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What Was the Greatest Age For Indie Games? 92

jonyami writes: "Indie games have existed for as long as there's been something to play and something to play it on. From the humble Apple II to modern PCs, Xbox Live Arcade and the Kickstarter revolution, just what was the greatest age for indie games? A new article takes a look at the various eras, the top indie games and the future — which one do you reckon is on top?"
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What Was the Greatest Age For Indie Games?

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  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:33AM (#46937697)
    Never before have documentation and good tools been so available to even indie developers.

    Never before has it been so easy to actually earn money with indie game development.

    And things might be getting even better.

    • by bluescrn ( 2120492 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @06:52AM (#46937781)
      But 'right now' is possibly the hardest that it's ever been to *make money* from indie development - simply because there's so many people making games (due to much-improved tools), it's incredibly hard to get noticed, and the bulk of the media attention goes to the already-successful 'super-indies'.

      And even with all the digital distribution options out there, there are new all-powerful middlemen controlling what has a chance of real success - Steam, Humble, Apple (featured content), etc

      Personally, I loved the 90s, when the technology was really exciting and evolving fast. The indie boom of the late 2000s was cool too, but now we seem to be facing oversaturation and race-to-the-bottom pricing (even beyond mobile).
      • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @08:02AM (#46938133) Homepage

        "make money" as in become rock star rich? yes, and That is a good thing. Sorry to burst people's bubbles but programming and game development is not the lottery, you dont get a big payout.

        Make money as in cover your costs and turn a modest profit? that is more reasonable, and if these Indie people are going into business without a business plan and fully researching the market as well as costs and other financials as well as research as to their lower price to sell at as well as what price that will not scare people away from their game.

        If you are an indie company and think you ca get $60 for your game you are insane, $16.00 to $29.00 for a professional quality game (as in better than the buggy untested crap from bioware) is easily achieved as can be seen by the success of a lot of indie games out there.

        But if a developer thinks they will get rich or start living the 6 digit income levels? They need to stop now and work on something else, as they have zero clue as what it's like to sell software let alone games.

        • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @09:26AM (#46938825) Homepage
          6 digit income levels? $100,000 a year is a 6 digit income. That's not a huge amount of income to ask for as a developer. Then again $500,000 is also a 6 digit income, but that's actually a large amount of money to be making.

          Personally, I think that game programming is like the lottery. Notch basically won the lottery with Minecraft. There's nothing particularly amazing about the game, but for some reason, it caught on, and now he's rich. It's hard to pin down what makes one game sell millions, while other games struggle to sell in the thousands.
          • by Agares ( 1890982 )
            You are right that the game has a basic concept, but I think that can sometimes work in your favor. My brother and I love minecraft since it lets us use our imaginations, and that is in my opinion a good selling point for the game. Not only that, but is it cheap and the replay value is enormous.
          • by Githaron ( 2462596 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @10:33AM (#46939565)
            While I don't know what made Minecraft initially popular, I think its prolonged success was a happy accident. Notch decided to write the Minecraft client and server in Java which is a relatively easy to decompile language. This encourage a few hacker types to make their own mods. This eventually evolved into third-party mod APIs like Bukkit and Forge which further encouraged third-party content. I don't know what the percentages are but I would guess there is a lot more people playing modded Minecraft than vanilla Minecraft. Since there is not an official modding API, I don't think Minecraft would be nearly as popular today if it had been written in C or C++ because there would much less likely be such a rich modding community for the game.
            • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

              Minecraft fills a much neglected niche. While everyone was chasing the popular paradigms, Minecraft came in, borrowed from a half-there game and took it into a realm of creative construction not provided by the much-more rigid on-rails environment of the mainstream games. Doors open, walls can be destroyed. Death is a PITA and doesn't just take you back to the previous checkpoint.

            • To me, Minecraft is a very dull game. Mining out raw materials, and combining them to make tools and then manufactured goods, in order that you have shelter before nightfall and don't starve. And all played in a randomly generated, rather than designed environment.

              Dull, dull, dull.

