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Is There Really an Indie Bubble?

Discoverability is waning as more and more developers "go indie," but creators maintain optimism despite challenges.

Article by Andrew Hayward, .

For all that digital storefronts have done to make it easier to sell a game without a big publisher attached, it's remarkable how poorly they've scaled to deal with the ever-expanding glut of games launching these days.

Discoverability on the iOS App Store is especially painful, making it difficult to stumble upon anything that hasn't been featured or isn't already a hit, and Steam's once-coveted feature slots have multiplied in number and change more quickly, notably lessening their value. As more and more developers launch their games—large and small, free and paid alike—finding an audience has become one of the biggest challenges they face.

And it's only bound to get worse. That's one of the main reasons why developer Jeff Vogel took to his blog last month with a lengthy screed entitled, "The Indie Bubble is Popping." Many of his points have been discussed quietly amongst developers for some time, but the man behind 20-year-old studio Spiderweb Software (Avadon 2: The Corruption) brought a lot of the concerns to the forefront with his post, which spread quickly and elicited responses from game makers large and small.

"The problem is too many games," Vogel stated plainly. "How bad has the problem gotten? How towering, bleak, and painfully unavoidable? It's gotten so bad that even the gaming press has noticed it." His post spans player economics, the competition for free marketing, and the dangers of low-priced bundles diminishing the perception of the value of games.

"Indie gaming started out as games written with passion for people who embraced and loved them," Vogel asserted. "Now too much of it is about churning out giant mounds of decent but undifferentiated product to be bought for pennies by people who don't give a crap either way. It's not sustainable."

Unexpectedly, E3 proved an ideal place this year to try and take the temperature of indie developers on the subject, thanks to the IndieCade Showcase—a welcome oasis amidst the AAA madness—and the ever-expanding indie focus by the likes of Sony and Microsoft. Between show floor interviews and others conducted via email, I aimed to find some consensus across a selection of Vogel's peers.

Their confident response, by and large: "What bubble?"

Gamers gather at Indiecade during E3 2014. Photo by Andrew Hayward.

Poking Holes

It's not a response borne of ignorance—willful or otherwise—but rather one made by informed and experienced indies that find the "bubble" branding awkward, if not incorrect.

"The indie bubble to me is this very weird concept of the idea that indie survives based purely on economics or because of economics, and the point raised is very valid: there are more games than ever, and it is more accessible to make games than ever, so there will be more creators," says Rami Ismail, business and development at Vlambeer (Luftrausers).

Indeed, games are flooding the various storefronts at an amazing rate, whether it's totally new games, re-releases of past efforts that were once hard to come by, or ports from other platforms. That's due in part to the fact that development tools are easier to use and freely available in many instances, self-publishing is a relative piece of cake on many platforms, and there's no shortage of talent excited about making video games for a living.

"Thousands of game design students are graduating from school every year. Large companies go out of business, and then splinter off and form indie companies," says Dave Gilbert, founder of The Shivah developer Wadjet Eye Games, citing examples on how the market has expanded so rapidly. "The field has become really big, really fast. There are just so many games coming out now that it's much harder to get noticed, especially for a new developer."

"'Bubble' very closely to me matches the idea of startup culture, or specific business models falling apart, whereas I think that indie as a whole is more than a business model." — Rami Ismail

Ismail—who was on-hand at E3 demoing Nuclear Throne at Sony's booth—is one of the most outspoken and outgoing leaders in the indie scene, having given talks around the world and developed marketing tools like presskit() for others to use freely. He concedes that when he and partner Jan Willem Nijman began Vlambeer in 2010, there was much less competition in the non-AAA segment of the industry, and discoverability wasn't as big of an issue.

"It is very, very hard to get your footing if you're starting now as an independent studio. But I don't think that means that there's a bubble, or that it's popping," explains Ismail. "'Bubble' very closely to me matches the idea of startup culture, or specific business models falling apart, whereas I think that indie as a whole is more than a business model."

