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June 25, 2019
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Independent Video Game Developers Take Corporate Publishers to Task

by Philip Piletic on 09/27/18 09:56:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

While independent game development was once more of a hobby than a commercial venture, it's quickly becoming a viable business model. Development teams have always traditionally been connected with large publishing houses like EA, Activision and Blizzard Entertainment. Smaller development teams haven't been able to generate much in the way of cash flow since the end of what some call the golden era of PC games.

That's changed in part because of crowdfunding. It's also changed because more and more programmers demand to be free of their corporate chains. This has lead to the rise of so-called major indie games.

Major Independent Releases

While it might sound like an oxymoron, some independent studios are now major players in the video game scene. Many point to the success of CD PROJEKT RED as having paved the way for today's current crop of financially viable independent giants. CD Projekt, as the organization is affectionately called, dates back to the early 1990s.

At that time, the company was only able to turn a profit by retailing games from much larger firms. Their Witcher RPG series became wildly popular with consumers because it's so radically different from anything else on the market. Now the company is developing major next-gen game software without being tied to a larger corporate entity.

In some cases, individuals have been able to use this business model as well. Take Five Nights at Freddy's for example. The game was developed and published by a single individual named Scott Cawthon, but a lack of corporate interference helped to ensure that gamers perceived it far differently from titles that received slick marketing campaigns. Ironically, large film studios are now reaching out to produce a feature-length cinematic adaptation. Once again, it seems that independence itself was an important factor for success since the stark differences between it and almost every other game series helped it to stand out in an otherwise crowded marketplace.

Crowdfunding & Smaller Dev Teams

Not all teams experience the sort of overnight success that some of the major players have. Crowdfunding has been an important source of cash for projects that wouldn't otherwise see the light of day. Raising money can be difficult, but projects that are able to generate enough of a seed are often able to develop games that wouldn't have ever come to market.

Corporate developers tend to not take risks. They don't want to put their money into anything they deem isn't a safe investment. Teams that have big ideas that get rejected by these publishers are often left without anyone to fill certain positions.

Once they're able to secure funding on Kickstarter or Patreon, these teams can hire a project manager and a few other individuals they need to develop and test their product. It's becoming more common to see them bring in people with other skills as well. Presentation design experts and UX gurus can help take an independent project to a whole different level.

Importance of Proper Infrastructure

Visual novels and interactive fiction titles are relatively easy to put together as long as a team has a skilled scriptwriter and a couple of visual artists. However, developing multiplayer games is a different story. Solid network infrastructure is needed to prevent lag when playing against other people. If a strategy simulation periodically lost packets, then gamers might get annoyed with it and find something else to do with their time.

Indie developers need strong hosting providers as well if they want to run an MMORPG or FPS title. Any problem with the signup process will hinder their ability to continuously draw new gamers in. Unlike standard RPGs or story-based titles, online games appeal to a broad demographic and are therefore much more competitive. Small businesses that have the right kind of technology tend to survive in these market sectors better.

Putting Together the Right Team

Startups often have big ideas for video games that have never been tried before. What they lack, however, is the right personnel to put these ideas into action. Luring developers over from the corporate scene is becoming easier, however, and this is starting to lead to increased profits for smaller game developers. Recruiting generally follows the same model used by companies involved with cryptocurrency exchange development.

Experts predict that this model will be adopted by most smaller game developers who currently lack dev team talent. Recruitment will start to focus more on project managers who will bring other coders and artists with them while still maintaining strict budget constraints. Since new ideas are constantly being thought up, there shouldn't be any shortage of projects for them to work on. Regardless of what model indie game companies choose, however, they're sure to find an increasingly viable marketplace to support their ever-expanding efforts.


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