January 10, 2013 4:00 PM | Staff
The "scene" that envelops indie games has grown exponentially, as players are finding more freeware, browser, and commercial games than ever before. Accompanying the marketing, releasing, and making of such games naturally were bold steps and missteps.
Thanks to the mostly transparent nature of indie development, there is much more to learn than what used to stay behind heavily ironclad doors.
This feature takes a look at some of the most meaningful events in 2012 and reflects on their impact on indie games and developers, including bundles, Steam and IGF changes, Pirate Kart, and piracy.
Pirate Kart at GDC
This particular Pirate Kart involves 378 developers creating 1,005 games to showcase at GDC 2012 in the GDC Play area. The organizers at Glorious Trainwrecks decided to hold a jam to make the games and successfully ran a Kickstarter to fund event space at GDC. Games were constantly added to the display, even during the GDC event.
But one game out of a 1,005, Terry Cavanagh's original Hexagon was part of the collection. Something about the game convinced its creator to work on Super Hexagon, which has just been nominated for IGF 2013 and made several GOTY lists. The moral for me: keep jamming/prototyping and refine those innovative concepts. - John
Many devs haven't been happy with sales on PlayStation, Xbox 360, Wii, DS -- closed curated models don't necessarily breed success. But this thing called free-to-play in mobile and PC games sure sounded promising! In other words, maybe inviting people over for some tea (for free) might work. However, developers can't forget to charge them for the sugar, milk, and snacks! All those extras also have to be clear, easily navigable and important to the overall experience, lest you end up with a huge install base and no in-game or in-app purchase profits.
This topic mourns the efforts of otherwise great indie titles Gasketball and Punchquest in particular, but surely there are more efforts that fell victim to free-to-play's attractiveness. It just goes to show: don't just a business model (or a curated platform, foretelling 2013's flood of hardware) by its cover. - John
Indie Game: The Movie starts a dialogue
Movies based on video games have historically bombed. Hard. Even though Indie Game: The Movie was a documentary, it no doubt had to fight several such stigmas as it made its debut in 2012. And what a debut it has had, winning awards from Sundance and South by Southwest and making "best of" lists such as Rotten Tomatoes, Indie Wire, Crave Online, and Slash Film.
While IG:TM can appear to have a very narrow look at indie games, since it essentially follows the developers of three well-received 2D platformers for XBLA (and later PC), it does something more important: it connects through film us with the games industry in a way that print media just can't. And through all the movie press exposure, it's enlightened outsiders to a part of what indie games are about.
For the future, I'm looking to Us and the Game Industry, future projects from Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, and others skilled in film to explore all areas of indie games and show what it's like to develop for free or have no commercial success. Bring me the story of the guy blurred out in the Phil Fish story arc, the studios that clone and those that are affected by clones. It's all there, and if it's all really "indie," it should be pretty transparent, right? - John
Following the phenomenal success of the Humble Bundle, bundles seem to be everywhere these days. This is something rather brilliant for gamers and potentially great for developers. Gamers, you see, get to grab some generally well-curated games for ridiculously low prices and less known developers have the chance to show off their creations to a wider audience while simultaneously making some money. Also, older games get a second chance and niche ideas get a chance at exposure.
On the other hand, despite all sorts of novel takes on the bundle theme, there have been more than a few hiccups (from the drama and accusations surrounding the closure of the Indie Face Kick bundle to Humble's non-indie THQ bundle). The dreaded bundle fatigue also seems to be setting in as more and more bundles are being made available sporting even more games at even smaller intervals. 2012 was indeed the year of the bundle, but it will be 2013 that will decide its future. - Gnome
Steam adds Greenlight
Steam Greenlight, Steam's answer to the hundreds (if not thousands) of indie game submissions to the service, has definitely changed the way indies have to market their games, while simultaneously offering a (slim) chance at mainstream success. Sadly though, it seems Greenlight still hasn't reached its full potential.
Not only do developers have to gamble $100 in order to submit their work just to have a stab at attracting a wider audience, but the platform seems to be suited for more generic, already known games, thus making it difficult for the more unique, more experimental and wilder games to achieve success. That $100 appears crucial when the rent's due even if some devs offer to help offset the cost.
Then again, Valve is known for eventually getting things right, which means we can always hope they at least improve Greenlight. Oh, and let us not forget that there's always the DRM-free avenue or, even better, a purely indie-run outlet. - Gnome
IGF integrates mobile, adds narrative category, secures Steam deal
Yes, IndieGames is owned by UBM Tech, the company that runs GDC and IGF, but not to talk about IGF's changes would be a mistake. The competition now pits mobile games toe-to-toe with every other platform. I say that's fair, since portable and console games have been up against PC games for years. Sure, we don't see as many portable, mobile, and console game finalists, but maybe that'll even out as developers are given the proper tools to innovate and platforms open up more.
