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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 trends, tips, tactics for success.

Published in: Entertainment & Humor, Design
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Western Indie Game Trends

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

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