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The problem is too many games
May 25, 2014 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Indie gaming started out as games written with passion for people who embraced and loved them. 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.
Veteran indie game developer Jeff Vogel says the indie game bubble is popping.
posted by MartinWisse (86 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now, however, there are a lot of [Humble] bundles. Many of them. Their main purpose: help established developers squeeze a few more dimes out of fading (or faded products). They are a product of the glut.

This is very true.
posted by winna at 7:56 AM on May 25


I could not figure out for a few minutes why his name and voice seemed familiar. Then he mentioned his daughter and I realized it's the author of The Poo Bomb. Which I loved when I read it in blog form a decade ago and still loved when a friend send it to me when our sone came.

Which I mention because I am unsure I will take business advice from someone who hasn't made that brilliant work available as an ebook.. Get it together, Jeff,

I think he's for sure right on the game glut though. I have dozens of things in my Steam account from bundle purchases. Purchases where I paid a pretty low rate because I was really only buying them to get access to one or two things; I feel sorta bad about that - that rate is split between many people, not just the ones I really want. But I'm not going to pay more than I am willing just because of how they chose to market something.
posted by phearlez at 7:57 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Look, I just want to play Hyper Light Drifter. I can still do that, right?

Speaking of, where's the denunciation of Kickstarter giving developers false hope that their ideas can make money? Except that's sort of the opposite of this argument, if gamers are willing to invest in a game on kickstarter doesn't that mean there's still demand for games
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:03 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Oh, there's demand for games in the abstract, but how will you, the developer, make that into demands for your games?

Kickstarter is great, but as it has become an established fundraising tool, you have the same problem of getting attention for your project amongst all the similar ones being launched.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:05 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]


Here's how old I am:

I read this, clicked through to the Spiderweb Software page, and was all "Avernum got ported to Windows?! Whaaaat?"

*farts dust*
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:09 AM on May 25 [11 favorites]


Kickstarter is great, but as it has become an established fundraising tool, you have the same problem of getting attention for your project amongst all the similar ones being launched.

Especially pertinent given the most recent kickstarter for Harmonix, which went really close to the wire. Harmonix is one of those middle developers from the article, who can't just make a game on strings and chewing gum, but doesn't have the AAA budgets. They barely made their goal with a day or two to spare.
posted by zabuni at 8:13 AM on May 25


Message received, Supreme Leader. I am now taking up my lead pipe and moving to pop this loathsome bubble.
posted by delfin at 8:16 AM on May 25


It's all true. Indie games were a welcome antidote to the lumbering, creaking, can't-not-be-a-major-event AAA game behemoths; they were generally too simple to fuck up badly, and even if they were, you hadn't invested that much time and money in them. If you grab a fast food hamburger and it's not the best burger you've ever had, it's not as big of a deal as the multi-course feast that you've been anticipating for literally years, and when you've worked your way through the several courses and are eagerly anticipating dessert, the pièce de résistance that will be remembered for years afterward, instead the waiters carelessly toss a random handful of Little Debbie cakes onto the table, still in their plastic wrapping. (I am, of course, speaking of Mass Effect 3.)

So why do I still replay ME3 instead of one of the numerous unplayed Humble Bundle games that I have somewhere on my hard drive? The same reason why I don't eat burgers every night, I guess.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:19 AM on May 25 [7 favorites]


I think it's a larger symptom of the industry as a whole (and probably a lot of industries). We had the MMO bubble for a long while where everyone was racing to be the next World of Warcraft. Then came the social games bubble, which mercifully seems to be popping. I feel like mobile is the next bubble to pop since people are figuring out it's not as simple as "release game on iphone...???...profit!" anymore. But there's definitely a race to be a quirky indie title, like 10,000 developers suddenly decided they could be Wes Anderson to mix my media, and that seems to be the new thing.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:25 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]


The problem with the indy game industry is similar to the problems with the indy comics industry and indy music industry... it turns out there are a whole lot of talented people out there who are no longer constrained, as in years past, by limited channels of distribution and publicity. So there's a glut of really great stuff but you can't tell because there's an even huger glut of fair-to-middling that your audience has to wade through to find your great stuff.

At least if you come up with a unique and interesting web comic, people can make their own teeshirts with your characters, and it's illegal but the stakes are too low for anybody to do much about it, but few or nobody is going to be brazen enough to rip off your comics wholesale. More people will duplicate and spread your music around than you could ever make money off of, but they can't name their band after you and claim they're you.

In the indy gaming world, though, it seems that anything goes. There's not even a gentlemen's-agreement level of discretion. As the creators of Threes and Flappy Bird know. It really seems like the more you bust your ass to create a good, straightforwardly playable game, the more you're simply doing other people's work for free. Like, eighty companies' worth of other people. Which adds to the overall market dilution, but also will serve as discouragement to the good designers and encouragement to the ripoff artists, as it becomes increasingly obvious that the way to fortune is to scam a good idea and then, King Games/Zynga style, strong-arm the creator into conceding their rights to you.
posted by ardgedee at 8:27 AM on May 25 [15 favorites]


This article is totally right. Only the problem is worse. Not only are there too many PC games on Steam. Those games are now competing with a robust mainstream market for smartphone games, and tablet games, and browser games, and Facebook games.

And if that's not enough, those released games are now competing with unreleased games, completely ephemeral things where you pay for the idea of a game and the hope that maybe someday the game will be released and you can play it. Only it won't actually be released, it'll be an "alpha", then a "beta", then laughably a "gamma". Really, why bother even finishing a game if people will pay you for your game anyway? Avoid the whole review cycle!

