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Indie Game Developers Talk About Why They Struck Out On Their Own 49

Nerval's Lobster (2598977) writes Technology writer Jon Brodkin sat down with a group of indie game developers (as well as a professor at the University of Southern California's game-design program) to talk about why they decided to launch their own small studios rather than stick with comfortable (albeit stressful) jobs at major firms like Disney or Zynga. The answer, as you'd expect, boils down to control. "Working for a bigger company is a good way to gain experience, and learn how games are made," said Graham Smith, one of the co-founders of Toronto-based DrinkBox Studios. "It's also nice to have a steady salary coming in as you learn the ropes. On the flip side, depending on the company, you might not have much control over the game's design, or even be making the types of games that you enjoy playing." But startups come with their own challenges, not the least of which is the prospect of an economic downturn quickly wiping you out, or not making your Kickstarter goal.
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Indie Game Developers Talk About Why They Struck Out On Their Own

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  • by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2014 @12:34PM (#47408037)
    While attending Apple's WWDC a couple years back and looking around during the lunch break, I noticed indie devs looking at the corp devs with envy, lamenting how great it must be working for a big company with all those perks, resources, tight social connections, regular paychecks, etc.

    Listening to the corp devs, they were all eyeing the indies, jealous of the perceived freedoms to set their own project priorities and schedules while eft alone to focus on whatever they liked at a given point in time.
    • I'm pretty sure what everyone actually wants is to be a successful indie dev, like Notch.

      It's not hard to recognize that video games is an overcrowded field, and jumping into it, on either "side", isn't an economically smart decision, but people choose to become artists and musicians too, because it's their dream. Some are going to succeed, even.

      • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2014 @01:22PM (#47408423)

        I'm pretty sure everyone DOES want to be a successful indie dev like notch... the problem is the chances of that happening are pretty slim. I don't do "games" so I'm not really in that boat, but I am a musician however. I'm damn good to. The problem isn't that you're not good enough, or don't put in enough time... there are plenty of people that are very smart, very creative, and put in enormous amounts of time. What has to happen is that what you are interested in and doing has to, completely by random, end up being the "Thing" one year.

        How many silly puzzle games were there before Tetris took off? It wasn't that tetris found some magical formula that, if discovered a few years earlier would have gotten just as huge. It's the combination of the programers skill, the design of the game, the hardware coming out at the right time and most importantly, the publics fickle interests just so happened to swing in the right direction at the same time that game came out.

        In music, if you were a Banjo player in the 80s and 90s, you'd be hard pressed to find work. Fast forward to todays music sceen and even pop starts are featuring Banjo in the background... who'd have thunk it. How are you supposed to prepare for something like that? It takes 10yrs to get good at an instrument. But the time you do, public interest has shifted.

        Luck is the most important part of commercially successful art. As such, being an independent is very risky.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          If your definition of success if only to be ridiculously wealthy, then sure. Otherwise, in my experience the main predictors of success after having some competence at the task -- whether app development or music -- is the ability to promote, and to adapt your promotion and your business model (but not necessarily your game or music) to the market. I have plenty of friends who are wholly dependent on themselves for their living -- musicians, authors, journalists, indie app developers -- and all of them are

          • Ironically you're kind of proving my point.

            Your idea of what's "trendy" is simply wrong. Trendy = Sales. So if one persons playing what you think is trendy and not making money and the other is playing something that you think isn't trendy but is making money, the markets move and you just don't realize it yet. Which is part of the problem. It's really really really hard to figure out where the trends are. Who would have thought speed metal would take off in the late 80s? and then die overnight when Nirvana

      • Some people choose to become artists, musicians and even game developers because they like art, music, and games. Unfortunately, a sizeable number of them in all categories lack the talent to succeed. That part is really sad to watch. I understand the idea of a dream isn't supposed to be realistic, and trying to be successful for very talented people is like trying to winthe lottery. but for these people iwith abitions that don't match their talent : its like they don't even have money to buy a lottery tick

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 08, 2014 @01:03PM (#47408253)

      The way to do it:

      Get a job for a big non-gaming company, if possible in IT. Shape your IT department into something that can run day to day without your meddling, but make sure that there is at least a few areas in which you are indispensable, or at least able to fix in minutes what takes everyone else hours.

      Arrange a four day work week for yourself, even a three day if you can swing it. It helps having half an year of unused vacation from the years where you did not have a department, worked weekends, and could not take any days off.

      Become active on the indie development forums of the games you like to play, participate in betas, offer input, and look for an opportunity to make a killer mod. Ingratiate yourself to the owner of the company. Make sure that his design vision matches yours, as much as possible. Make damn sure you use different handles for each indie, and do not mess them up.

      Get hired to write self-contained modules for indie gaming companies. Game AI, especially strategy in action games, or single (hero) unit specialized tactical routines... Shit all over NDAs, but be moral about not using code from one project into the others. Feel free to use what you've learned, though.

