Indie Game: The Movie

Incestuous, Kickstarter-driven, hatred of casual: why one developer dropped out of the “indie scene”

Incestuous, Kickstarter-driven, hatred of casual: why one developer dropped out of the “indie scene”

Kurt Bieg created a wonderful game called Circadia, a game I enjoyed a great deal. He reached out to me because of that review to talk about his new game, and his increasing discomfort with the “indie gaming scene,” such as it is.

Tuning in, and then dropping out

“After Circadia I felt suffocated, not because of the success it garnered, but because of the indie community I was apart of. To be perfectly honest, I felt out of place,” he said. “I saw an open community of inspiring works shift to become an exclusive curated agenda, Indie Inc. I can't work in an environment like that so I spent this past year leaving all that behind.”

We touched on this a bit the last time we talked about the Indie Megabooth; what once was counter-culture, after a certain level of success, merely becomes culture. The results can be jarring for people who were originally attracted to a scene to escape that feeling.

“Like what happened to punk or hip hop, etc. I lost interest in being part of it last year. I found less people accepting of my interests. Those interests being that I wanted to make games for the casual audience, an audience I share a kinship with as I see them much like myself in the 80s, just getting into games, playing for fun, and enjoying, wholly, the experience,” he explained. “Its an audience where I wouldn't have to hear the nonstop banner waving of the game dev philosophical debate of the month, or be barraged by the constant ‘buy this new indie game because its indie right now.’”

This all came to a head when Bieg watched his wife play Spelunky, a game that was all but canonized in the press and among development circles upon release. She kept dying, which is sort of the point of a roguelike title, and she was wondering if she was doing something wrong. The game wasn’t really for her, and Bieg began to realize how few games in the “indie” space were for casual gamers.

“Then I remembered the many conversations I had with game devs who hated casual gamers, hated those who played the 'ville games, hated people like my wife, even though only a few decades ago we were in pizza shops dumping quarters in machines while people scoffed at us telling us we we're wasting our money,” he told the Report. “Imagine if your craft made someone you love feel judged and insecure. The change in me was instantaneous. I was already building up to it, but watching that interaction made me wonder why I wanted to be part of such a culture. The answer was, I didn't.”

So now he’s on his own. No more conversing with the greater community, and he says he’s turned off every time he checks in to see what’s going on. He doesn’t worry about the IGF, and steers clear of game jams. His favorite people? Those who don’t consider themselves to be gamers. He's currently working on Tomb Breaker, an interesting-looking game he refers to as a “classic puzzle game.”

It seems unlikely he'll return to the greater indie community any time soon. “It's too incestual and it's a place no longer motivated to critique games,” he said. “Now indies make games for other indies, or for awards, or for kickstarters. Every game is the next greatest game forever and ever and ever, and honestly, I find myself mostly disappointed and uninspired when I play them.”

We'll have more details on Tomb Breaker, Bieg's latest game, very soon. For now, it's interesting to hear from someone who feels alienated from indie development, and the cults of personality that can grow within it.