Last Friday Xfire held a debate between a number of indie developers about the state of independent game development. I saw that Corvus Elrod and Jay Barnson were both involved, both of whom have great blogs that I read regularly. Amanda Fitch was also there, and I’ve been following her work for a while, even though I haven’t played any of her games. Jenova Chen was also there. I didn’t know him by name, although I did play flOw, the game which brought him a great deal of acclaim and put him on the map as an innovative game developer. The full list of participants is on the debate page. It included people from all over indie development at various levels of funding, success, and autonomy. The complete transcript is available here.
(Aside: How come some people get to have awesome names like “Corvus Elrod” and “Jenova Chen”? It’s not fair. I should change my name to “Shamus McLaser”.)
With a lineup of interesting personalities like that, I couldn’t resist checking it out. I had to download the XFire client to do so. Getting into the debate as an observer was very counter-intuitive and convoluted, which is odd for a site which has a tagline of “Gaming Simplified”. I don’t want to get sidetracked on a rant about the client, so I’m going to skip a four paragraph tangent about how XFire wasn’t fun to use and how it could have been improved.
The very first question was “what is an indie game”? Interesting enough. Good way to start a discussion like this. Except that they spent the next forty minutes of the hour-long debate on the subject. I love clearly defined terms as much as the next guy, but after a while it was a philosophical discussion that was just spinning its wheels. This ate into the questions phase at the end of the debate, which is regrettable.
There was an open chat room where users could suggest questions for the group. I had a lot of questions, but all of them would have been too long and complex to tackle in this format. Still, I’ll post a few of them here as they might make for pretty interesting discussion anyway. I know a couple of indie developers read this site, and if any of these strike their fancy, maybe I’ll get an answer anyway.
1) RPGs seem really over-represented in indie games. (Or, you could say they are under-represented in mainstream games.) Why do you think indie developers favor RPGs so much?
2) Naturally indie games have to use older technology, which is less labor intensive and doesn’t require (as much) expensive software. But I don’t think that’s the only reason to do so. Certainly the older graphics – done right – can have a certain stylistic appeal as well. The other reason to aim low on the tech tree is so that you can hit the widest possible base of users instead of just the fanboys with $3,000 computers. If you could use any graphics technology you wanted – from Infocom to Crysis – where would you choose to go?
3) If you got a million bucks in no-strings-attached funding, how would you use it to make your game more successful?
4) Amanda Fitch and Jay Barnson have both said in the past something along the lines of, “Making the game is one-third of the job.” Or words to that effect. The idea being that once you finish the game, you’re one-third of the way to having it where someone can buy and play the thing. What is the other 66% of effort required after you finish the game, and is this a challenge unique to indie developers?
5) At the end of the XFire interview the mod asked everyone what their favorite game was. I’ll ask this: What game (any game, new, old, mainstream, whatever) do you wish you could have worked on and taken part in?
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