No doubt, there are game developers driven more by the pursuit of profit than artistic value—but for those making particularly intimate or daring experiences, it's no surprise that having their efforts described as if it were just part of a common, cyclical business trend makes them bristle at such a notion.

"I'm not a huge fan of talking about 'bubbles' in terms of art and entertainment or any creative field really. I don't get it," admits Greg Wohlwend, creator of Hundreds and designer of Threes and Ridiculous Fishing. "Bubbles happen when the involved delude themselves. If you're worried about a bubble bursting and things seem too good to be true (or they were a while ago), I don't really know what to tell you. Look inward. Why were you so safe? Was that completely good? Bursting bubbles upset investors and stock markets, not artists."

"I don't think it has anything to do with a bubble popping," affirms Alex Jaffe, data scientist and designer at Road Not Taken developer, Spry Fox. "It's sort of the opposite, right? It's not that people are losing interest in indie games, or that there's some inflated fad about them. I think that we're really doing something that people care about, right?"

Race to the Bubble

While not a believer in the concept that there's a bubble for indie games on the whole, Threes creator Asher Vollmer (who showed his new game Close Castles at the IndieCade booth) does think there's a smaller, more specific bubble of opportunistic developers capitalizing with clones and cynical free-to-play titles—the latter of which he refers to as "basically slot machine casino development."

"A lot of new developers are rushing in, and they're like, 'Oh, the indie scene's a way to make money.' And they're flooding the market with clones and terrible things, and annoying, awful, stupid games," says Vollmer. "They're like, 'This game made money—let's just do that.' So I think that's a bubble that's going to burst, because everyone's going to realize that this is not lucrative and it's actually hurting us. I think there will be a small, little pop."

But he sees it as the kind of pop that will clear away not only such opportunistic developers, but also some of the players that feed on such cynical, free-to-play junk—perhaps the kind of players who scoff at the notion of a game being anything but free. "It should be normal to pay for games," says Eline Muijres, producer at Dutch studio Game Oven. That ought to be such a clear-cut, obvious statement; yet the "race to the bottom" on mobile storefronts in particular has diminished the perceived value of games.

Bounden is the latest title from Game Oven, and the inventive iOS game finds two players simultaneously holding a single iPhone, and the motions they're prompted to execute in concert effectively make them perform dance moves. Muijres and game designer Adriaan de Jongh danced with all manner of E3 attendees (including the mayor of a nearby city) at the IndieCade Showcase booth during the three-day event, and even some enthusiastic reactions were muted by the game's staggering App Store price: $3.99.

"A lot of new developers are rushing in, and they're like, 'Oh, the indie scene's a way to make money.' And they're flooding the market with clones and terrible things, and annoying, awful, stupid games." — Asher Vollmer

"It's definitely worth a lot—it should be like, probably two dollars," de Jongh recalls one interested player saying. His reaction: "Two dollars? What the hell, right?" Sadly, that's the perception created by the mobile free-to-play rush, and Vogel's concern about developers participating in bundles and selling their games for a pittance to raise awareness seems to follow a similar trajectory.

"Bundles can be great. If you have an older game that isn't bringing in much money anymore, putting it in a bundle is a wonderful way to generate some extra cash from it. Key word being 'older,'" asserts Gilbert. "I am a firm believer in that newer games should have more value. Have sales and discounts, certainly, but don't start selling it for pennies. The more developers that do that, the more it just devalues all games as a whole."

If anything, the rush towards low-priced bundles seems to be one potential solution towards fixing discoverability issues amidst the ever-growing pile of new game releases, but as high-profile bundles multiply in number and increase in visibility, it feels like a short-term fix—a bandage that has the potential to sting once it's torn away, the buzz fades, and the reality of how little you've earned from each copy sold really sinks in.

Make Your Case

Vollmer says that getting your game noticed is "easily the hardest part of game development nowadays," and a similar sentiment was echoed by everyone I spoke with. "If anything, what you're seeing is too many good games. That's really what it looks like to me," says Jaffe, pointing out his surroundings at the IndieCade booth. "I guess I look at it like a good problem. Yeah, you have to distinguish yourself more, but it sort of raises the stakes for everybody. Everybody needs to up their game, and I think a little bit of competition is healthy. So I'm excited about it."

