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As a full time independent game developer, I know that I am extremely fortunate. We indies get to do something that we love, and we even have a slim chance of achieving fame and fortune while doing it. But there are many other people in the game industry whose efforts make this possible, and they receive little thanks for their work. I'd like to draw attention to some of these unsung heroes, and raise awareness of the benefits that we independent game developers freely receive.
There are so many organizations and people that I could mention, but in order to keep this relatively brief, I'll limit it to a few groups:
- Simon Carless and UBM
- The organizers of festivals, jams, and local events
- Platform holders
- Other helpful developers
- Press, YouTubers, and streamers
Simon Carless and UBM
I think of Simon Carless as the godfather of independent gaming. Check out his mind boggling list of achievements:
- First of all, Simon was a game designer for 7 years, so he knows what it's like to be on our side of the fence :)
- He worked with Gamasutra since its early days, and then Game Developer Magazine, and was eventually Editor-in-Chief of both
- Simon created GameSetWatch, and posted there at a prodigious rate for 6 years, covering hundreds of indie games, large and small. (I was a huge fan of the site.)
- He was involved in the IGF since 2004, eventually acting as its chairman, and now as chairman emeritus. I feel that Simon really helped usher in a golden age, and made the IGF into the prominent event that it is now. And, to this day, he still helps by personally judging events like IGF China.
- He co-founded the "Indie Royale" bundle
- He worked behind the scenes organizing the Game Developer's Conference, helping to create the Independent Games Summit, which I believe has become a cornerstone of the indie community. It was the first affordable indie conference that I'm aware of, and, in my opinion, it really helped to galvanize the indie community at a crucial point in time.
- He helped to save TimW's Independent Gaming Weblog, which is now known as indiegames.com
- He helped to save MobyGames
- He now runs the Games We Care on Twitter, to help bring attention to potentially lesser-known indie games
Simon has a voracious appetite for games and game news, and an encyclopedic memory. His output during the GameSetWatch years was astounding. I could never figure out how he had time to sleep or eat. Rest assured, if you're working on an independent game that has seen even a smidgen of press coverage, he probably knows about you and your game.
I can't think of anyone who has done more for the cause of independent gaming than Simon. If you run into him at GDC, say thank you! I am 100% certain that I would not be making games now, if it weren't for his efforts. So, thank you, Simon :)
Now, this isn't to say that Simon has done all of these things alone. It's just that he has done more in total than anyone else I'm aware of. The company that he works for (UBM) also supports indies in many ways. It organizes the GDC (thanks to Meggan Scavio, her colleagues, and volunteeers), the Independent Games Summit (with help from advisors Matthew Wegner, Steve Swink, Kellee Santiago, Akira Thompson), the IGF (too many amazing former chairpersons to name, and now chaired by Kelly Wallick), and even Gamasutra, where we are right now (thanks, Christian Nutt!). UBM is a very large for-profit organization, but its gaming arm has been a benevolent, positive force for independent games. No doubt there are many other contributors at UBM of whom I am not aware, but their efforts are also very much appreciated!
The organizers of festivals, jams, and local events
As the independent gaming scene grew, festivals beyond the IGF began to spring up. There are now amazing indie festivals in every region of the world. IndieCade, A MAZE, Fantastic Arcade, Sense of Wonder Night, and so many others. These festivals provide us with numerous obvious benefits: A place to meet, share, and learn from other developers and fans; a submission target to work towards; and possibly nominations, awards, and press attention to help us to promote our games. But there are other intangibles, too. I think that these sorts of festivals have helped to legitimize independent game development, and bring it mainstream. Festivals like these are often mentioned in non-gaming press, which is a realm that independent games seldom visit. Festival organizers are generally volunteering their time, and deserve our thanks and respect for their work.
Then there is the Indie Megabooth, run by the aforementioned Kelly Wallick (as well as Christopher Floyd, and the rest of the awesome Megabooth team). Originally conceived by Eitan Gilnert (of Firehose Games), the Megabooth has served to bring indie games into the spotlight at events like PAX Prime, PAX East, Gamescom, and BitSummit. I feel that all indie games benefit from the existence of the Megabooth -- even games that have never been demoed as part of the Megabooth! Just by being a large presence on these show floors, the Megabooth puts indies on more even footing with AAA developers. Press know about the Megabooth and make a point of checking it out at some point during the show. It ensures that indies are on the minds of the press. A solo indie booth lost in a sea of AAA games is much more likely to be overlooked. I've seen just how much work goes into organizing the Megabooth, and I think that Kelly and her team have done a great service to us all with their efforts.
There are also numerous other more local events, like game jams, train jams, and indie meetup groups that deserve thanks. I've met great friends and collaborators at events like these, and their organizers unselfishly give their time to make it all happen.
I suppose it may seem strange to thank platform holders, but we wouldn't be where we are today without them. Back when I went indie in 2004, XBLA and Steam were barely getting started, and both were not very accessible to indies at all. So, we had to sell our games directly from our websites... and it was not easy to convince people back then that some random website was a safe place to input credit card data! Yes, the "casual portals" were there and they were relatively large, but they generally demanded 60-70% of our revenue for the privilege of selling our games on their websites. Not dev friendly at all! We managed to make a living back then, but it was tough.
With the rise of Steam, PSN, XBLA, the Nintendo eShop, and app stores, the situation today is much rosier in comparison. There are numerous competing marketplaces, and all provide relatively reasonable business terms. Those who think that 2015 is some kind of indiepocalypse are likely not comparing it to the bleak situation we endured in 2004. So, thank you Valve, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, GoG, Humble, Apple, Google, and others! Thank you for opening your doors.
Other helpful developers
I probably wouldn't be making games today if it weren't for a guy named Steve Pavlina. He doesn't work in games today, but he once did, and the articles he wrote showed many of us in the early 2000s that it was indeed possible to make a living making downloadable games. There are numerous other developers who still pen helpful blogs today, as Steve did back then. Jeff Vogel, Daniel Cook, and Cliff Harris (pictured), to name just a few. We are fortunate to be in an industry where the competition is not direct. As a result, amazing people like these are willing to share their wisdom to help others succeed.
Various developers have also taken part in documentaries like Indie Game the Movie, and GameLoading. Sure, those developers may have benefited from the exposure, but it also cost them some time and privacy, and movies like these have helped AAA gamers to become more aware of independent games in general. We all benefit from this.
Press, YouTubers, and streamers
And last but certainly not least, we come to the press. And I'll include YouTubers, streamers, and amateur press in this as well. The vast majority of these folks cover the game industry because they just love games. It's very difficult to make a living doing it (especially if you only cover indie games), and the odds of striking it rich are minuscule, but they do it all the same, because they love it. These folks work tirelessly, promoting our games for us, for free. It seems kind of insane when you think of it in that way, and yet we rarely thank them. (And, perversely, many people will block ads on gaming sites, starving them of revenue.) So, thank you, games journalists, YouTubers, streamers, and bloggers. Thank you for helping complete strangers to succeed at the dream of making games for a living. I wish the same success for you.
We work in a challenging and stressful industry. With all of the crash bugs, financial pressures, and deadlines, it can be difficult to take a step back and appreciate all of the other people out there who are toiling away to help us. I hope that this article will help you to "break;" out of your dev loop for a moment, to enumerate your indie blessings :)
I know that I have left out or glossed over many amazing people and valuable organizations, and I apologize for that, but this article is already quite long so I'm going to end things here. Please post in the comments below if you would like to thank someone who has helped you as a developer, or someone who has helped the community at large.
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