers and considers what the market wants.
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