Game Oven already makes wholly unique titles, whether it's Bounden or sensual two-player touchscreen puzzler Fingle, so if anyone knows about dreaming up and executing really distinctive game ideas, it's them. But getting that across to prospective players is about much more than simply making an original game, dropping it out into the world, and expecting everyone to flock to and fawn over it. Developers need to be able to explain what makes their game fresh and fantastic.

"Know what is unique about your game. Like, write 100 things down that are interesting about your game," says Muijres. Adds de Jongh, "If you can't come up with 100 things, then maybe it's going to be difficult to sell your game. On one hand, your game definitely has to be good. But on the other hand, you need to be talking about it a lot. And those two things need to be upped for the entire industry right now."

Part of the appeal of being an indie developer and working with a small team is the ability to experiment with new ways of reaching and interacting with audiences, as well as adapting to changes in the market—after all, they don't have the lumbering baggage of a massive corporation moving along with every maneuver. The limited scale of most indie operations allows them to recognize new opportunities and try to capitalize on them quickly; and if it doesn't work out, so be it.

For Vlambeer, Ismail says that embracing the live streaming and Let's Play community for Nuclear Throne has lent the game—which is available via Steam Early Access—a big momentum boost. As viewer numbers surge, it allows certain segments of the audience to better connect with a game and potentially also the creators, and it's something that they recognized early on in development and have benefitted from as the game approaches its official, full release.

"As indies, we really feel being adaptable is the most important thing we can do," affirms Ismail. "And I think indie as a whole is adaptable. Indie as a whole is a big thing, but we're all small, nimble, lean studios that can make a decision and just implement it."

Do it Anyway

There's no denying the fact that it's becoming very tough for indie developers to cut through the noise, get their great games into the hands of many players, and build a successful business off of it. Amazing, original games will at times continue to be overlooked, while rote, lazy clones will rake in the cash. It's not a perfect world. But if you make something you love and share your passion with the public, there's potential benefit. And if not, at least you created something meaningful—which might not be much consolation to anyone making a go at game development as a career.

"It's sad, because I would love there to be a world in which everybody could make a game and succeed with it, but that's not how this works, I guess," concedes Ismail. "I think what is important is that you can still make games because you're passionate about it. That's what indie stands for, for me. You can make a game because you love to make that game, and if it's good, then maybe you'll earn money. And if it's not, then maybe you won't."

"The variables in our artistic medium eclipse literature, music, and all forms of visual art and animation put together. There aren't many creative limits, which makes it the problem of whoever is relying on the market, not those who are evolving it." - Greg Wohlwend

In the face of that daunting challenge, some may equate idealism in this arena with ignorance of the issues ahead and the difficult road for newcomers. However, compared to Vogel's largely pessimistic post, Wohlwend's response is utterly optimistic and comes off as a heartfelt synthesis of the indie ethos.

"There are many billions of potential videogames that have yet to be made in a way that is easier than ever," he begins. "The variables in our artistic medium eclipse literature, music, and all forms of visual art and animation put together. There aren't many creative limits, which makes it the problem of whoever is relying on the market, not those who are evolving it."

"Yes, more people than ever are making videogames. Yes, it's harder to get people to pay attention to your game because of this. But more people making games is a way better thing for video games than a relative handful staying still in some happy middling of financial security," Wohlwend asserts. "Does that even exist? Is there some safe place I should know about? Where is this bubble? Regardless, a wider net means more people, hopefully more women and people of color, and it also means you can't get fed sticking to the status quo. Get weird. Get personal. Go exploring! Things will get even more indie!"

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Comments 27

  • Avatar for Ohoni #1 Ohoni 3 years ago
    The only Indy games I've picked up (and I've picked up a dozen or more, but not a ton), have been because people I respected hyped them. Maybe this site, often enough Penny Arcade or Tom Chick, lots of people play indy games and discuss them, and if they make them sound compelling, I'll buy. I don't buy games sight-unseen off a storefront any more than I would walk into a Best Buy and pick up something random off the shelf.