Valve has recognized the value of the innovation in IGF's nominations, extending publishing deals to main competition finalists of IGF 2013. This seems like a win for developers, being able to circumvent Greenlight fees and campaigning, and for gamers who want all their indie titles on one digital platform.
I'm curious how browser-based games such as dys4ia and free games such Vesper.5 will work and be received on the client. I'd love a daily notification to play Vesper.5 with a popup I can click and complete my move. I've been too forgetful to get more than 20-30 days in so far. Thanks to this deal struck in 2012, we get to see how Steam adapts again to indies.
Finally, with regards to adding the narrative category, it allows the IGF to showcase to a wide audience yet another area where games can mature and can tackle issues that mainstream games are not. I feel it's especially important because indies can and probably will apply narrative to genres that are typically devoid of it. There'll be missteps along the way, and I don't necessarily need narrative for all my gaming experiences, but in the end, games will be more diverse for it. Maybe, hopefully, this accolade will help bring more diversity of characters in bigger indie games, too. - John
Kickstarter has been around for quite some time now, but it was turned into the next-big-thing in gaming only after Double Fine's phenomenal success. And though things haven't always been rosy as the case of Code Hero so eloquently showcased and most people have yet to fully understand that Kickstarter (or IndieGoGo or any other crowdfunding service for that matter) isn't a pre-ordering mechanism but a way to, well, kickstart projects, crowdfunding is much more than exciting.
It's important. It is one of the very few ways available for artists to cut the middle-man out and avoid all that ignorant, managerial mumbo-jumbo that seems to be driving (mainly) mainstream gaming stale. Obviously, not all projects will succeed nor will all great artists immediately find their audience, but at least there is an alternative way of financially fueling creation. Everyone, you see, has to eat. - Gnome
Along with the traditional Global Game Jam, Ludum Dare, and other more local events, 2012 saw some crazy game jams to help indies focus on what they may be neglecting. The seven-day FPS jam worked out pretty well (Wolfire's Receiver, First Person Tutor turned into iOS title The Grading Game went commercial), though a good portion of devs forgot to use the "shooter" variable and just made some first-person perspective games. Another creative outlet was Fuck This Jam: where developers tackled genres or games that they hated.
Some developers seemed hesitant to jam for events such as those run by Kongregate and Indie Speed Run for money and prizes, though. Jamming -- creating -- for something other than creation's sake seemed sacrilege. That said, notable commercial games can be born from such rapid development (also see McPixel and Hexagon), and the community seems more at peace with that.
(While not quite a jam, TIGSource's Sports competition felt worth mentioning here, as it attempted to stimulate interest in a genre of games often neglected, too.) - John
OUYA and the indie turn of Wii U
OUYA made more than a few points, the more impressive one being that even hardware can be kickstarted, but what we here at IndieGames.com seem to find more interesting is that OUYA will be the very first indie-driven console. A system almost as open as the PC without the hoops of Sony's and Microsoft's stores, and a system that will live or die depending on the indie support it gets.
The fact that, for the first time ever, Nintendo has made its Wii U a relatively meaningful alternative for devs and indie gamers can't go unnoticed either, but only the future will tell whether consoles will manage to enjoy even bits of the vibrancy of the PC and mobile indie scene. - Gnome
Indies Pirates, McPixel and Under The Ocean
Despite facing constant financial insecurity, indie developers seem to have accepted the unavoidable reality of piracy and have even, at times, actually embraced it. Interestingly this is something that has worked out pretty well for such projects as McPixel that got featured on the incredibly popular PromoBay by PirateBay and for the Cockroach edition of Under The Ocean that earned itself quite a bit of attention.
Indie creators, after all, are human, not drones. They understand they can't battle piracy, they hate DRM and they seem to understand that equalizing piracy to proper theft is kind of ridiculous. Besides, many people that do actually pirate indie games seem to sincerely (if self-contradictory) care for them too. - Gnome
"Fez Gate" - (not limited to) Phil Fish refusing to pay Microsoft's expensive patch costs, bringing to light some steep post-release expenses on consoles. Fish also made waves proclaiming modern Japanese games "just suck," and the lead programmer left Polytron last year, too. Fez as a game, though, was great!
Steam releases Big Picture and announces Steam Box "console" - While John's hopeful for a portable/handheld device to play indies before bedtime, these are instead great attempts at getting indies in the living room!