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The annual Indie Games Conference (IGC) has grown notably since its kickoff in 2001, and this year, over 300 attendees showed up in Eugene, Oregon for the latest iteration, “Reinventing Games: Indie Style”, held from October 7-9. The conference is known for learning, networking, celebration, community, game playing, discussion, game development, and, of course, the bar. A primary focus this year was on the rising popularity of casual games.
GarageGames, the indie game publisher and engine creator which has more than doubled in size since 2004, is the main contributor to and organizer of the Indie Games Conference. The company, which has based its business around the indie game concept, emphasizes its origins as a player in the movement through such efforts as working on the Indie Games Conference and the Torque game engine, which has spawned a large community of interconnected independent game developers over the years. However, this connection obviously means a certain amount of Torque and GarageGames-specific evangelism at the conference. But the company is fair in allowing non-Torque developed titles to compete in its awards, and making the majority of the content during IGC itself not directly related to the company's business.
Along with providing keynotes on the changing state of independent game development, the Indie Games Conference organizes several ongoing “tracks.” This year, the Professional Track showcased Chris Crawford's new approach to getting stories into games that he calls the “Erasmatron” in the presentation “Interactive Storytelling.” The Torque Track included numerous presentations with Torque professionals discussing Torque 2D, the upgrades to Torque Engine 1.4, Torque scripting, and the Torque Shader Engine.
The Art Track covered multiple aspects of animation, textures, and lighting. The Business Track included presentations such as “Starting a Game Studio” featuring lawyer and game evangelist Tom Buscaglia who provided an overview of legal issues confronting independent game development companies. The Development Track featured roundtables and open forums on building a game studio, game idea development, and professional game development.
|One of many discussions that took place at the IndieGames Conference.|
The Indie Games Conference also focuses on the games created by attendees. The Show-Off Center remains open throughout the conference, making games readily available for play and testing up until the Indie Games Conference Player's Choice Awards. Networking opportunities also helped to connect established and aspiring developers and publishers from diverse backgrounds.
Keynote: “The State of the Revolution”
The main IGC keynote focused on several options that are opening up for independent game developers as larger companies refuse to pursue risky ventures. The highest emphasis now is the casual games market, which is an effective path for independent game developers to pursue. Mark Frohnmayer, GarageGames, pointed out that game developers made half a billion dollars in the casual games market in 2004.
Also presenting, Greg Canessa of Microsoft Casual Games identified the ‘Microsoft Gaming Strategy' for independent game developers. On MSN Games, 70% of the players are female and the average user, out of 30 million registered, plays games for around 120 minutes a month. The Windows gaming market is growing 10% annually and earned an estimated at revenue of $4 billion in 2004, which should grow to $9 billion a year by 2009.
According to Canessa, Xbox 360 Live Arcade is very open to publishing independent casual games and will debut titles from GarageGames and past Indie Games Conference participants. Users will have direct access to Xbox 360 Live Arcade through the Xbox 360 dashboard, a design element that Canessa stresses receives support by the entire Microsoft hierarchy. Casual games provide connectivity and community between platforms, and interestingly, it was indicated that Microsoft is developing connectivity between its game platforms. However, Canessa emphasized the emergence of a common identity across platforms such as the PC and Xbox 360, not necessarily cross-platform play.
The speakers noted that the bar on retail game content continues to rise in the games market. Production costs are sky-rocketing, developers have to provide better and more impressive graphical fidelity, and high production values are prerequisites for success in the space. Retailer compression is an ongoing reality due to more competition and less space, trends that caused some genres to disappear from retail altogether, particularly in the case of PC games.
Meanwhile, more people are becoming interested in gaming, including families, women, and non-core demographics. Women comprise 39.6% of secondary users for the Xbox console (IDC, 2005). Digital distribution of games is now increasingly accepted by the masses through PC casual game download portals, content delivery services such as Steam, and soon on Xbox 360 Live Arcade. The development in communities for smaller games is growing rapidly, and, it's claimed, market success in the casual game space can yield innovation. Overall for the casual market, smaller indie developers look for distribution for games in it, while larger developers are still looking for low-cost, lower risk creative outlets.
In fact, as an important part of the keynote, Frohnmayer recounted that past Indie Games Conferences advised independent game developers not to quit their day jobs in past conferences, but that the market has changed, and the warning is fading – perhaps day jobs can now be quit on the path to building successful indie games?
In other discussions, independent developers reflected on the current state of game development and the indie movement. Jeff Tunnell of GarageGames particularly credits Microsoft's support and Xbox 360 Live Arcade for new directions, whereas that company's Jay Moore sees a major transition in the simulation and ‘Serious Games' providing indie developer opportunities for corporate training, military training, and university curriculum. He also noted that the North America arcade game space is a massive market that indie developers are serving, because larger companies are too expensive for arcade cabinets to afford. He is enthusiastic, because a broad diversity of people are pursuing their passion. Andy Schatz, Pocketwatch, points out that recent surveys identify “game designer” as the second top dream job in the United States , a development that establishes the influence of game developers on new generations.
Full Session: ‘Mac OS X Game Development'
The Apple Mac is allegedly one of the forgotten markets for indie and niche gaming to reach, and Ryan C. Gordon of icculus.org spoke forthrightly on the matter at IGC, indicating that he believes that independent game developers need to recognize the potential strength in developing games for the Mac OS X. iPods and iTunes promotions have increased Apple's popularity and drawn in a wide market. By targeting Mac users, Gordon, suggests, developers can reach an under-tapped audience in a vibrant market with an aggressive update cycle. In addition, developers have less competition for similar products on the Mac, and can tap into loyal, educated customers with an affinity for buying products online.
Rich Hernandez of Apple was also present, commenting on the success story of GarageGames' Marble Blast for OS X. The game is shipped with the Mac OS, and in fact, all three hardware games on Mac OS X are independent games. He also noted that, on Macs, attach rates are much higher for casual games (4%-8% click through to buy ratio). Online distribution promotes game downloads through GarageGames, Game House, Oberon, AOL, and the newly developing official Mac OS X Downloads. In addition to downloads, Apple has 125 (and growing) retail store locations worldwide, where casual games are peers of AAA titles. Even independent games have a long shelf life, because Apple stores do not have a bargain bin, Hernandez suggested.