    It doesn't mean that the devs need massive marketing budgets, but it does require a middleman of professional and hobbyist reviewers to sift through the dross. I think two things could be very useful in this. The first is something that developers can do, make a "hardcore demo." Not like a traditional demo, designed to entice actual consumers with a taste of the game, usually from the first levels, but more like the sort of demos shown at E3 to press, take something cut from the meatiest part of the game, with all the best features in one bite, maybe something that never happens in the actual game, but that in 5-15 minutes of gameplay shows you all the great things about the game. Maybe include a brief about where this demo fits into the game, and making sure it's well documented to be easy to pick up and play. Get these out to anyone likely to report positively about your game, both pro journalists, and also youtubers and bloggers that have a significant reach. Don't count on people playing your game from the beginning, where it might not be as instantly compelling.

    The second is something that the journalism side should provide, get a network of semi-pro "pre-reviewers," guys who get some tiny stipend to just play games and see how they are. They would be paid to play a game for a little bit, and send out a short report up the chain, basically just saying whether it was complete crap or not. Then the actual reviewers, the ones with a knack for the words, would play the ones rated "not complete crap," without having to waste their times on the junk. If I were setting up such a network, I think I'd assign several games per month to each pre-reviewer, with some overlap so that each game got at least two chances to find a receptive audience. Part of their pay would, of course, be in free games, so it shouldn't be a huge expense.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #2 Pacario 3 years ago
    As an indie novelist, I've experienced the same thing as these game developers--the landscape of consumable content is now so vast, getting one's work noticed is becoming nigh-impossible, especially if one wants to earn some kind of money from his efforts. Indeed, making the item free is often the only way of ensuring any kind of movement in the marketplace. From a writer's standpoint, this means hoping that, if enough people enjoy the work, they may be willing to pay for the next book, or at least the one after that, or the one after...

    And ironically, this problem persists because the publication barrier is so low--almost anyone can publish an e-book, throw together a quick app, or shoot a Youtube video. But this ease and convenience comes with a great price--the arena is so cluttered and competition so fierce, true financial success is more elusive than ever before.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #3 Pacario 3 years ago
    @ZenRain I don't know, I think the free market arena is at least partially correcting itself, with certain free titles becoming both playable and winnable without forcing the player to spend cash. Angry Birds Epic is the latest example; judging from user reviews, it seems designed with purer motives than some free-to-play offerings. Which is great but...it has the counter effect of making the competition all that more insurmountable for indies struggling to get people to even spend a buck on their new game.

    It's a double-edged sword in the end; being able to make a game as easily as writing a book is great news for anyone with an interest in the hobby. But if you're seriously trying to move beyond the hobbyist sector and into something resembling self-employment, the deck is truly stacked against you. It's the same for the book and music industries--everyone is making stuff, so how can anyone digest enough of it to uncover the truly great works of art? It ain't easy.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #4 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    What it all comes down to is basically this: that word "bubble" is way overused. It does not make any sense to apply it in this case.

    There's always going to be a demand for indie games... and I think there is nothing decreasing that demand, in fact I think it's the opposite. The demand for indie games is likely to keep increasing, especially as the homogenization of big budget titles continues.
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  • Avatar for Mega_Matt #5 Mega_Matt 3 years ago
    Interesting. I'm noticing a lot of similarities between the indie games industry and the current craft beer industry. They are both in this potential bubble that may or may not be there. Mmmm, beer.
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  • Avatar for secularsage #6 secularsage 3 years ago
    While I like the idea of this article, I think it would have benefited from a deeper look into the arguments Jeff Vogel was actually making. Vogel's argument is very simple: If you have X amount of dollars available for indie games and Y amount of developers, the developers can expect to earn less, on average, as their numbers increase.

