Independent game developers tend to be rather provocative personalities, so when Manifesto’s Greg Costikyan described his vision of the indie game scene as “Still a pimple on the game industry’s ass,” Eric Zimmerman, Introversion’s Mark Morris, and Derek Yu of Bit Blot would not simply let that go, as much as moderator Simon Carless might have preferred that.
“I would say that independent games is one cheek, while [mainstream] is the other,” said Yu. “We need to have the games industry put on the right pants…we’re starting to notice that other cheek and how hard it is to walk without that other cheek.”
The panel talked extensively about the portal system and how it can and should be changed to help give more back to the developers. Zimmerman insisted that they are a total ripoff, noting how the 60-70% share grabbed by a portal is far more than the 10% Apple gets from iTunes downloads. The more favorable terms granted by newer offerings like Xbox live Arcade are encouraging, however.
Part of the problem with the scene as a whole is that people don’t know yet where to go to get good indie games, said Yu. “I would love the competition,” said Costikyan, whose Manifesto Games is one of the few places to grab many independently developed games. “I can tell the venture capitalists, ‘See? This is a hot area.’”
Carless asked the panel about the gap that exists between casual and indie, which Zimmerman’s GameLab seems to have been able to bridge on a number of projects while other don’t appear to be trying to. “Every publisher says…’We want innovation!’ But that doesn’t mean they actually mean it,” said Costikyan. Zimmerman defended developers as a whole, noting that “Making games is really f**king hard.” He ran through the numerous pieces that go into making a refined match 3 style casual game, and insisted that we shouldn’t take such craft too lightly.
Drawing from the earlier panel on indie game innovation, Zimmerman said that innovation for innovation’s sake can sometimes be a good thing. He referenced the unlistenable nature of 1960s electronica experiments as vital in the development of music from German industrial to the Chemical Brothers and mainstream pop acts. “That’s why things like the IGF are important, and why Newgrounds is important, [they embrace] weird bizarre games. They may die and fertilize something with their corpses.”
Ramping down, the panel addressed the question of diving into independent game development right away and as a full-time venture. Zimmerman advised people to work in the industry for a while, so that youthful idealism can be tempered with practicality and the ability to see things from a business point of view. Morris suggested that if you really feel the need, go ahead and quit.
“Sometimes experience can be very valuable, but sometimes it can hold you back.” All on the panel agreed that it takes remarkable dedication and sacrifice to go headlong into indie development. That means being prepared for long hours and missing mortgage payments. Morris advised, “If you’re not prepared to suffer, keeping on working. For EA or…something.”