I am a lone Indie Developer. I create games, not write articles for the web. This article is spontaneous and honest. I believe, it's also much needed. As it is time to call the elephant in the room. For current and future artists and content creators. To address a decade old issue, and perhaps find a solution.
Kongregate, one of the oldest, probably the biggest and for sure - the most successful, browser games portal. Home and starting point of many great artists and gamedevs. Scriptwelder, Playsaurus, Ninjakivi all took their first steps there. Those are just couple of names, on a long list of those who Kongregate platform helped in their Game Developing journey.
The platform, by many considered to be "as old as the internet", achieved its popularity in Indie niche thanks to fair revenue shares, low minimal payouts, huge and established user-base and various smaller and bigger features, which further enriched the experience and usage.
So what's the secret? Where's the catch? Hidden, in plain sight.
From many features the platform offers – there is one that shines the most. Specially, if you are a typical Indie Developer, who's diet consist mostly of instant noodles and everything that can be found within „discount” section. The Monthly Games competition.
The rules are simple and the idea behind it fair and attractive. Here's a direct quotation from the portal:
The Monthly Contest rewards alone are enough to lure in many starting Indie Devs, and for sure – those with lack of financial stability. Everybody's in for some extra income, specially as it comes on top of the regular Revenue Share.
And as in any contest – there is a strong feeling of competition. Specially in, nowadays crowded, Indie Dev market. That's why every official contest has it's guidelines, rules and tools meant to assure a fair-play competition. If you actually have the means to enforce it. Sadly, on an open, digital platform such as Kongregate, doing this is rather... tricky. The result? Monthly Contest turning into slaughtering grounds, where everything goes and the judges are blindfolded.
Every Developer, doesn't matter small or big, that decided to publish their game on Kongregate portal, would notice a sudden and vicious drop in their game's score and tag ranks... in the last week of every month. How come?
Lets roleplay for brief moment. Imagine we are an Indie Developer that has a game and big hopes for getting into Monthly Top Ten. But the game is not doing very well. We see other games doing far better in scores and fame, decreasing our chance to get a bite of that Monthly Rewards cake. We try our best, but it is just not enough. Our game sinks down in the rankings and we slowly develop desperation and a feeling of injustice. So we start to play dirty. We make many alternative accounts to score up our own game and then... We go for a ride around town, „1-Scoring” all games with higher score and down voting their tags, to lower visibility.
If we can't outrun the competition – we try our best to make them fall lower than we
Then a next month comes and we re-use the same method, as it has prove itself working. Quite soon, other Devs notice the re-occurring pattern, but having no means to defended themselves – they are forced to... follow the lead. And one day, an unfair exception becomes the rule, and then – a decade old tradition. Monthly Contest turned into Monthly Slaughter. So who's winning something like this? The one with the highest number of alternative accounts.
Dramatic? A bit, yes. As long as you are not the victim. It is heart-breaking to see the result of your sleepless nights getting stumped into the ground, just because you are in the way. It sounds trivial only if you aren't involved. For many starting indie devs – it becomes a turning point. Many very talented Indie Devs, just bounce off the Game Developing due to initial shock. It takes a lot of character and power of will to keep pushing, against so many pilling odds.
The list of examples is long and wide. But for the sake of simplisity – let us focus on a recent one, that I happen to be familiar with. Not a first-hand intel, but close enough. I've learned about this occurrence upon bumping a polish-centric Facebook group for Indie Devs.
A young Indie Dev bunch, Fat Dog Games recently landed on Kongregate. What they did not know at the time was the untold, forbidden truth – about not publishing your game by the end of the month. Not on Kongregate. Their game, Mootantz Escape, landed smoothly. Slowly gaining in score and popularity. Nothing ground breaking, nothing viral. But more than enough to bring a feeling of satisfaction. At least, for the first 24h after release. The game had been published on 24th February. Self-produced graphics, audio and ideas. No assets flips, no stocks. Classic „pool game” design, turned up-side-down with a peculiar twist into something brand new and interesting. What could gone wrong?
In a matter of hours the game's score dropped down, almost falling below 2/5 score mark. Sudden flood of 1-star rating. Coming in waves. Sadly, they did not managed to recover from that... Yet.
I had a chat with the creator of Mootantz about the situation. Another heart-broken Indie in making.
And something snapped inside of me.
I don't publish games on Kongregate anymore. And I am not the only one. The „Monthly Slaughter” is one of the bigger reason. Especially as each and every game I've published on the platform had met the same as Mootantz Escape fate. My games: Antumbra, Casual Genocide and Zit Storm. Each and every, turning from a beacon of hope, into nest of disappointment.
But is it platform-specific? Is it Kongregate's fault? I don't think so. The problem, is Us. Yes. Us. The Indie Devs. Because there is no bigger enemy at this market, than another Indie Dev. We fight for survial. Eating each other.
Lets be real here. What can possibly Kongregate do? Ban Developer accounts from voting? People will just start making alternative accounts. Track their IP, browser cashe and cookies? This would require a lot of investment of time and money.
The problem occures on Kongregate's platform - but the platform, is not the problem. We are. Our mindset. Our desperation that we use to justify the means. Our lack of real solidarity. Rats, fighting in a cardboard box. Does it really have to be that way...?
I am sorry, but I do not have the answer. I don't have a solution. But knowing the source of the problem is already a lot. Because there is a problem. We are the problem. But we can also be the solution.
As I've stated at the beginning of this article, I am not a news writer. I have no experience in writing articles. This one is half facts, half my own opinion and a lot of wishful thinking.
But one thing I know for sure. A neglected problem grows bigger. Here and now, all I want is to spread the awareness. Because it doesn't have to be this way. I don't have a solution to this problem. But the widespread internet – eventually will. Please spread the word. Please comment. Please bring attention to this issue. Feel free to send this article to Kongregate officials (I am certain they would like to fix it too). Help me to help us all. Because next month, your game can end like Mootantz Escape.
As Charles F. Brannan once said:
"If you have an apple and I have an apple, and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us... Will have two ideas."
PS: This mostly affects small and just starting Indie Developers. So if you have many games under your belt and established fanbase - you are mostly bullet proof against this because your content and fans will back you up.