The most predatory of these "buy the game that does not exist" things I've seen yet is Star Citizen, which has taken in $44 million for a game where you fly around spaceships in a giant procedurally generated universe. Except that universe doesn't exist and last I heard the only code you could actually run lets you look at a rendered spaceship sitting motionless in a hanger. Nevertheless, people are paying hundreds of dollars for special rare spaceships in the hopes one day they can fly them. The Star Citizen project is not a game, it's a marketing campaign for a game. I sure hope it turns into a real game some day or a bunch of people are going to be disappointed. It's many, many months behind schedule, to the extent there even is a schedule. Why bother shipping when you can just keep collecting money?
posted by Nelson at 8:29 AM on May 25 [5 favorites]


I don't disagree with the author, but I don't understand how this:
This wouldn't be a problem if there were a demand, but there's not. After all, almost 40% of games bought on Steam don't get tried. As in, never even launched once! At least the people who download free-to-play games try them.
is supposed to be evidence of the bubble. Or that there are lots of bundles now is evidence of the bubble. Lots of people buy books, very cheaply, that never get opened, but nobody says books are in a bubble for it.

To me, this looks like evidence of a different phenomenon: that people who make games are going to end up like filmmakers and musicians and authors. A small number of people are going to make hits and get very, very rich, while everybody else is going to be a stereotypical starving artist.

On preview: Nelson has it. Paying for vaporware is a better piece of evidence for the bubble.
posted by ddbeck at 8:38 AM on May 25 [6 favorites]


If you were to pay in advance for any Chris Roberts game after all the bullshit that went down with Freelancer (where they had to pull him off the project and hand it to Jörg Neumann to finish it) you really deserve everything you get.

Regarding indie? It's just a shift in gaming towards more micro communities. One look at Twitch and you see dozens if not hundreds of small microcommunities of maybe a few thousand people just doing something they enjoy. So long as a few thousand people doing something they enjoy can pay for the developer to eat I don't see anything wrong with that.
posted by Talez at 8:48 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


I agree that there is a problem. I have friends in the industry (Blizzard, EA, etc...) who are trying to go their own route on mobile or work in smaller places. I worry for them. They are in that middle market. But they're doing mobile, so maybe not quite as bad (but then again, I would LOVE it if there was some curation/baggage reduction in the Play store, because if I have to see another cowclickerfarmerTowerDefenseFlappy4096BediamonedClone in that place, I will rip more of my hair out.

Speaking of no hair. Adam Sessler is now retiring from Games Journalism... A harbinger, I think.

I think this is really an issue all around. I think Nintendo has some severe problems in the console realm, even though the WiiU has some interesting games. I don't know if "more power" is enough to change the market.

As a person working on their own game, I am both saddened by this, but at the same time, I never expect to get rich off my games. I am making them because I want to play the games I envision, and they don't exist yet. Some of them are boring and bland (my first one that I'm working on right now, it has some interesting twists, but in the end it's a retro shooter. I hope people like it, but if not, well I learned something in making it that I can apply to future games.

I think there are still plenty of amazing things to be done in the game space, but if I can see fewer and fewer clones and half made products. I like the idea of greenlighting and kickstarter, and I think these are great tools if used properly, but I feel that too many people are doing the gold-rush (fool's gold?) with these tools and the signal-to-noise ratio is definitely hard to deal with.

Frankly, any creative endeavor where it's cheap and easy to create and share in such an increasingly populated world/market is going to run into such an issue. The giant monopolies, oligopolies and cartels that exist from previous iterations of these forms of production retain a certain advantage at this point, but it only holds for certain types of games. Is there "disruption" to these guys at the low end? Sure. But at some point so much disruption causes so much chaos that you're all fighting for scraps (which is really where his x money for y games formula comes in)....

All I know is that I'm going to keep making stuff while I can cuz I'm not getting any younger and it would be nice to see something of my own handicraft out there in the world for once.
posted by symbioid at 8:51 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]


Oh, I was also going to say that "blaming Steam" thing he talks about? I didn't know it was a *thing* but after reading the thread on that killer asshole, it makes me think we have "nice guy devs" who think they deserve special treatment from the "pretty girl: Steam"
posted by symbioid at 8:53 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure indie games/game developers are alive and well on Android.
posted by Malice at 8:57 AM on May 25


After all, almost 40% of games bought on Steam don't get tried.

I'm one of those people who buys things on Steam and then doesn't get around to playing them. The author talks about the pool of dollars, X, that gamers have. The variable I didn't see him address was the finite amount of time we all have to play games. Steam induces me to buy games because I've seen them get great reviews and then they are pushing my buttons by putting them on sale. So I buy them, optimistic that I'll have time to play them later, only that free time never comes when later gets here. While I don't argue there isn't an indie game bubble, I don't think his 40% number is relevant - that is Steam figuring out a way to monetize my optimism.

P.S. The best part about gaming stories on the blue is that people inevitably start showing up with actual game recommendations that are, in my experience, gold (at least for the 60% that I get around to playing). So if you people could start dropping in the examples of killer indie games that deserve my attention, I would greatly appreciate it! kthxbai.
posted by BlueTongueLizard at 9:00 AM on May 25 [24 favorites]


ardgedee: In the indy gaming world, though, it seems that anything goes. There's not even a gentlemen's-agreement level of discretion. As the creators of Threes and Flappy Bird know. It really seems like the more you bust your ass to create a good, straightforwardly playable game, the more you're simply doing other people's work for free. Like, eighty companies' worth of other people.

If only there were some way companies and individuals could protect expensive-to-develop-yet-easy-to-copy functional and aesthetic design in the domains of patent, trademark, and copyright law.

IF ONLY.
posted by mistersquid at 9:01 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Hi, former-AAA (Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite), current funded-indie-developer here.

Pretty much everything in this article is, as the author freely admits, immediately obvious to anyone affected by it:

Because it's redundant. I mean, we knew all of this, right? Gamers certainly know. It's been a few years since looking at the new indie games went from, "Ooh! Let's see what treats await me today!" to "Aaaahhh! So much stuff! I am stressed out now!"

