Having persuaded head office of the publisher I worked for to retain their digital rights in the early days of the Noughties, I’ve witnessed first-hand the closing of the gap and eventual overhauling by the digital market over boxed retail, and with it the amazing re-emergence of the independent developer and micro-studio.
If it is true that the re-emergence of the indie game followed many of the patterns of those early days, it is also true that we are now witnessing many of the problems that occurred back then.
By default, with new multi-format engines the ways of making games became easier and easier for more and more people. The lower barrier of entry brought with it a much larger amount of games and a much more variable standard, with many taking advantage of the ease of self-publishing offered by the key vendors. This means there is a much larger choice for the consumer – and, with it, much more difficulty in discoverability.
The variation of standards heightened the consumer’s risk of buying a dud, and they have become more reliant on recommendations and reviews from the community. Which makes community management a massively important undertaking to create success.
Greenlight and Early Access are two ways created to help with that. The Early Access route offers an opportunity to both build your community and earn vital revenue to feed into the development budget.
DESIGN FOR REALITY
Long gone are the days when you could launch any new game on Friday afternoon and sit and watch its sales flow over its first weekend. Already, overuse and abuse of Early Access by some have left some users feeling disenfranchised with some of the titles within.
As ever, being flexible and able to adjust to the quick shifts and changes of the market is a key component of success, so I am a little surprised to be seeing quite a widespread lack of appreciation of this when receiving some studios demands and expectations. It is not rare to receive a good basic indie game design with a 12- to 18-month gestation period with a request for funding of over quarter of a million quid.
I honestly do not know of any publisher in the indie space that can afford that type of investment, with an 18-month ‘hope’ of starting to receive revenue for the project. That, frankly, dear reader, is not an independent game design or an independent game budget. Guarantees of return on that type of investment these days for a new and unknown franchise are written on very flimsy paper indeed.
Therefore there is a need for studios to think very carefully about what they want to create and what genres are popular not only at the time they start development, but what genres will be popular – and not overcrowded – when the title is scheduled to be finished.
Careful budgeting is essential, and key to this is a realistic expectation of how the title will be funded, how that funding will affect the delivery schedule and so on.
The more you ask for, the more pressure there will be to deliver, whether industry-funded, crowdfunded or funded via revenue earned through Early Access. Hard business often intervenes in these situations and that can suck up the fun and creativity that the indie scene is all about.
So my key message in this piece is this: if you want to create an indie game, be realistic above all else. Be realistic of your financial expectations and be realistic of your creative expectations, whether you work with a publisher like us or go it Be realistic of and take great care with the community reaction. They are the people who make or break your game.
Realistic people end up exceeding their expectations much more often.
Darryl Still is co-founder and CEO of Kiss Ltd, an independent games label that specialises in digital titles. www.kiss-ltd.co.uk