      So... you have the best of both worlds. A steady paycheck and great benefits from your CTO job, and the chance to do lean and mean work for gaming companies that are creating great games... or at least games you think are great.

      No recognition, and credits only under your forum handles, but then you also get the chance of kicking ass and getting a great reputation as a player.

      I love it.

      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        Become active on the indie development forums of the games you like to play

        How does that work if your favorite games happen not to have any official modding capability?

    • I guess I can speak only for myself as a relatively new indie developer. I've been at both ends of the spectrum of game development. My last commercial project before I left was enormous - almost 100 million in development costs and well over a two hundred developers. It was a great job and I had good friends there. It was not an easy decision to leave. I'm now head of my own one-man studio, developing my own game for the past year.

      The reason I started my own company was pretty simple. I wanted to cha

    • LOL regular paychecks

    • Agreed. The cliche is:

      The grass maybe greener [on the other side of the fence],
      but it still has to be mowed !

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Idea, startup, going concern, acquired by someone who wants to use the brand, resign, repeat. The only difference this time is that indies this time around are more likely to be first-timers that couldn't get cozy studio jobs and don't want to put up with contract work.

  • by Torp ( 199297 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2014 @12:51PM (#47408189)

    Google "EA Spouse" for why you shouldn't be in the "mainstream" gaming industry.

    • Or for a reason why every other entertainment industry profession in California(whose Hollywood friendly laws EA was exploiting) is unionized.

      • Or for a reason why every other entertainment industry profession in California(whose Hollywood friendly laws EA was exploiting) is unionized.

        The last thing I want is my industry to become unionized. I'd prefer to negotiate my own salary rather than be paid some standard scale based on seniority, etc, and pay union dues for the privilege. Maybe that's attractive to some, but not to me. But then again, I'm okay with a higher risk-reward ratio than many, since I threw away a very attractive and well-paying job for a chance to make my own game.

        Keep in mind that not every company is like EA. While "crunch time" horror stories abound, there are co

  • by korbulon ( 2792438 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2014 @01:06PM (#47408283)

    I can no longer disable ads on Slashdot. Is that right? Must have missed the memo.

    Just looked it up. What a load of horeshit. Guess I'll cancel my subscription. Oh that's right, I don't have one.

    Move along. Move along.

  • I wish they'd explain why they thought it was a good idea to flood the market with crap like 16-bit retro titles. We have something like more indie games released in the first 3 months of this year than 2013 entirely.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Independant people making the games they want to make happen to be making 16-bit retro titles right now.

      There's no "they" to think it's a good idea for many of them to do that. If there was, it wouldn't be called indie games now, would it?

      Game devs don't go indie to make what you want, they go indie to make what they want. When those things magically overlap, you get happy gamers and financially successful indies - but financial success is not the primary motivating factor for all indie devs.

      It probably h

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The only glut I've seen is everyone and their dog somehow getting their RPG Maker games on Steam and thinking they're worth something without at least putting in the effort to use non-generic tilesets, spell effects, etc, or at least coming up with a good story (I was much more engrossed in sending some old man To The Moon than I had been playing most of the 50 other games where I had to save the world yet again)

      Other than that, "16-bit retro" is an artistic decision, not a genre. I can play both Risk of R

    • Maybe because 99% of the crap of the 16 bit era was more inspired than 99% of the AAA titles of today?

      Because today, all that props the average AAA title up is the "oohhhh, shiny!" effect. Once that's gone, you're left with an aging stripper without a boob job.

      • Aside from the nostalgic value, I just don't agree. I was a gamer back then, and I remember the vast majority of games were basically rehashes of a few popular genre-defining ones. You had your generic fighters with questionable controls and a roster that looked like a ripoff of either Street Fighter or Mortal Combat. You had your side scroller platformers with varying degrees of control accuracy or level inspiration. You had your JPRG's which were all so similar that you could probably mix and match sc
  • Certainly not at a big studio. All big studios crank out today is the n-th iteration of their franchise. Either by applying new textures to the same old crap and changing the year in the title to the current one or by simply increasing the version number. All the while touting some minor flavor changes like it was the reinvention of the game industry, or at least the redefinition of the genre.

    Be honest, do you really want to play that? I mean, sales numbers tend to indicate it... though my inner cynic would

    • I actually prefer working on games I would't want to play. Working on the games I like ruins the immersion... I'm think of the systems an nitpicking instead of enjoying the game.

  • Since Disney bought the rights Starwars and Lucas Arts, I would think it would be a much more attractive prospect. Who doesn't want to work on the next Starwars videogame!

    Then again if you want to make the next X-Wing VS Tie Fighter, and all they have you do is Cantina Simulator, Degobah Swampville, or Princess Amidala Fashion Workshop for facebook... that might also be very depressing.

    • by ruir ( 2709173 )
      Who doesnt want to work on the next starwars? Is that a joke? I dont even want to hear about a new startwars movie anywhere!

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