The question that isn't answered by the article is what your average indie developer is supposed to do about this, and the answers seem likewise obvious:

1) Buzz is life - if your elevator pitch does not lead with why the press will notice and not shut up about your game, you should probably go back to the drawing board immediately.

2) Resist the race to the bottom and avoid mobile at all costs - the market for mobile is now dominated by enormous companies that churn out hundreds of titles and reap the rewards on the few that hit. Gameloft is one of, if not THE, largest gaming companies in the world - 5000 employees across 20+ studios. They've won, and unless you have a Minecraft-grade revolutionary product on your hand that is specific to mobile, you are wasting your time entering the space. This goes double for Android where platform fragmentation creates PC-style development difficulties and the 4x larger userbase is significantly more than 4x less likely to pay for applications.

3) The Minecraft business model is still alive and working perfectly well - there's nothing at all about the current state of affairs that precludes a $10 Kickstarter alpha access, $10 beta sale access, and $15 released product that does something different from succeeding. My friend and former co-worker Tynan demonstrated this recently with RimWorld.

In short - the market for <6 month projects is dead. Talk to your rich friend, or make a quick vertical slice and shop to local angel investors, whatever it takes - but get funding, and use it to bankroll a period of content OR tech development that sets you apart from everyone else and markets itself through immediately apparent visuals. If you have to talk in your trailer, you're probably doing something wrong.
posted by Ryvar at 9:02 AM on May 25 [28 favorites]


Oh, and UE4 is a godsend - the time to move away from Unity is yesterday. $20/mo for full source access* to a AAA engine that includes working project templates for most genres? And for each template you can choose the C++ implementation or the in-editor visual programming implementation?

*The degree to which this is crucial cannot be overstated - if there's a platform-level bug that's affecting your product, you can patch it immediately. As far as I'm aware that's not true of any other engine available to indie developers.
posted by Ryvar at 9:07 AM on May 25 [16 favorites]


It's interesting how people don't take the same attitude toward creative/artistic/entertainment products that they do towards other businesses. Everyone knows the dire stats about the life expectancy of new restaurants, but you don't see a lot of hand-wringing about "the restaurant bubble" popping.

If indie gaming has proved anything, it's that the proprietary console model and the we-built-an-amazing-PC-engine model are no longer the only ones in town. Today, anyone with the right skills who is willing to invest time and resources can offer something up. Like restaurant entrepreneurs, many of the ones who try will fail to achieve the dream. Some won't have realistic expectations about the process. Others won't be able to keep up with the difficult juggling act of keeping on top of the creative, financial, and promotional responsibilities that a small business faces. Some profoundly mediocre or derivative products will get lucky; other entirely deserving products will not get the big break they deserve. That's the unfortunate reality for any small business.

Maybe there are "too many games" right now. If there are, then some of those developers will have to move on to other things. The price people are willing to pay for games will drop, perhaps below the threshold that is profitable. For my part, I fail to see how the gaming community collectively can see this as anything other than an exciting time: One in which the consumer can choose from a vast array of options, and one in which small creative teams at least have the opportunity to make the games they want to make. Even having that opportunity is remarkable, and the last few years have showcased what remarkable range the medium can have.

In this regard, Kickstarter is a game changer for an important reason: It can scuttle a hopeless cause *before* the developers bury themselves in debt. This is perhaps the most merciful way for the bubble to burst: Better to be told you don't have an audience before you sink a year (or more) of your life and all of your savings into a project. Yes, there's a potentially predatory component to the process, but the backers are becoming a more discerning group, and better understand the speculative nature of the enterprise than they did initially. It's all a work in progress, but I think both gamers and small developers have a lot of reasons to be hopeful.
posted by belarius at 9:10 AM on May 25 [17 favorites]


Interesting note: the EFF has a big (like, more than 30%) chunk of its budget provided by the Humble Bundles. So if that goes away...
posted by curuinor at 9:21 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]


Everyone knows the dire stats about the life expectancy of new restaurants, but you don't see a lot of hand-wringing about "the restaurant bubble" popping.

I think part of the difference in presentation there just comes down to the scope of the thing; you certainly do see hand-wringing about things like restaurant bubbles, at a local/regional level, as supply and demand and local regulation and costs and market saturation in a given city create growth and recession.

Indie gaming is something that doesn't, today, have that sort of regional constraint—if you're on the internet, you're in the marketplace, period. So the booms and crises play out at a global level.

(A decent intersection of our two examples could be food cart ventures in various cities; you have the captive-to-local-economy constraint but also the relatively low-cost startup costs that distinguish a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant startup from more indie "maybe I can do this too!" approaches.)
posted by cortex at 9:22 AM on May 25 [5 favorites]


This article is totally right. Only the problem is worse. Not only are there too many PC games on Steam. Those games are now competing with a robust mainstream market for smartphone games, and tablet games, and browser games, and Facebook games.

And so many are a permutation of a tower defence game, Bejewelled, or some other game with a million takes on them. It reminds me when comics were diverse and then became almost an exclusive superhero genre...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:36 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]


And so many are a permutation of a tower defence game, Bejewelled, or some other game with a million takes on them. It reminds me when comics were diverse and then became almost an exclusive superhero genre...

Precisely. The reason for that is those games are generally ones that can be knocked out in a few months by a few developers - they're playing the lottery, only they've been crowded out by the Gamelofts and Zyngas of the world.

The opposite side of this coin is that when a tower defense game comes along that has had people pouring years of work into perfecting all aspects of it - mechanics, visuals, audio - it usually performs exceptionally well. Kingdom Rush is the perfect example of this, but it clearly required significant early capital to develop.
posted by Ryvar at 9:45 AM on May 25


Things haven't been good since NHL '96.
posted by goatdog at 9:47 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]


Ryvar: "... the time to move away from Unity is yesterday."

