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Western Indie Game Trends

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My talk on independent games given at GDC China in Shanghai, October 2009 - also includes a large section given in Australia's Digital Distribution Summit in that same month. Includes information on …

My talk on independent games given at GDC China in Shanghai, October 2009 - also includes a large section given in Australia's Digital Distribution Summit in that same month. Includes information on trends, tips, tactics for success.

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  • 1. Independent Games In The West: Market Trends Simon Carless [IGF Chairman, Game Developer magazine/Gamasutra publisher.] GDC China [email_address]
  • 2. Why Now?
      • The rise of indie games driven by:
      • Massive growth of digital distribution on PC/console and iPhone.
      • Increased importance of Web and direct contact with consumer.
      • Alternative business models (e.g. microtransactions)
      • Innovative and different shorter-form games with different ‘style’.
  • 3. How Do Gamers Get Indie Titles?
      • In the West, independent games are consumed via:
      • Console digital download ( Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, WiiWare - $5 to $20 one-time payments.)
      • PC downloadable singleplayer (via own website, ‘portals’ like Steam, Direct2Drive, etc - $5 to $30 one-time.)
      • PC web-based single-player (own site, ‘portals’ like Kongregate, NewGrounds - ad revenue or ‘sponsorships’, now microtransactions of $1-$10.)
  • 4. How Do Gamers Get Indie Titles? (Pt.2!)
      • Other major distribution methods:
      • *PC web-based/downloadable multiplayer (own website, FilePlanet, online stores - microtransactions of $1-$5 or subscriptions of $5-$10 monthly.)
      • iPhone (via Apple, $1-$10 one-time, microtransactions soon.)
      • *Social networks (via Facebook, MySpace - microtransactions of $1-$5)
      • *Indie definition hazy.
  • 5. Notable Western Independent Game Trends - PC
      • Rise of smaller-team indie PC games - retail /publisher slowdown, growth of digital (Steam)
      • Use of pre-orders to fund full game development (Cortex Command)
      • Growth of influential, ‘trendy’ indie game-friendly press (RockPaperShotgun, Offworld).
      • Acceptance of ‘play’-based games with a less clear goal (Blueberry Garden, Line Rider)
      • PC online indies breaking Flash, online microtransaction cultural taboos (Puzzle Pirates)
      • Rapid prototyping allows freeware PC hits to become full games (Crayon Physics, Audiosurf)
      • Understanding of ‘virality’ as game design key leads to Facebook game growth (FarmTown, others.)
  • 6. Notable Western Independent Game Trends - Console/Handheld
      • Innovative small-team titles can beat more ‘calculated’ games on XBLA, PSN, WiiWare.
      • Risk/reward per system proportional to a) entry barriers b) natural ‘connectedness’ of console
      • Median revenue for published titles: XBLA > PSN > WiiWare > PSP Minis > DSiWare > iPhone > Xbox Live Indie Games
      • BUT revenue curve massively different for each.
      • iPhone is gigantic, messy ‘gold rush’.
      • Biggest console (XBLA, PSN, WiiWare) mistake: team overstaffing (3-5 people, not 10-15!)
      • Bet-hedging across console and PC SKUs ideal.
  • 7. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • Who are you?
  • 8. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • Define Your Developer
    • Company name: pronounceable, adaptable. (Infinite Ammo, Halfbrick)
    • What are you ‘known’ for? (Spiderweb. Q Games)
    • What is your easily definable ‘story’? (2D Boy, Introversion)
    • Have a mission statement.
    • Who is your spokesperson/’personality’ ? (Paul Wedgwood/Splash Damage, Brad Wardell/Stardock)
    • Why should the press or public care? (See above.)
  • 9. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • How do your ‘fans’ find you?
  • 10. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • 2. Make yourself community-friendly
    • - Never too early to make official company website. (Hello Games)
    • - Get an official blog, RSS, forum.
    • - Post company-specific news _and_ editorials/thinkpieces (Tale Of Tales, Denki)
    • - Get active with Twitter/Facebook, inc. giveaways & interaction (James Silva, Wolfire)
    • - Publish video to YouTube, GameTrailers, etc (Crayon Physics)
    • - Much more legitimacy when you do this yourself - or use a community member.
  • 11. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • Who have you reached out to?
  • 12. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • 3 . Use Other Sites, Events To Build Popularity
    • - Read the major websites, blogs, magazines and understand the ecosystem.
    • - Make press/news releases (GamesPress, on your own site)