    Vogel is also pointing out that the large glut of indie games, combined with the large number of bundles and other deep discount promos, are devaluing the product to the point that gamers are buying games they don't necessarily want because they're really cheap. He says this is not sustainable and that it's a race to the bottom. He projects that only very small developers and very successful developers will weather the storm when the bubble bursts. Those in the $500k-2mil project range will collapse. (And he points to other sectors, such as mobile gaming, to establish historical precedent.)

    The best way to look at this issue isn't to ask indie devs what they think (because one of the symptoms of a bubble is that the people riding it don't acknowledge they're in a bubble until after it bursts). Rather, look at empirical evidence by taking a random sample of indie devs and asking them to share their average price paid per game. If Vogel's contention is correct, most are already seeing a decline in their average price and are having to offer discounts deeper and more quickly to keep up.

    The bubble probably has another year or two before it bursts, and the folks who will be the best hedged for it are those who have either built a large fanbase (such as Jonathan Blow and Team Meat) or those who have sweat equity rather than investment capital in their projects. Those who think it won't happen because the indie "scene" is so great clearly aren't paying attention to what happened to mobile phone games.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #7 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    @secularsage Vogel does have a point, but he also makes a mistake. It's not a zero sum game. Even if the supply of indie games increases, the demand may also continue to increase. If you think about why the demand for indie games is as high as it is (a lack of satisfaction with big budget games) the I think it's easy to conclude that the demand won't be going away any time soon, and will probably continue to increase.

    Which is not to say that there is infinite room for growth in the indie scene. It may well become oversaturated... but then again, it's never been easy to be the next Minecraft, and nothing's changed about that. With even more competition, it may get a little harder. But that is not the same thing as a "bubble" bursting. That's why the term "bubble" is inaccurate in this case. There's nothing unsustainable about the market for indie games. If it gets too big, market forces will force it to shrink, but it's not going to "pop" or go away. It's here to stay, likely for a long time.
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  • Avatar for docexe #8 docexe 3 years ago
    Mmm… This is a complicated issue. The race the bottom and the lack of discoverability are serious problems, but the way I see it, is not that the collective indie sector is going to collapse and crash as the term “bubble” implies, but that the impressive growth it has had in the past few years is going to slow down.

    Right now the problem is not so much that the demand for games is collapsing, but that the supply (and the supply at ridiculously low prices) is expanding to a degree that the market can’t sustain. In this climate, I don’t necessarily see the entire sector collapsing but rather stabilizing in the same way most markets do: A reduced number of new entrants due to the increased competition, with only a handful of those entrants becoming widely successful, while a number of established or “big name” players get most of the attention and revenue.
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  • Avatar for weevilo #9 weevilo 3 years ago
    Games by developers that have talent and a clear vision, and aren't simply trying their hand at making babies first Unity game, are going to find success. There's a very efficient ecosystem in place now for finding the cream of the crop. Youtube, Twitch and websites like this, PC Gamer, Eurogamer and Neogaf all help reinforce the buzz around the best games. Rogue Legacy, Spelunky, FTL, Fez, Thomas Was Alone, Binding of Isaac, Bastion/Transistor, Kerbal Space Program, The Stanley Parable, Terraria, and Hotline Miama are all highly original in some way and have easily found their audience. The problem isn't that there is a bubble, but that there are so few really standout and worthwhile indie games coming out in contrast to the insane number that are being produced. There really hasn't been a standout indie game this year, and nothing exciting is on my radar slated for release except for Crypt of the Necrodancer and Binding of Isaac: Rebirth.