Best news I've heard all day, and I can't wait until game studios start doing so!
posted by barnacles at 9:55 AM on May 25


In my little corner of videogames, this article spawned a big conversation on the need for better curation of games. Right now, games are sold in the equivalent of a Tower Records, and there are no good record stores anywhere. I would argue that until very recently, this didn't matter, because the number of games coming out was very small, but we may finally be reaching a point where the supply is broad enough that a boutique game store may have real utility.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 9:57 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]


Yes. There is a weird undercurrent of "rebel" gamers who want to champion every "indie" or "small european developer game" as a way to piss in the face of Big Gaming. But lots and lots of these small games suck.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:57 AM on May 25


And so many are a permutation of a tower defence game, Bejewelled, or some other game with a million takes on them. It reminds me when comics were diverse and then became almost an exclusive superhero genre...

I'm not sure that's a great example. Comics didn't become a superhero monolith by some sort of force of nature - it happened because Congressional investigations an nation wide manhunts scared everyone away from the other genres until the medium became moribund and static.

If anything, PC gaming's version of the Superhero Comic is the FPS shooter, which the indie development boom has done a great job offering alternatives to.
posted by absalom at 10:01 AM on May 25 [2 favorites]


He doesn't talk about the perceived value damage that all these cheap games create. Now you have mid-size developers trying to produce AAA titles, only to fucking put them on sale a month before launch. You can buy Wildstar for 25% off right now. This is bad business whether you sell video games or skateboards. The bubble is the bubble, developers have to ride it out, but now they're just being ridiculous.
posted by Brocktoon at 10:02 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Which really is kind of the gist of his argument, and where I agree the indie games market is heading. Now that the market is free from the roulette-wheel style influence of Steam (which was just a product of there being Too Many Games in the first place), being lucky isn't enough anymore. You have to actually be good.
posted by Punkey at 10:02 AM on May 25


Oh, and UE4 is a godsend - the time to move away from Unity is yesterday. $20/mo for full source access* to a AAA engine that includes working project templates for most genres? And for each template you can choose the C++ implementation or the in-editor visual programming implementation?

I think this speaks to the demands of a very particular type of developer, but honestly a lot of those features are not very attractive to me. As another former-AAA-turned-independent, I think it's a choice between the devil you know and yet another new god.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 10:04 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


I'm with GameDesignerBen on the curation issue. I'd love to play more indie games -- hell, more games in general -- and I've spent weeks and months looking for something worth my time and money, only to come away empty-handed. I just don't have a meaningful way to sift through what's available to find the gold. Or the games that would be gold to me, anyway. I'm *trying to throw money at them* and I can't.
posted by Andrhia at 10:07 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Stuff I have on Steam: Too damn much crap I never actually wanted to buy because it came along with something in Humble Bundle.

Time I've spent playing stuff on Steam: I have a 360 hooked up to a projector in the other room and I've been slowly working through the many deaths of Dark Souls.

I keep on vaguely thinking I want to play through Kentucky Route Zero now that it's up to part three, part one was way cool, and I haven't touched it since. Not when I can just kick back with the controller instead.
posted by egypturnash at 10:07 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


I think this speaks to the demands of a very particular type of developer, but honestly a lot of those features are not very attractive to me. As another former-AAA-turned-independent, I think it's a choice between the devil you know and yet another new god.

I probably should've included a caveat that there is an inevitable transition cost in terms of switching engines, and depending on your schedule, skill-investment in Unity, and how close you're riding the margins it may not make sense financially at this exact moment.

That said, UE4 is an amazing product - I can run a debug instance of the editor in Visual Studio, edit my gameplay code while the editor is running, hot-recompile (while that instance is still running) and 7 seconds later watch my new gameplay code kick in immediately in the same editor instance. If you ever looked into Runtime-Compiled C++, it's the same essential tech.

I can't even begin to describe the impact this has on gameplay iteration time. The setup is not for the faint of heart, but it's one of those rare genuine sea changes in the process of gameplay design, and it wouldn't be possible without full source access.

Everything else - my point about independently patching platform bugs aside - just comes down to feature lists and workflow familiarity.
posted by Ryvar at 10:20 AM on May 25


When I look at games like Kerbal Space Program, FTL, Kentucky Route Zero, Factorio, and Rimworld, it's hard for me to say that all product is undifferentiated. Yes, Valve is trying to open Greenlight to everyone, because they've been pretty open that they see the platform as a marketplace, not the curation business.

However, if you want more curated content, GOG.com has announced they will be stepping into the fray. Also, without Kickstarter (which is barely mentioned in this article), there wouldn't be games like Wasteland 2 or Hot Tin Roof: The Cat Who Wore a Fedora.

Though really, what's the corollary to Sturgeon's Law? 90% of everything is crap. Shovelware has always been with us.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:26 AM on May 25 [9 favorites]


Wow that UE4 licensing is insane. We looked into UE when we created the Distributed Observer Model for NASA and it would have been a quarter or half mil, I don't remember which. So we went with Torque and did indeed have to hack on the C both for bugs and to get altered behavior we needed.

Makes me a little sad to think what we might have made with an affordable UE.
posted by phearlez at 10:29 AM on May 25 [3 favorites]


phearlez: "I have dozens of things in my Steam account from bundle purchases. Purchases where I paid a pretty low rate because I was really only buying them to get access to one or two things; I feel sorta bad about that - that rate is split between many people, not just the ones I really want."

With Humble Bundles, you can customize the way your money is split. Choose to give it all to those two developers whose games you wanted, or all to charity, or whatever else you fancy.
posted by tybeet at 10:36 AM on May 25


> Indie gaming started out as games written with passion for people who embraced and loved them. 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.

