The independent games scene is perhaps more boisterous than ever due to technology barriers of old collapsing. Even the most inexperienced game developer can learn the basics of coding (Codecademy) and play with their first game engine (Unity and UDK) without spending a penny.
But hurdles in publishing are another matter entirely. Releasing your game on PSN, Steam, XBLA and the rest requires patience, commitment, sometimes legal counsel and certainly a touch of luck.
That’s one of the reasons why Blitz Games Studios closed its 1UP initiative this year. The programme helped small indie studios develop and promote their games, but how much can even one of the biggest game companies do to convince Valve that a game belongs on Steam?
Blitz has today launched its newer, bigger and more ambitious programme. IndieCity is a PC games platform that will bring on board any game from any indie studio.
Develop speaks to Blitz project lead Chris Swan (pictured) about the promising new initiative.
Today IndieCity has gone fully live to the public. What games and studios do you have on board already?
It’s a diverse mix of games and developers, which we’re very pleased about. We have established developers on board, such as an IGF finalist, but we’ve also got Game Jam games and more artsy games, and Xbox Live Indie Games ports as well, so it’s a very broad range.
What kind of developers are you trying to draw to your platform?
Well we hope this will be a one-stop shop for all indie games. The only requirement we have is that the games submitted have to be from indie studios. As long as it is, and doesn’t crash or have viruses, then we’ll accept it on board.
It sounds a bit hippy but we do see this as a bit of a lifestyle choice.
Like you had the rough trade records indie music scene in the ‘70s, we think IndieCity is the same vision for games and developers. We want to promote the alternative world.
Do you accept Flash titles?
Yes, we try to be as platform agnostic as possible. If you can download the game then it can go on IndieCity. At the moment we’re focused on PC games, but we’ll be adding Mac and Linux support very soon.
What about Flash games for browsers?
We’re still in discussion on what is best to do there. We think they should have an existence somehow on IndieCity, we’re just not sure how to do that yet.
Surely these games would fit in with your remit; to be a one-stop shop for all indie games?
It’s not been our top priority because there are already places like Kongregate for Flash browser developers.
Are there any commercial restrictions for Xbox Live Indie Games, in terms of being ported to another platform?
No there isn’t, and these are being developed in C#, so they can easily be ported to any platform that understands the language, such as PC.
Xbox Live Arcade Games would be a different matter entirely, I would imagine?
And PlayStation Network? PlayStation Minis?
That depends on what deal a developer has with Sony, I think.
I’m just trying to get an idea of how platform agnostic IndieCity actually is.
Sure, and we’re trying to do as much as possible. It mainly does boil down to what publishing deal the developer has signed for other platforms, and whether exclusivity deals are in place.
But IndieCity is always non-exclusive.
There are thousands of independent developers who haven’t had their break yet, so I imagine IndieCity could be a real platform for launching careers.
Yeah, I certainly agree. What we’re trying to do is allow developers to make the most noise about their work.
What we’re really proud of is the recommendation engine, where we give customers custom, individual recommendations based on what they’ve played before.
It’s no longer about the big games on the front page any more – it’s about what you like and catering to those tastes.
What is the revenue split?
The standard deal is we’ll take 15 per cent if the developer integrates our achievements API, and we’ll take 25 per cent if they don’t.
So our rationale is that, if developers incorporate the achievements system, IndieCity will be more sticky and developers can come back to the site. That’s why we give more if developers incorporate it.
It’s half a day’s work to incorporate our API, I’d say.
So the general royalty rate is either 75 or 85 per cent to developers. Are there any exceptions to this rule?
Yes we are doing a special one-off promotion at the moment. If we can get 100 games on IndieCity before December 31st, then we'll increase their revenue share to 90 per cent, or 80 per cent without achievements.
And then we’re going to open up another challenge for the first 250 games, which each will get an extra 5 per cent boost. And then we’ll up it to the first 500 games, which will all get 100 per cent of revenues for the next month.
The standard 15 per cent cut would set you apart quite considerably from Valve, right?
Yes, but to be honest, the more we look at it the more we realise we’re not competing with Steam.
So yes, our price is much more competitive than theirs, but we’re joining at a much later stage in the game. Steam already has hundreds and hundreds f games on board.
There are some game engines and technologies which take their own royalties. Will you initiate your revenue cut before or after these are made?
I guess the best way to explain it is we calculate what’s left after everything has been taken, and then split it.
Can Android and iPhone games be ported?
Yes I believe so.
I’m not technical enough to say.
Have you had any submissions for iPhone and Android games?
No not yet.
But you’re open to it?
Yeah we’d certainly accept them. It all depends how much work it will be to come through.
And in terms of the certification process, if I submitted a game on a Monday, when should I expect to hear back from you?
If you submit it on a Monday you’ll go into a community review process, and this is an area that can shift and change, but the general turnaround is 2-3 days.
Actually if we deny the game you’ll likely know much sooner because it will be because it just doesn’t run.
Is the quality of a game a factor to consider when approving?
Actually no. How fun something is totally subjective, so it’s not something we’re looking for. Of course crashing, viruses, bugs or unlawful content is a different matter.
But if you have no restraint on this then, surely in the long term, IndieCity could be another flooded marketplace where indies have a discoverability issue on their hands?
Well, discovery is the key to this, and we’re taking the same approach as Amazon. Our engine will ensure the good games keep popping up while the bad ones don’t.
We don’t want to be the gatekeepers to determine what is fun and what isn’t. That should be down to the players themselves.
The barriers to entry have dropped for indies, and now the real issue is discoverability. We think we can get good games noticed, that’s our mission.
And we’re trying to make it as easy for developers as possible to integrate with us. We give you feedback on submissions, and it shouldn’t take more than an hour to set up your games page on our website. The developer will also get real-time sales and some gameplay analytics too.
Are you set for incorporating microtransactions and free-to-play games?
It’s definitely on the roadmap. If we are to be a one-stop shop then we can’t avoid that financial model.
The success of platforms like iPhone is partly down to how it has fostered blockbusters out of unknown titles. Does IndieCity need its own blockbuster too?
I don’t think it does. It depends on what you’re going for and our platform is all about long-tail sales. Angry Birds became a self-fulfilling prophecy because it hit number one and therefore people saw it the most and so they bought it the most.
We’re not making a site like that. If our users don’t buy or play certain types of games then they won’t appear on their recommended list. If you look at Amazon, there must be some massively successful romance novels on there, but because of what I’ve bought in the past I’ve never come across them. I’m recommended things I’m likely to enjoy, and that’s our model.
You’re also involving the community with something called an Underground system, correct?
Yeah so the Underground could be a very powerful tool for developers. The way it works is a bit like the wild west; anything goes in there – there’s no moderation, though users can flag certain issues.
What developers can do is throw a test demo on there and get feedback on early gameplay mechanics. Developers can also test pricing models, such as £1 for a couple of levels, and iterate and iterate.