    The comparisons the mobile market are pretty apt. Mobile games are good for a quick 5-10min throwaway experience. I keep a pretty close eye on most new indie games, and they largely seem to fit that samey clone mold, even if they have more interesting and fleshed out mechanics and lack the ridiculous F2P gating mechanisms found on mobile. Take a browse through this years releases and try to count the number of games that don't include one of a handful of keywords in their title: Dungeon, Pixel, Quest, Tower, or Legend, or that aren't a 2D pixel platformer with roguelike elements.
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  • Avatar for stfj #10 stfj 3 years ago
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  • Avatar for stfj #11 stfj 3 years ago
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  • Avatar for stfj #13 stfj 3 years ago
    I wrote a response to Jeff Vogel's blogpost way back when he first penned it as well. It's squirreled away on pastebin so i figured I'd post it here too:

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Jeff Vogel wrote an neat article about the 'indie bubble popping' that is making the rounds on twitter right now. You can (and should!) read it here: http://jeff-vogel.blogspot.de/2014/05/the-indie-bubble-is-popping.html

    This is a sort of addition/response by me, Zach Gage,@helvetica (Ridiculous Fishing, SpellTower, Guts of Glory)

    I'm not sure Jeff is entirely right, or entirely wrong, but I do think the article is definitely a bit sensationalist.

    I'm not positive I could say for sure that it’s explicitly harder to find success right now as an indie, it’s just different than it used to be.

    While it's assuredly true that it's harder to make money right now than it was during the "gold-rush", that was a gold-rush. It's almost pointless to even consider a market in that state, that's why they call it a gold-rush. If you are starting your business and planning around a gold-rush market, you should probably stop and re-plan your business around something more realistic — and the realistic version of the market that exists right now isn't exactly a cut and dry issue of more games and the same amount of gamers.

    While it’s true there are vastly more indie games coming out now, it’s not even remotely true that that the audience of gamers buying indie has not increased. Especially on mobile, the audience is both larger and more engaged than it ever has been. I think this is harder for some developers to handle, and easier for others. It really depends on what you're making, how you make it, and how comfortable you are with promoting it. For example, it would have been hard to make a ultra-niche game and find success years ago (as Jeff amazingly did), but now, the niches are large enough that you can target them very directly. Another example, it’s harder to get PR now, but years ago, PR for indies was almost literally just Brandon Boyer's Offworld blog. These days, there are many places you can go to have your story talked about, including, basically every major and minor games website, many tech and pundit websites, many newspapers, etc. Even if you’re competing with many others, this means that the strongest stories get way more traction today then they ever got in the past. Also, these days there are more role-models, blogs, tools, communities, and ways to learn than there ever have been in the past. All of these things make making games easier. That's WHY there are so many indie games all of a sudden.

    The real problem, I think, is there is a massive amount of information mythologizing of successful indies right now, and there's a fear that people are maybe jumping into the deep end based on beliefs about the ease of success that aren’t really / were never true.

    On the other hand, I feel like most of us indies who have found some success probably jumped into the deep end with idiot dreams and just got lucky / made it work. So the idea that we have to keep new people from making the same mistakes we made or somehow luckily didn't make strikes me as a sort of "bad parenting". It’s good to warn people of the dangers, but its also good to have them jump in when they really want to, and trust them to be smart and adaptable and make it work.

    But it is also important to try to provide would-be divers with honest information on what it's like.
    Of course, you can't just go around warning people that their dreams are never gonna get off the ground, nobody wants to hear that, and especially nobody wants to hear that from someone who has been successful, it comes off as defensive. But you can share your experiences in finding success and highlight just how hard and complicated it was. There's a way to share these stories in a positive encouraging way.

    I gave a talk literally about this exact topic in Argentina last year, it's available on youtube below. It's not a recipe for success, as much as it's a realistic look at what success can look like, which may not be quite how it's often portrayed in the media. I think this kind of honest portrayal is important for successful indies to spread, even if it's awkward and uncomfortable to talk about sometimes.
    You can see the talk here:


    Also as a total nit-picky side-note to all this ‘Bubble’ may not be the most appropriate term, since it connotes over-valuation. I don’t think the value of indiegames was ever over-inflated, the games that did well were great games, and they deserved the success they got. While it’s unclear that right now the same quality of games would garner the same success, I suspect that games of that quality deserve that level of success, and would maybe still find success these days, although perhaps not quite so much of it (or sometimes, more of it).
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  • Avatar for stfj #14 stfj 3 years ago
    ( sorry, i quadruple posted because it kept telling me something went wrong and I didn't think to check to see if it had worked :| )
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  • Avatar for Critical_Hit #15 Critical_Hit 3 years ago
    I think the "indie bubble" will burst, BUT I also believe it will be destroyed so a new medium tier can be created. And this gen, we'll see a chunk of developers "graduate up" to the fill there.

