XFire Debate Aftermath, Part 2

By Shamus
on Feb 8, 2008
Filed under:
Video Games

About a week ago I posed some questions to indie game developers. Jay and Corvus responded by answering the first couple. Now the other shoe has dropped, and they’ve answered the rest of the questions.

In his response, Corvus spends most of his time on question #4, which asked what “else” the developer has to do once they finish the game. In that answer, he has this to say: (Talking to other indie devs)

Your ideas are what’s compelling about your game. You are the story. The industry has been crying out for more notable personalities. We need more Will Wrights, more Peter Molyneuxes, more Tim Schafers. Where are they going to come from? From the indie sector, where we’re not contractually obligated to keep quiet about our designs. From the indie sector, where we’re free to dream big. From the indie sector, where we don’t have lawyers telling us we can’t share our business plans and setbacks.

He also makes the case for going all open-source. He makes a lot of sense. If you’re making a game to make money, you’re probably wasting your time. If you’re making a game because you want people to play it, then the best way to reach that goal is to give it away.

Like Corvus, Jay spends a majority of his time on question #4. He answer is also tainted by the bitter taste of cold, hard truth.

As an indie, it’s not like you’ve got some built-in infrastructure and information channels that you are already plugged into to get the word out to the potential customers. And when you do, through Herculean effort, manage to make people aware, they simply shrug and say, “Okay, so, when’s the next Halo game come out?” I sometimes think I’d generate better sales for the same effort by going door-to-door. Nobody knows about your game, and nobody cares. Nobody knows why they SHOULD care.

And while we’re talking about indie developers, Michael Rubin, the developer behind Vespers 3D, has started a blog dedicated to Vespers and indie games in general.

Vespers is an interesting project. It’s an attempt to combine the freedom of movement available in a first-person game with the freedom of action available with a text parser. I’ve had my eye on this for a while because the idea sounds so unusual and yet has such potential. I have a lot of questions about how it will work on a practical level, so I’ll be eagerly reading to see how the thing takes shape.

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9Nine comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Mavis says:

    I’ll admit to spending a lot of time looking round http://playthisthing.com/ and http://www.manifestogames.com/ downloading odd indie games hunting for undiscovered gems.

    I’ve brought a few – but none of them yet have dragged me in for hours and hours.

  2. Corvus says:

    Shamus, I’d like to take a moment to thank you for providing us with such a great launching point for this post series. Your willingness to point your audience to our blogs is also greatly appreciated!

    We’ve got two more Thursday posts planned, each addressing several questions Jay culled from the debate floor of the Xfire Devate itself. The first set focuses on the creative side of our individual efforts and the second set focuses on the business side.

  3. Snook says:

    Shamus: I’m going to have to point out (again) Mount & Blade. I think it’s worthwhile to look into. It’s another indie game, made by a dedicated Turkish couple, which has attracted a huge following and recently a producer. It’s in the style you like, freeform and RPG-esque.

    And this Vespers game sounds intriguing, kindof what Oblivion *should* have been.

  4. Telas says:

    This is all my opinion, and may even be close to the mark. ;)

    The “indie vs. corporate” tension is in a lot of media these days: movies, music, books, games, etc. One is small, flexible, and creative; the other is huge, experienced, and excels in marketing.

    The Internet gave the indies some leverage, but it seems that the corporates are learning their way around the ‘net… This tension has been around for decades, and will probably be with us for a long time. The best thing the indies can do is to focus on their strengths. I would think that if an indie team can make a name for themselves, they could negotiate from a position of strength for a single project at a time, the way directors/editors/actors/etc can.

    I would like to believe that corporations would recognize that they would do better by financing the indies, relaxing their hold over them, and sharing the rewards. But I don’t really see that happening.

    Example: In the late 80s, a lot of small music labels were bought up by Sony, BMG, etc, who pretty much treated them like any corporate division. In other words, their incentives were to avoid risk, and act somewhat conservatively; “prefab” bands like the Backstreet Boys, and older artists were given preference to instead of cutting-edge artists. And we all see how well that worked out…

  5. Rubes says:

    I concur with Corvus…thanks for a great series, and I appreciate the pimping of Vespers and the new blog.

  6. The thing is – that fourth question is a surprisingly Big Deal. I think that’s what Amanda was shooting at too. In fact, if you talk to any of the “successful” indies (the ones who are actually making a living at it, which does not – yet – include me), and they tend to give you exactly the same response. Making a game is HARD – crazy hard. But trying to sell it – or even just trying to get people to PLAY IT if it’s free – can sometimes be even harder.

  7. Davesnot says:

    Getting people to play is hard.. that’s because we aren’t really people.. we are Zebra’s at a watering hole.. we all mull around scared to go test the water.. til finally one does.. if he isn’t eaten.. and we see that he drank and didn’t get eaten.. we’ll think about getting a drink.. and if others go.. then we’ll rush down to the water .. get it all muddy.. fall in and the crocs will get some of us.. so we decide to never do that again.. until next time..

    Zebra’s at a watering hole.. what a strange animal we are.

  8. DavidRM says:

    I wrote “The Indie Game Development Survival Guide” back in 2002-2003. Most of the book is spent covering:
    * Picking a reasonable game concept for no budget.
    * Completing the game with no budget.
    * Selling the game once it’s completed–with no budget.

    That lack of a budget affects everything in indie game development. You learn to leverage–and work within–the limitations you have. Or you get frustrated–and get nothing done.

    It’s not impossible to create an audience. Nor is it impossible to make money. It just takes time.

    -David

  9. ArchU says:

    Off the top of my head, the most recent example (although not a good one) of an attempt at a Vesper might be Metroid Prime (or the sequel). It isn’t as versatile as the classification might suggest but it is a fluid first person shooter with the ability to scan aspects of the environment for more information, presented in text.

    The formula works well for the game and although the sequels have yet to improve upon that aspect it’s still a good start.

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