    • - Identify indie-friendly ‘influencer’ outlets and target them. (RockPaperShotgun, Offworld, IndieGames, Penny Arcade, bigger sites)
    • - Research and pitch personally and directly in key cases (Hello Games)
    • - Understand how novelty/unique stories & content gets viral (Denki's Scrabble sponsorship!)
    • - Enter _all_ festivals, showcases and use them to your advantage (IGF, Indiecade, Eurogamer Expo, etc)
  • 13. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • Who are your peers?
  • 14. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • 4. Become Part Of The Game Community
    • - Get on forums and mailing lists and have fun, learn stuff (TIGSource, IndieGamer, mailing lists)
    • - Give back - share indie-friendly information, tips, user data on your blog/elsewhere (Gamasutra Blogs?)
    • - Use your relationships to cross-promote each other's games (Captain Forever, Wolfire)
    • - Feed the local and national digital download/indie game community (local meetings/events, speaking at GDC, exhibit at PAX, etcetera)
    • - Make fun custom games for online mini-competitions, build a reputation (Ludum Dare, Global Game Jam, TIGSource competitions)
  • 15. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • Where’s your cash coming from?
  • 16. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • 5. Get Your Funding/Publishing Right
    • - Self-funding gives you CONTROL, consider pre-orders 'hidden weapon' (Captain Forever, Cortex Command).
    • - Look at local, national government grants & loans (N+, DeathSpank, Fez)
    • - 'Total' publisher deals on console/PC/iPhone mitigate risk, harder to reap the upside (Blitz's games vs. A Kingdom For Keflings)
    • - Direct 'publishing' deals for consoles optimum - but watch selective gatekeepers and hidden costs. (Localization, ESRB, testing, regional submissions.)
    • - Regional PC publisher deals can give you ready cash, can be dangerous tactically (2D Boy)
    • - Digital distribution deals on PC - no downside except contract time.
  • 17. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • How can you balance your company’s needs?
  • 18. The ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • 6. Understand Where Design And Business Interact
    • - For project scope estimates, add a LOT of polishing time (2D Boy)
    • - Don't put all your eggs in one basket, SKU-wise (2D Boy)
    • - Try to design for multiple formats or produce multiple games swiftly. (And Yet It Moves, Firemint.)
    • - Consider design virality as a game marketing/business mechanic (Fantastic Contraption, most Facebook games.)
    • - Look at building publisher relationships, trust, to get consulting work to help fund indie work (NinjaBee!)
    • - BUT understand which sets of platforms don't go together well. (Console and iPhone? Console and Facebook?)
    • - Don't forget Mac (Aquaria) and Linux? (2D Boy) versions.
    • - If you want to make the game you want to make (good!), still look at competitors, genre popularities, etc.
  • 19. The Eight ‘Rules’* For Digital Game Distribution Success
    • 7. Plan for release and post-release carefully.
    • Make a demo: very rare that releasing one is negative (iPhone games? Q Games theories.)
    • Think about amount of demo to give away (Context, difficulty - Dead Space.)
    • Co-ordinate your worldwide release simultaneously (Space Tripper, World Of Goo).
    • Use your fans for localization? (Wolfire, 2D Boy)
    • Have your own support infrastructure if selling on your own site (automated systems, refunds, direct payments, free copies)
    • DLC helps with publicity, if not big profit - watch ‘why not free?’ complaints (The Maw)
  • 20. What Is Indie?
      • Some possible answers:
      • Small group of creators making the game they really want to make - INTENTIONALITY .
      • Bringing back old genres (2D, platform, puzzle, action games) with new innovative twist (physics, time manipulation, procedural generation).
      • Growing massively and IPO-ing is NOT the main goal.
      • Concentration on how games make you feel (Passage, Flower) or subverting the medium (You Have To Burn The Rope, The Graveyard).
      • OK to make games for free or without initial business models. (Spelunky).
      • Upfront about being indie, needing support (Fantastic Contraption).
  • 21. What Is Indie?
      • Independent Games Festival’s definition of independent games?
      • We ask ‘Are you really indie?’
      • If you agree, you can enter.
  • 22. Conclusion
      • Independent games are growing because they:
      • Are bite-sized for today’s busy Western gamer.
      • Look ‘different’ and provide quirky, lower-cost alternatives to AAA $60 titles.
      • Provide clever gameplay and conceptual twists on familiar game genres.
      • Are easy, fun, and thought-provoking to play.
      • Feel like they have been produced by people, not teams.
      • Questions?

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