    I mean, it's been depressing watching the Medium Tier get stomped to death by the "AAA" megapublishers these past six years or so. Everything EA, Ubi Soft and Activision do are risky, expensive affairs that cost studios employees constantly. EA shuts down studios every 3 months or so because one product under-performs (a.k.a. "makes more money than most indie titles ever will in their lifetime").

    It's stupid. It's unhealthy. It's copy-and-pasted from Hollywood, which has a similar problem (but no real market for people to turn to as an alternative yet... Cable TV and OnDemand and Netflix could grow to be that alternative outlet though). Most of all, it's dangerous. We've seen so many Titans in the industry murder themselves chasing the lucrative "Call of Duty" model. And guys like Capcom are still recovering... while many more, like THQ, are just dead. Well, Nordic is changing their name, but whatever.

    So I feel like there will be small/medium publishers who will support the hell out of indies in the future and solve some of these problems. Like Midnight City? Majesco's label that will push indies like Costume Quest 2? Even Deep Silver, who's publishing Wasteland 2? Guys like Devolver Digital, Adult Swim Games, and even 505, are all betting... mostly on indies right now. And it's working out great for Devolver and Adult Swim too, I might add. I also, personally, still hold out hope that guys like XSeed and Akyss will end up publishing stuff like Pier Solar HD, Cyramore, Project Phoenix, Shiness and Soul Saga in the future too - it's right up their alley. Atlus has taken quite a shine to the indie team, ACE Team, too...

    There are tons of uninspired, boutique, artsy, chunky pixel-art style Metroidvanias and Roguelikes out there, and barren, simplistic first person puzzlers with procedurally generated everything, from true Garage developers working in Unity or whatever... I suspect those games will remain the lowest level "indie tier". But I really predict that a good number of the tier above that - some of these really impressive, fully 3D productions that EASILY would be published by someone just a few years ago. Stuff like No Man's Sky, Strike Vector, H-Hour: World's Elite, etc. - that will stop self-publishing this generation due to the advantages of teaming with a medium publisher.

    The Middle Tier needs to come back. The indie productions need some spacing between them, and awareness. And the smaller publishers need games to bulk up their catalog; ones that are mostly- or fully-funded already HAVE to be attractive in that case.Edited 2 times. Last edited June 2014 by Critical_Hit
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  • Avatar for Royfe #16 Royfe 3 years ago
    Artists have been struggling to find ways to be able to make a living off of their work for centuries, and like it or not Indie developers don't have a good alternative to the open market system right now if they want to do that. This means that Indie development is in fact a business model, regardless of what else it may be. Because of that, I think trying to dismiss the problem by saying "Indie development is more than just economics" is either dishonest or a little dumb.

    On the other hand, I guess there's not really anything anyone can do about this problem. I predict that it will become harder and harder for new studios to be noticed, and that indie firms come into existence from the bases of successful indie studios that basically act as talent scouts for the newer, smaller companies. Perhaps the new incarnation of Polytron is the first wave of that?Edited 2 times. Last edited June 2014 by Royfe
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  • Avatar for docexe #17 docexe 3 years ago
    @stfj That was a thoughtful post, thanks for sharing.

    And yeah, the term “bubble” is often misapplied when it comes to what is happening in the indie sector. It’s actually cringe worthy if you know what the term means in economics. “Gold rush” is a more apt descriptor of the situation, and yeah, I think that period is going to end if it has not ended already in some channels.Edited June 2014 by docexe
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  • Avatar for secularsage #18 secularsage 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 The point I'm making is not that Vogel is right or wrong, but that his assertion can be tested by looking at actual data to see if the shape of a bubble is forming.

