In this article, game designer Sande Chen points out parallels between amateur manga and indie game development.
One year, when I was at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, TX, I decided to go to a session on manga called, “How Manga Explains the World.” The presenter was Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future.
I didn’t know anything about manga so all of this was quite new to me. I was struck by some parallels to indie game development.
Manga is really popular in Japan. Tons of fans crowd into marketplaces to get the latest comics. However, what they buy is not the official manga put out by the publishers, but the amateur manga, put out by indie creators known as ‘dojinshi.’ The dojinshi use established characters but create different, and sometimes questionable stories, with these characters.
Pink commented that in the U.S., IP lawyers would have a fit if someone did this with a Disney film. But publishers and dojinshi have an tacit agreement known as ‘anmoku no ryokai.’ The official manga industry has been in decline so the publishers look the other way because they figure the amateur manga will keep fans interested in the official manga. In exchange, the dojinshi don’t flood the market and create limited copies of their work.
In fact, this interest in amateur manga helps the publishers. They use the markets as a way to sign up new talent (and offer them a chance to create a new, original manga). They also learn about market trends by observing what fans are buying. Some of these dojinshi become as well-known as the original creators. They could even branch out and do their original stories without publisher backing.
It seems to me that the mod community is a similar model. Successful mod teams do become successful companies with publisher backing. Is the “official” game industry watching the indies? Just by looking at casual games, it appears they do. Do they look to indies as the barometer of what’s to come? What do you think?
Update: Alvin Edwald Chan pointed out in the IGDA Game Design SIG FB group that dojin circles also make experimental games and until recently were not considered "indie" in other regions due to the "dojin" tag.
[This article was adapted from an original post on the blog Joe Indie.]
Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.