              Where Minecraft seems to have become popular is as a toy. A construction set somewhat like a virtual lego set. And that does indeed seem to be a happy accident.

        • by Kjella ( 173770 )

          "make money" as in become rock star rich? yes, and That is a good thing. Sorry to burst people's bubbles but programming and game development is not the lottery, you dont get a big payout.

          The guy who invented Wordfeud - real one-man shop stopped looking at his bank account when it increased with more than 100k NOK = almost $20k USD/day, last year he turned a 25 MNOK = $4-5 million USD profit. Of course he's one in a million but the exceptions are there.

      • by Tronster ( 25566 )

        History disagrees with the sentiment that it was easier to "make money" as an indie in the 1980s, or 1990s than today....

        In the 1980s the distribution channels were being established which meant either you scored a deal with a bricks and mortar retail store, such as Sears, Babbages or Toy's R Us, or you ziplock bagged your PC game and tried to sell them at swap meets and computer stores.

        In the 1990s there were more direct retailers and amalgamations of bricks and mortar stores occurred. The shareware model

      • I miss the arcade in the late 70s first 80s. The whole assortment of electronic games, pinball, mechanical games, mechanical-electronic hybrids... If it reopened as a museum it would blow kid's minds.

        But then, the kids would return home, look at the freshly-acquired-with-parents'-blood PS4 and think: "meh", so maybe those things are better forgotten.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Absolutely! Shadowrun Returns, Kerbal Space program, etc... The indie games scene is starting to overtake the "AAA" games in quality and enjoyment.

      • by thue ( 121682 )


        • I don't know about that one. I've been playing Minecraft for some time (since about 1.2.5, I think) and precious little has come out of Mojang that has improved it much. They finally fixed the lava flow problem, and occasionally add something cool (Redstone update in 1.5.0, e.g.), but I think that without the extremely rich mod community, which has little to thank the Devs for, Minecraft would have foundered a long time ago.

          • I think this is what is missing from most games now. The ability to create mods. When I think about the really popular games of the past, many allowed them to be expanded, or could be expanded, which was part of what made them so popular. Things like Barney Doom, or the grappling hook in Quake 2 just added a whole extra level of playability. Minecraft should really embrace the mod community more than it does. Perhaps by having "officially" vetted mods, that are easy to download and install. I don't play
            • A suggestion: Grab one of the launchers. I use the Technic launcher most of the time. You can play any of the "official" modpacks with a click, or add the "unofficial" community packs right into it with minimal effort, and you don't have to worry about scummy click through sites, etc...

              That's the only real issue I have with some of the MC mod community: way too in love with adfly, and way to possessive of "their" code which, in most cases, could be shutdown by Mojang in a minute if they decided to go full s

    • I can still play most of the indie games of yesteryear, and there's more new ones coming out all the time. More and more of them are free to play, or are included for a song with a humble bundle.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      ever before have documentation and good tools been so available to even indie developers.
      Never before has it been so easy to actually earn money with indie game development.

      And things might be getting even better.

      I agree - now is probably amongst the most fertile time for indie developers. There are tons of platforms to choose from, even ones that were previously hostile to indie development are fairly open now.

      It used to be you could only do it on the PC. But Apple opened it up on mobile (previously it was

  • Doom was "Indie". Command and Conquer was "Indie". Hell, compared to the modern AAA teams large enough to fill a city church, Super Mario World was "Indie".

    The difference between 1 guy in a bedroom making an ephemeral App, and 10-20 people in an office a timeless classic does not give the right to the former to be lauded as either innovative, avant-garde, or somehow good for the industry. Contemporary "Indie" developers are just as much of a cancer on modern gaming as AAA kilo-teams.

    • Yeah, indie is a 'state of mind' now rather than just meaning "not made by a pocket developer of a publisher."
  • I direct your attention to Chris Roberts' "Star Citizen" which has so far raised north of $43million purely from crowdfunding.
    (Roberts was the mastermind behind the "Wing Commander" series.)
    • Star Citizen is a prime example of the difference between industry alumni and what others might call "true indie" developers.* Apparently to succeed in indie games, you have to first move away and work for an established company. In the case of Chris Roberts, this involved relocating near Origin Systems and climbing its ranks.