    Andrew went and asked indie developers if there is really an indie bubble, and of course they told him no. It would be ridiculous for them to say yes. They're part of the scene, and they have a vested interest in its sustainability. They also really believe in it and want it to continue.

    Vogel's an old-school indie dev, from the days where indie games had to be sold through word-of-mouth and not through modern digital marketplaces. He has a reason to think the sky is falling -- it's a different paradigm from where he's spent most of his career, and it's likely very frustrating to see a sudden torrent of new developers hitting the scene. But that bias doesn't change the logic of this proposition:

    For any creative industry (publishing, music, theatre, visual art, video games, cinema, etc), there are a finite number of customers and, as a result, a finite number of available dollars.

    The more people there are trying to attract those dollars, the lower an average share each member will get. (And also, as some commenters on Vogel's thread mentioned, the more disproportionate the share of the funds taken by the greatest successes due to the desire of more casual audiences to dip their toes in the water with something proven).

    That hypothesis can be easily tested. All it requires is matching up average indie developer revenues with monthly numbers of indie game releases and seeing if there is an inverse relationship where as X games go up, Y average revenues go down. (Unexplained peaks might be attributed to Steam store sales or particularly popular indie bundles, but a trend should present itself fairly quickly in the data).

    To do this, an analyst would simply need to take a random sample of indie devs and ask them to provide sales data for anonymous analysis. (It would probably be easy for them to get this data directly from a marketplace such as Steam). Many would likely provide it if they could, because this is an important question.

    That sort of analysis is much more useful than asking indie devs if they believe their own scene's hype.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #19 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    @secularsage Wait, what? You want to test if supply affects economy? Don't be silly, of course it does. But you also can't forget to factor in demand, as well.

    It's also incorrect that there is a "finite amount of customers/dollars." The economy is not a zero sum game. The amount of available money is constantly growing/shrinking, and demand will go up or down for other reasons. So even if there are X number of potential customers today, there could easily be more tommorow.
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  • Avatar for alexb #20 alexb 3 years ago
    I guess we'll know whether or not there was a bubble in a year or two.
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  • Avatar for docexe #21 docexe 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91@secularsage
    Honestly, doing statistical analysis of the sales of the total indie sector and its rate of growth would be useful to tell whether or not the sector is healthy or approaching collapse as some fear.

    But I’m not sure if an accurate picture could be provided by only sampling a few developers. Hell, I’m not sure an accurate picture will be provided until Valve and all the other digital distributors (including the console manufacturers), start providing sales numbers.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #22 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    @docexe I think it would be a tough thing to study. We also have to keep in mind that oversaturation and a "bubble" are two different things.
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  • Avatar for docexe #23 docexe 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 Yeah, they are different concepts. Honestly, I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with how so many commenters of the videogame industry are referring to any potential financial crisis as “a bubble bursting”.

    In economic terms, a “bubble” implies a collapse due to an unsustainable overvaluation of goods/prices, usually due to speculatory activities. While you could probably use the term to describe some of the trends in the mobile, social and F2P sectors, it’s not really accurate to describe the situation of the indie sector in this way.Edited June 2014 by docexe
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  • Avatar for nipsen #24 nipsen 3 years ago
    Well, whatever else may or may not be true - a lot of smaller games by random developers are starting to directly compete with the larger "AAA" title games. If not on number of shaders and hours spent on each texture, then at least they're competing for people's time and where they spend their money. Very much like what happens in music and in comics.

    So "indies" are gaining marketshare, and apparently also expanding the size of the market to people who.. appreciate creativity and entertainment that doesn't make your brain bleed. As opposed to being filed away in a "here are the crap games" library on the xbox marketplace, for those specially interested in a very badly made zombie stick shooter.

    Instead they're starting to look like AAA titles, except they're often fun and well made. So that it's possible to reward developers who make good games with success.

    And you don't need to listen very hard to understand how much that upsets people who are invested in the largest publishers continuing to have no competition.
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #25 Exhuminator 3 years ago
    Too much choice leads to malaise and apathy. It's the same now as it was in 1983. (As far as indies are concerned.)
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