I think you could replace "indie gaming" and "games" with pretty much any product and this statement would still be true.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:40 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Poor sickly PC gaming seems to have so many problems, doesn't it? Just two years ago PC gaming was dying because mobile was the Wave of the Future and PCs would be relegated to the dustbin of history as developers switched exclusively to making Angry Bird clones for $0.99 a copy. And now PC Gaming is in trouble because there are too many games and they cost too little and the whole thing is just poised to implode any second now. And what happens when the Google Glasses and the Oculus Rift are released? I fear that PC gaming won't be able to survive the shock. So with teary eyes, I think I have no choice but to start writing my clickbait editorial PC Gaming: Finally Dead Forever?: An Obituary.
posted by Pyry at 10:46 AM on May 25 [6 favorites]


His argument is basically "there's X amount of money and Y number of developers, and Y is going up but X isn't." Would have been nice to see some numbers on that. He also argues that bundles don't make as much money as they used to. Would like to see some numbers there, too.
posted by Peevish at 10:47 AM on May 25


BlueTongueLizard: Two indies I've played recently are Machinarium (Android and Steam, to my knowledge; very charming puzzle game but I've only solved the first three puzzles yet) and Monument Valley (Android, maybe Steam? Extremely beautiful puzzle game whose only trouble might be that it's too short). Also, I will recommend Bastion probably to the end of time and the same company's Transistor sight unseen based on the ravings I have received from friends who have had the time to play it since it came out last week. (Bastion is available on many platforms; Transistor is PS4 and PC only so far, but like I said, one week in. They are both isometric hack and slash games, which undersells them so very, very badly. Nice story, beautiful art, transcendent music.)

curuinor: I didn't know that about the EFF. It is a bit worrying. Well, as long as the Humble Bundles continue to be bundled with the game soundtracks, their contributions from me are safe. Although one factor about the Bundles not making as much money, if indeed they aren't, is that they have been repeating games sometimes, and those are the ones I don't buy. I would like to see some numbers, too, which took that into account.

GameDesignerBen: I would love to have a good games curator available. Maybe GameStop will recognize the opport---hahahaha I slay me. The news from GoG has me cautiously optimistic, though.
posted by seyirci at 11:04 AM on May 25 [4 favorites]


The article reminded me of the Dizzy Dean quote: "Nobody goes there anymore— it's too crowded."

It mostly seems like business advice to devs, which I can't speak to. As a gamer, I think it's great and amazing that one or two-man teams can produce novel games— we're going to see a lot of crap, but also jewels like Gunpoint and SpyParty.
posted by zompist at 11:31 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Oh, and UE4 is a godsend - the time to move away from Unity is yesterday. $20/mo for full source access* to a AAA engine that includes working project templates for most genres? And for each template you can choose the C++ implementation or the in-editor visual programming implementation?


This a thousand times.

I've used Unity since it was Mac only and cost money. I've used Unreal since before the first Unreal came out (1998).

Spent most of my time with Unreal 3. There was always a split between my sideproject stuff which used Unity and professional work which was UE3.

UE3 was a beast. It required a team, and Unrealscript while not horrible, was hard to work with. Extending the engine was even worse. I'm not an Engineer by trade, but I can do some damage. UE3 was just hard for me to grok.

UE4 however is astonishing. When they told me they were going after Unity I told them they were full of shit.

After the release I wrote a nice email and said "Oh, now I get it".

I now use UE4 exclusively, both professionally and personally. It's not easy per-se, and the lack of a robust asset store is a negative

But holy shit it's an amazing engine. Workflow, tooling, features, documentation, community. It's a piece of technology that used to cost millions that you can get for 19 bux.

I don't know what's going to happen with Indies. I know that the back-catalog and scam stuff on Steam is a big issue. Mobile is a clusterfuck and UA costs are insane.

But games can still get made. My issue is that I got old and have a family, so I can't work on indie stuff in my garage. But I still love to make games every day, and still do it at home as well.

So yeah, doom doom doom. Vogel is a good judge since he's been around, in the trenches, fighting the good fight.

But I believe we'll survive this the same as we survived the rest. And the tools are fucking awesome now, so it's a bit more fun surviving.
posted by Lord_Pall at 11:44 AM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Competition is good. See also: Sturgeon's Law
posted by blue_beetle at 11:52 AM on May 25


From Rob / RetroRemakes: why this isn't anything particularly new.

I am actually concerned that people are coming into this looking for a way to make money. Making money off of art has been and always will be hard. Building structures to fairly distribute money to artists, and celebrate interesting artists is hard. So us indie game developers are racing to the bottom, the fact that I can make a game in an afternoon and potentially connect it to thousands of people is amazing. Lets hope steam opens all the way soon. Lets make great criticism soon.

Things that give me hope:

Forrest Ambassador
Warp Door
and of course the late great free indie games

I make my paycheck off of indie games too, but I would rather every single kid be able to make games as easy as making comics and zines then to keep making my money from games. Hopefully we can have it both ways.
posted by jonbro at 12:24 PM on May 25


Lord_Pall: if you haven't already yet, check out BrickGame, a BSD-licensed Minecraft-style voxel plugin for UE4 written by Epic's former senior graphics architect, and you might also want to keep an eye on Flathead (can't link, subscriber forums only), a soon-to-be-released plugin that enables V8 Javascript for UE4 - depending on how you were scripting in Unity, that might be huge for you.
posted by Ryvar at 12:31 PM on May 25


goatdog: "Things haven't been good since NHL '96."

Them's fightin' words. NHL '94 or go home.

On a serious note, though, the way I even got introduced to Jeff Vogel and Spiderweb Software was on a 200-in-1 shareware CD I got in the early 90s. I can't say any game on that disc stuck with me, aside from one decent indie game called Exile: Escape from the Pit. There's always been crap.

And the cream will rise to the top, as noted by the fact that I just got done logging 130 hours on Spiderweb's Avadon 2, released just last year.
posted by Hot Like Your 12V Wire at 12:58 PM on May 25


With Humble Bundles, you can customize the way your money is split. Choose to give it all to those two developers whose games you wanted, or all to charity, or whatever else you fancy.