      * I'm aware that "true indie" invites comparisons to the "no true Scotsman" fallacy. But what's a better term for someone who builds a reputation without having relocated to work fo

  • Michael Orwin's Fungaloids for the ZX81... []
  • For "Easy access to the market" I'd say it was the 8-bit era, since all you had to have was an 8-bit computer, record your software on a tape and go to any tape printing facility with your "master".

    For money I'd say it was the early iOS era, since Apple made nearly as easy and open as the 8-bit era to access iOS, and the market was not as fully crammed of competition as it has become later.

    The 90's were already too difficult, hardware was a rapidly moving target (if you came from Amiga or the Atari ST i

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      For "Easy access to the market" I'd say it was the 8-bit era, since all you had to have was an 8-bit computer, record your software on a tape and go to any tape printing facility with your "master".

      That was fine prior to 1986. But then Nintendo introduced the NES that quickly displaced 8-bit home computers and ushered in decades of console industry policies against small developers.

    • go to any tape printing facility with your "master".

      Often not even that. I was familiar with one of the well known UK 8-bit games publishers, and they had a box converting one DIN plug into 10, such that with 10 standard cassette recorders they could produce 10 game tapes from one SAVE command.

  • by SuperDre ( 982372 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @07:27AM (#46937933) Homepage
    The 80's were great as it was easy to create games as a single person (no need for a real graphics artist for a long time).. And Now because of the easiness of how people can find your game, but it requires more people to actually produce something top quality looking..
    • I wouldn't say right now, though I'd definitely agree with the 80s. Back then, indie games (I'm reminded of the awesome Ghostbusters game on my C64 - Activision was still a little indie studio in '84) were about on par with what you could expect from the market as a whole.

      Not really the case today. Even the "great" indie games of today (Fez, Bastion, etc..) are generations behind in gameplay.

      IMO, they just seem great because the AAA scene of today is utterly fucked.

      • Activision was still a little indie studio in '84

        Activision? Indie in 1984? No fucking way. They were already a big name then thanks to all their 2600 titles.

        • They had a big library, but they didn't have the kind of clout back then. It was pretty much the opposite of the current situation: the first party devs were the ones with all the juice who liked to borg up developers.

  • I've been around, playing games at least, since the early 1980s. If by indie you mean `1 or 2 or 3 people making a living from writing and selling their games with more or less complete independence from bean counters and trend-mongers` then the answer has to be around then, up to around 1994 or so when powerful consoles took off, and the visual side of things was treated as more important (3d, video fmv, cd audio)...basically when it was seen that there was a lot of money to be made appealing to non-trad

    • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

      You're definitely right. We're starting to see a resurgence in creativity. App stores and easy access to engines is surely part of that.

  • I'd say my greatest age for indie games was 23. I hadn't started grad school yet and was working part-tme as a bartender and playing in a band, so I had lots of time on my hands for playing indie games.

  • Apparently in this timeline, the world went from the Apple II to PCs, with nothing in between.

  • by Fnord ( 1756 ) <> on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @08:16AM (#46938229) Homepage

    Early 90s shareware was very different from late 90s and early 2000s mods. A bunch of eventually AAA titles and studios spawned out of mods for existing games. Things like Counter Strike, Team Fortress, the original DOTA. I'd put that in a completely different Era from the console scene and the shareware scene.

    • Makes you wonder if that would still have been the case were Valve not around.
      • by Fnord ( 1756 )

        But it wasn't just Valve. TF was a Quake 1 mod. DOTA was a warcraft 3 mod. I also remember playing Urban Terror on Quake 3. Also tons of Neverwinter Nights mods. But yeah, Halflife mods were really influential. We had Counterstrike, Natural Selection, Day of Defeat.

