What’s holding indie games back? – an editorial

So this caught my eye, as it did a lot of independent game creators:

Why Indie Gaming’s Obsession With Moneymaking Hurts Us All – New Statesman

This is a very flawed article with a very narrow scope of what games, and independent games, are from the first word. It paints a stereotype of the indie game developer as a money-grabbing Notch or Dong Nguyen wannabe, cloning their respective games in the pursuit of the big bucks Indie Game The Movie told us about.

Only thing is, that’s nothing like the scene at all. This isn’t an article about that, but rest assured it’s as diverse and rich (even culturally-so) as the video game media itself. Instead, I will opine on what I personally think is holding back the independent game scene. SPOILER: it’s opinions like those propogated by the New Statesman piece.

I think the problem is in the constant and arbitrary validation criteria placed on independent games; are they ‘art’? Or even ‘real’ games? And, I have an anecdote that fits this subject really well (one that I Tweeted about earlier):

I have two friends, who will be called Grumpy and Happy to preserve some kind of anonymity. Happy has recently passed his CBT and acquired a low-CC motorbike to ride on. When they’re riding on this bike, you have never, never, seen a person so happy to be on a bike. Not ever. Grumpy gets wind of this and declares Happy’s low-CC bike to be “a f**king kid’s bike”, essentially attempting to invalidate Happy’s joy. Grumpy’s a guitarist, by the way, the kind who insults other guitarists for not being able to shred a solo that uses five out of six strings; and God forbid they use power-chords instead of ‘real’ chords. But that’s beside the point.

There are people out there who seem to love to berate those at early stages of development no matter where they’re at, much in the way Grumpy seems to take umbrage with Happy not going straight for a meaty Harley Davidson as his first motorcycle; and much in the way New Statesman’s piece seem to imply that games need to offer something cultural to be deserved of any kind of monetary recompense to the creator(s).

This is, in no uncertain terms, like berating an infant for crawling instead of running laps. Worse still, the notion that such developers shouldn’t be paid for their efforts in creating original content because they lack the production values or cultural richness of higher-profile titles is akin to starving the crawling infant for not yet being able to drive a car.

Game development takes time, and time is an economy with a comparable exchange rate to the actual economy: maxim  “time is money” applies, which is true (and why wages are generally paid by the hour). Indie developers deserve as much as “AAA” developers to be reimbursed for the time spent on their product; and many of the indie prices reflect a keen sense of self-awareness and perspective that New Statesman’s writer seems to ignore: whereas AAA games can cost (UK prices here) £30+ per title, indie game prices range anywhere from a mere £1 up to around £20. Much in the same way a developing child needs to be fed less than a fully-grown adult.

There’s no doubt in my mind that indie developers deserve to be paid for their efforts, and I doubt it will lead to the scene being a ‘cultural backwater’ as much as it will lead to developers being able to invest more time and effort into their games instead of juggling them with full-time jobs and struggling to put gamedev-hours in. Any attitude to the contrary of this is to keep these free-agents of video game production “in their place” and is ultimately what will stifle their growth more than throwing the child a few cookies as a reward for their clumsy first real steps.

Indie gaming doesn’t have an ‘obsession’ with moneymaking any more than a developing child has an obsession with food. Amid the erroneous and fallacious conclusions that depict indie devs as cash-grabbing wannabes, there is no discussion here.

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