Yes and no. You can split your money however you want between charities, developers and Humble. You can't, however, decide WHICH developers get your money; it's either all or none. So if you're buying a bundle that only has two games out of eight you're interested in, you can't just give the people who made those two games your money and the other six none at all.

This is actually a good thing in the end, I think, because otherwise participating in a bundle would be even less worthwhile than it already is for smaller publishers with games that aren't as well known.
posted by chrominance at 1:07 PM on May 25


chrominance: That's incorrect, unless they changed it last week. I've been able to adjust the split to specific developers for years.
posted by adrianhon at 1:29 PM on May 25


Eh, the game bible can totally collapse, as long add I get my Dragon Pass for Android before it does.
posted by happyroach at 1:33 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


I don't know what indie developers are supposed to do, but I do know what gamers should do: Stop playing new games all the time and instead treat your interest in games as you would treat interest in literature, movies, music or any other established art form.

Inform yourself about the classics and try to understand their place in gaming history. Find the gems that stood the test of time. Learn what made them fun and use that understanding to guide your choices when it comes to new games. Sites like Hardcoregaming 101 are a great resource.

It helped me find the fun in gaming again, when I was completely tired of AAA big budget blandness as well as cookie cutter indie zaniness (Haha, Zombie Cthulhu against Ninja Dinosaurs - A Crafting Game). In short: Get out of the gaming rat race.

Disclaimer: I also made a generic indie game.
posted by rogerbraun at 1:51 PM on May 25 [4 favorites]


Inform yourself about the classics and try to understand their place in gaming history.

Yes, make it tedious and school like.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:04 PM on May 25 [4 favorites]


chrominance: Echoing adrianhon, you are incorrect. It's never worked the way you describe, although you do need to click twice to view the appropriate sliders (Once on "Customize" and once on the arrow to expand "Developers" into a list of different developers or on the arrow to expand "Charities" to a list of different charities.) I have used this to never give any money to Child's Play, and less commonly to adjust the split between developers.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:11 PM on May 25


Yes, make it tedious and school like.

*eyeroll*

No, make it good enough to be known by millions, even ages after it would be published.
posted by Quilford at 2:12 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure that's a great example. Comics didn't become a superhero monolith by some sort of force of nature - it happened because Congressional investigations an nation wide manhunts scared everyone away from the other genres until the medium became moribund and static.

It still could have branched out into other cover-our-butts safe genres, but it didn't. Entertainment outlets tend to milk a genre until people get nauseated by the mere thought of it...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 2:16 PM on May 25


I lost many hours to Master of Magic back in the day -- it's Civ with magic. Also had a ton of 4 am mornings with the Heroes of Might and Magic series.

I'd love to see a remake of MoM and a modern version of HoMM -- the closest I've seen are a couple of HoMM ports to IOS and Android.

And if they've been done well and I missed them, I'd love to know about it.

Also, game rec: my current favourite roguelike is Shattered Planet. It's good for a 5-minute lineup or a 50 minute transit commute.
posted by wenat at 2:27 PM on May 25


Wenat, you probably want to look at Age of Wonders 3. A beautiful, deep, multiply iterated remake of MoM 3 that's being vigorously supported by the devs.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:39 PM on May 25 [5 favorites]


Also: Jeff Vogel is hilarious. It seems like only a few months ago he was swearing he'd never sell his stuff for cheap on Steam, then he sold his stuff for cheap on Steam and made bank and now he's saying it's all over. Bless.

Not saying he's wrong, of course, the uncomfortable trouble with depressive realists is they really do see more clearly, but I'm seeing a constant stream of excellent games vying for my attention (Pillars of Eternity, FTL, Rimworld, AoW 3) so it's a 'them' problem rather than a 'me' problem.

As for a filter, just tap into a good community and listen to the buzzing - Somethingawful is good, Rockpapershotgun is good if you can handle the overheated style.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:43 PM on May 25 [3 favorites]


Also, I will recommend Bastion probably to the end of time and the same company's Transistor sight unseen based on the ravings I have received from friends who have had the time to play it since it came out last week.

Your friends are right. Best game I've played in a long time.
posted by Iridic at 3:54 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


For once, the 14 Humble Bundles that have been running consecutively had kind of terrible selections or followed the [indifferent game]+[good game that has been on sale elsewhere if you beat the average]+[new game to increase the average] with a couple of exceptions. I bought Risk of Rain and Offspring Fling from the Humble Store offers. But you know what I bought full price sight unseen?

Transistor. I bought Bastion on a sale and I loved it, so that earns the developer the benefit of doubt. The trailer showcasing the game mechanic of turns (basically a chain of actions in suspended time with a cooldown) didn't hurt either.

Spiderweb? I used to play their demoware baaack then and I recently bought everything on Steam. He has the word of mouth (and personal experience).

Is appealing to me a good business plan? I'm not either company's accountant. However, quality does get noticed by the people who play the games (which also counts for all the RPG kickstarters).
posted by ersatz at 3:55 PM on May 25


Also, I will recommend Bastion probably to the end of time and the same company's Transistor sight unseen based on the ravings I have received from friends who have had the time to play it since it came out last week. (Bastion is available on many platforms; Transistor is PS4 and PC only so far, but like I said, one week in. They are both isometric hack and slash games, which undersells them so very, very badly. Nice story, beautiful art, transcendent music.)

I can second the recommendation for Transistor having just finished it on Friday. Why? Because Supergiant really pays attention to how to deliver a story through unlockable easter egg text, visual design, triggered audio narration, the character animation of this little sprite in the center of the screen, and encounter design, and manages to bring it together into a whole that has a certain level of coeherence. It's a game that doesn't try to shotgun the player with a dozen different issues and metaphors, all reduced to a mechanic where the player engages in mass murder. It is, in my opinion, what an independent game should be, the equivalent of a lean-budget film that knows what it's doing and does it by taking advantage of constraints.