  • As a developer ? 5 years ago when you could easily breach out. As a gamer ? Today with the wide choice of quality indy game.
  • by Tronster ( 25566 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @08:44AM (#46938435) Homepage

    What constitutes indie is one questions (and AAA is even harder to come to a consensus, even among my work peers) but that said...

    As a child of the 80's, who adamantly played video games (e.g., Apple ][, arcade, 2600, NES, etc...) and got into professional game development over 10 years ago (I work for a AAA studio and my have my own gig for nights/weekends) I'd agree with those who say now, 2014, is the best time for indie game development.

    Powerful engines and Middleware tools are accessible with licenses that fit indie budgets (e.g., Unity3d, Unreal4, etc...) as well as a swatch of free software for development. (e.g. Phaser: [] Blender [] Love [] Flixel [] Haxe [] )

    The internet, as-is, provides indies with a way for
    - distance-collaboration (Skype, E-mail, Groups, etc...)
    - community building (Twitter, CMSs, Facebook, etc...)
    - fundraising (IndieGogo, Kickstarter, HumbleBundle, Paypal, custom web-based donation system, etc...)
    - advertising (game communities, news outlets, etc...)

    Organizations, such as the International Game Developer's Association (IGDA, [] ) and events like the Global Game Jam, PAX (IndieMegabooth), and MAGFest also contribute to the community of indie game developers.

    It is a great time to be an indie game developer in terms of accessibility and ability to achieve a sustainable income.

  • Can't post. Playing Dota 2 in a coffee shop

  • by crossmr ( 957846 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @09:41AM (#46939005) Journal

    Say what you will about all the access devs have now, but it was that time when things were greatest.

    People were still experimenting. Not just with concepts but core mechanics. Interfaces, everything. It was the wild west.

    People weren't yet dumbing things down to make them more "Accessible", when you got a game there wasn't going to be another one in 5 minutes. The internet wasn't everywhere. People still had slow connections when it came around. You read magazines, hunted for games and traded with friends.

    The early days were really the best for the entirety of computing. Sure, things are flashy, we have such powerful machines now. Those were the days of great games and great indie games.

    • by Tronster ( 25566 )

      tl;dr: Accessibility has always been a concern and, there is more innovation happening today than 30 years ago.

      I also miss the (video game) days of my youth; learning about games from friends, or by going to an arcade and seeing what new machine was front and center...later making ANSII ads for BBS's so I could obtain a high enough credentials to get access to their warez section and learn about the latest games.

      That said, I chock my emotions of those days as nostalgia and recognize an indie in the 80's/90'

    • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

      when you got a game there wasn't going to be another one in 5 minutes.

      When you could fit a dozen games on a C60, there often, literally was. :)

  • I'm interested in what was going on 2006-2010 when games were being released as art. Small indie games with floating glowing objects, very non traditional game play, beautiful surreal aesthetics. I can't think of a single reference. Can anyone point me in the right direction?
  • by ThatsDrDangerToYou ( 3480047 ) on Wednesday May 07, 2014 @10:11AM (#46939331)
    I always sucked at FPS games. OK, I'm gonna cast my spell of Getting Back to Work now. Good thing I'm wearing my +2 gloves of typing..
  • At least, it was the turning point. It was a great engine, with decent (albeit buggy) tools. As it grew, and modders became more and more ambitious, you began to see some really unique full games (originally called "TCs" or "Total Conversions").

  • Back before the interne, I remember going to little stores packed with thousands of disks ranging from 99 cents to maybe 3.99 of programs and games from indy developers. Some games were free, you just bought the disk and some you cost a bit more. Most of the time the games were pretty bad, if they even worked, but now and then you came across some pretty good ones. At worst, if you didnt like the program, just delete it and you now had an new blank floppy disk.
  • Plenty of rocks, sticks and pebbles for everyone's game.

  • The best age was before there were even "indie" games and no one had invented the silly word. All developers then were independent of each other and there were no mega game corporations. Even EA used to be "indie".

    Seriously, if someone asks a question on slashdot it would help if they define what the terms mean, such as what "indie" means with implications that it is better in creativity but lacking in resources or other political baggage.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"