"I’m excited about the hybrid, though. I’m excited about seeing indie studios tackle that [$5 million to $10 million] gap in the industry, where it’s not quite big enough to be triple-A and not small enough to be indie."
- Vlambeer's Rami Ismail, speaking to GamesBeat during the Gamelab event in Barcelona last week.
The game industry often feels filled to bursting with great games and talent, but in a recent conversation with GamesBeat during Gamelab in Barcelona, Vlambeer cofounder Rami Ismail highlighted a few areas where indie devs still have room to thrive.
One of the more interesting ones was "games with a $5-$10 million budget," which Ismail believes are typically too expensive for indies to afford and too small for a big publisher to invest in.
However, he suggests that indies can still carve out a lot of interesting room for themselves by partnering with publishers to get that level of financial support, a la Electronic Arts working with ColdWood and Hazelight on Unravel and A Way Out (respectively), or Capybara working (at least initially) with Microsoft on Below.
"It’s really hard to get [$5 million to $10 million]. It doesn’t fit anyone’s portfolio. Seeing that space open up for studios like Capybara — those studios have a lot of opportunities to grow and tackle bigger, riskier projects," Ismail said. "That’s exciting. If that means 'EA Indie Games' needs to stop sounding like a paradox to me, that’s fine."
From Ismail's perspective, publishers are eager to make these sorts of deals right now because they're looking to bolster their catalogues without taking on too much risk, and Ismail says "from what I've heard, the deals have been good."
However, he also shouts out a talk The Behemoth's John Baez gave during Gamelab about how indies should proactively negotiate with publishers (here's a copy of his talk in slide form), reminding indies that a publisher should be courting your business, not the other way around.
"[Baez] gave a really good talk, in which he mostly reminded the audience — consisting of mostly indie developers — that they are the product," Ismail said. "In a way, an indie publisher is just an aggregate of services: QA, marketing, PR, a bit of production, release management, stuff like that. All of these services you can technically hire and save money on because that’s less than 30 percent of the value of your game, which seems to be the default for a lot of these indie publishers."
He was speaking as part of a longer back-and-forth about the challenges devs face in 2018, and how in some cases triple-A devs are just now starting to seriously grapple with problems ("more people playing fewer games") that indies have been dealing with for some time. It's an interesting conversation, one well worth reading in full over on GamesBeat.