It's made me rethink some of my previous negativity regarding game narratives. It's bumped Morrowind as my go-to recommendation for narratives communicated through multiple modes.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:03 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


(+1 to Age of Wonders 3. That's a genre I've always wanted to love but never had a game that did it justice, until AoW3. It is very, very good.)

From my perch in the mobile gaming industry, curation and discoverability are the big problems. It's hard for people to find the games they might like. The surprising thing to me is that it seems the stores would have strong incentive to help people find things that they want to spend money on, and yet they do such a poor job.

Hell, I would spend money for a service that helped me find exciting new ways of spending more money--I'm thinking a selection of shopping guides, written by the third-party folks who do games journalism and Youtube reviews and such. Integrate it into the store and throw them an affiliate cut in exchange for them providing this curation service. As it is, I read a handful of game industry and mobile-games sites daily and still, inevitably, at end of the year when the 'Best of 201X' lists come out there are great games that I missed entirely.

I don't think this spells the doom of the industry--the opposite, rather. It's a problem born of abundance. We're in a golden age and it's getting goldener. But that brings new challenges, and for the curation one I think the stores are the only ones positioned to solve it, and they haven't shown any interest in that so far.
posted by kprincehouse at 4:04 PM on May 25


Thanks, Sebmojo!
posted by wenat at 4:50 PM on May 25


Author-related sidebar: Does anyone else remember Vogel’s Scorched Earth Party? The finest batsh*t political satire you could stumble across in the 90’s:
My people, my people. I love you all very much, and if you were here right now, I'd give you all several loving blows of remonstrance. Look. The point of the Scorched Earth party is PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. When you see some smug, bloated git carrying on about the benefits of CISC versus RISC, you should not need to ask my permission to beat them to death with a lead pipe - by the time you received it, they would be long gone. The Scorched Earth Party is here to tell you to GO FOR IT!
posted by Haere at 5:18 PM on May 25 [2 favorites]


Except that universe doesn't exist and last I heard the only code you could actually run lets you look at a rendered spaceship sitting motionless in a hanger. Nevertheless, people are paying hundreds of dollars for special rare spaceships in the hopes one day they can fly them. The Star Citizen project is not a game, it's a marketing campaign for a game. I sure hope it turns into a real game some day or a bunch of people are going to be disappointed. It's many, many months behind schedule, to the extent there even is a schedule. Why bother shipping when you can just keep collecting money?

I may be biased towards hopefulness because it's one of the very few games I've doled out money for before release, but the first, dogfighting module (which looks pretty great in all the video I've seen) is due to be released this week. So: we shall see.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:23 PM on May 25


"Independent music" used to mean "music created by passionate amateurs"—punk bands, bedroom EDM musicians, etc. Nowadays, it's ossified into a commercial genre, and the term refers to stuff like Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire, Yo La Tengo, and The Decemberists—not exactly on the commercial level of your Pitbulls and your Miley Cyruses, but not really anything to do with the original meaning of the word "independent", either.

The same thing has happened with indie games.

Nethack, Cave Story, the original Spelunky, Minecraft, Dwarf Fortress, Kingdom of Loathing, Elona, Knytt Stories—all free (except for Minecraft); all created by people who didn't know or care how commercial game studios are run (okay, Notch used to work for King.com, but by his own admission Mojang was initially just him fucking around randomly in Java); all excellent games, despite (and sometimes because of) their warts. It's closer to the stuff we used to call "freeware" than it is to anything in the Humble Bundle. It's also truly independent: people making games for the love of making games.

That isn't to say there haven't been some great "indie games" in the current sense of the term. I've spent hundreds of hours with Don't Starve, Gnomoria, and Rogue Legacy alone.

It's also not to say that independent developers are obligated to be starving artists in order to maintain their cred. If a developer is trying to make a game that requires more technical complexity and/or graphical sophistication than, say, Nethack, then I understand why they need to raise some money (either by selling the game instead of giving it away, or having a Kickstarter).

But it's definitely a shift in the meaning of the term. And, to me at least, the weird shit that amateurs create on the weekends is still, often, more interesting than anything tagged with "indie" on Steam.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:39 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


Or, to put it more succinctly: people can now, apparently, talk about "indie games" and "elevator pitches" and "angel investors" in the same breath, with a straight face.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:45 PM on May 25 [10 favorites]


I may be biased towards hopefulness because it's one of the very few games I've doled out money for before release, but the first, dogfighting module (which looks pretty great in all the video I've seen) is due to be released this week. So: we shall see.

Elite: Dangerous is also worth keeping an eye on. It's got a working (and reportedly brilliant) Alpha already released, and has hit every target it's set itself.

When it releases I'm going to buy it, dive in, and never come back.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:54 PM on May 25


Yeah, Elite is looking fantastic, as are Eve:Valkyrie and No Man's Sky, among others. It's going to be a good year for space games, a genre that's been in the doldrums for way too long.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:57 PM on May 25


No, don't stop, indie developers, please keep churning out more "cute" and "innovative" and "retro" platformers, they are literally the Call of Duty of the indie scene.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:05 PM on May 25 [3 favorites]


I'm looking forward to Hong Kong Massacre though and I hope Revin Goff does the whole soundtrack.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:06 PM on May 25


The indie game bubble is not popping because here was no bubble in the first place. Being an indie game developer has always predominantly even about being an independent artist, not making it big. Very few indie devs make even small fortunes off gaming at the best of times - like novelists and other book authors as someone else noted above. I can certainly believe that conditions are getting worse or more competitive for the indie ecosystem but the bubble talk seems silly
posted by Bwithh at 8:13 PM on May 25


turbid dahlia: "No, don't stop, indie developers, please keep churning out more "cute" and "innovative" and "retro" platformers, they are literally the Call of Duty of the indie scene."

You forgot "roguelike".
posted by symbioid at 9:05 PM on May 25 [1 favorite]


I've been playing a lot of Don't Starve and there's not really anything super close to that out there. Same with Christine Love games and Gone Home, which I only got to play recently. Just because some genres are flooded doesn't mean there aren't niches where only a few games are being made.
posted by NoraReed at 12:54 AM on May 26


As someone who just joined a startup for an indie dev game as a staff writer and part-time admin assistant, this post was really interesting to me. In our sprint and stand-up meetings, I'm always asking what makes our game different, what our talking points need to be, how can we get our name out there more consistently. Our genre is very saturated (hidden-object adventure games have been locked down by Big Fish Games and others), but we think that the story behind our game is unique and we hope that our characters are compelling enough for you to want to spend more time with them.

At the same time, as a gamer, I'm also part of the problem. My husband likes Humble Bundles and will often donate the minimum to get at least one game. Humble Bundle games also come with a gift copy, and he often gives them to me. I can't tell you how many games I've activated, only to let them sit unplayed because I'm either playing Minecraft again or investigating the mechanics of another hidden object game. I don't think that enough ink was given over to the fact that people just don't have the time to try new games anymore and would rather just play stuff they know they like over and over again. And it's worse if the stuff they like has new content every time they play (like multiplayer games, sandbox worlds, etc.).
posted by TrishaLynn at 5:21 AM on May 26


Yes there seams to be a glut of inde games and triple A games have too much power but now there seams to be no mid range games with is a shame coz I found that the best ideas often came from middle size guys less pressure more room to invent and you just don't get that with Call of Duty.
posted by zenbloke at 5:42 AM on May 26


I've been playing a lot of Don't Starve and there's not really anything super close to that out there.

I love Don't Starve, and the interface and artwork/aesthetic are definitely innovative.

The basic mechanics, though, are pretty well-worn territory—indie developers put out a lot of sandbox survival games, for whatever reason. (Fine with me; I love the genre.) Explore; collect stuff; craft it into better stuff; avoid or kill things that want to kill you; set up a base for security and storage; work your way up a tech tree.

When it comes to gameplay, though, Don't Starve is in a class of it's own. It's exceptionally well tuned.

Someone once said that it's a game full of double-edged swords, and that's very true. There are few decisions you can make in the game that are unquestionably, unreservedly good: everything comes at some kind of cost, however minor, and you're always being forced to weigh those costs against each other.

The difficulty level forces you to pay attention, instead of just playing on autopilot; the quantity and diversity of the content gives rise to emergent situations (one of the best features of roguelike[like]s, IMHO). It's grindy, but even while I'm grinding I'm busy figuring out my priorities and adjusting my strategy to account for whatever new situation has emerged.

It's very cleverly put together. Worth studying, if you want to learn how to make a compelling game.

Speaking of sandbox survival games, I've been playing a lot of 7 Days to Die lately. It's still in early access, and badly needs tuning—but it's already pretty fun, and it shows a lot of promise.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 12:16 PM on May 26


How well can UE4 engine games run on low-end PCs? How well can they run on mobile?
posted by archagon at 12:35 PM on May 26


Frankly, I've yet to see a truly stunning game pass me by, either in the indie space or on the App Store, where this problem has existed for a little while now. Market saturation causes mediocre games to become buried. The obvious solution is to not make mediocre games. I'm still convinced the cream will rise to the top.

I see so many games out there today where I take a single look at them and just move on to the next one, because it's absolutely clear to me that they don't offer an experience that I haven't seen a hundred times before. This includes the vast majority of indie and App Store releases. You made a tower defense game? A puzzle platformer? A twin-stick shooter? That's great, but if I can basically play through the entire game in my head based on a single screenshot, I'm not going to buy it. On the other hand, intriguing, beautiful games like Monument Valley continue to become successful, even without much of a marketing budget. There has to be some level of intrigue. (It goes without saying that your game has to also be beautiful in both look and feel.)

I try to keep my eye on the PC indie market as much as possible, and the kinds of games that meet these criteria come out once every few weeks, at best — and for me personally, once every few months. There's more than enough room, still, to be successful.
posted by archagon at 12:53 PM on May 26


See also: The Room's success on iOS
posted by archagon at 1:09 PM on May 26


I'm still convinced the cream will rise to the top.

I think what we're seeing is not this yet difficult to distinguish from this - I think we're seeing some cream at the top, and some cream rising to the top, but much of the cream is lost, the needle in the haystack.
posted by anonymisc at 7:50 PM on May 26


Escape from the potato planet, I've been playing it because there's not a lot out there like it art and humor-wise that captures my attention since Glitch closed. That's what I'm there for, really.
posted by NoraReed at 8:10 PM on May 26


I think this problem applies to the entertainment industry in general. Also, by ignoring new releases and focusing on enjoying the backlog I already have, I've found that my enjoyment of gaming has gone up exponentially.
posted by jwebb117 at 8:36 AM on May 27


How well can UE4 engine games run on low-end PCs? How well can they run on mobile?

Honest answer is that this is entirely dependent on the developer - do they provide lower LOD meshes, lower LOD particle systems, fallback shaders, etc. How much programmer time was spent on optimization? How much technical artist time was spent running performance metrics on lower-end hardware?

Hopefully more satisfying/useful answer: for PC/OSX the sample content from Epic seems to be targeting a minimum "recommended" spec of DirectX 11/OpenGL 3.3+ on a Geforce 600-series (or equivalent) GPU and 4GB+ of RAM, so that's roughly the hardware profile developers are going to be mentally gearing themselves towards by default.
posted by Ryvar at 10:53 AM on May 27


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