To survive the harsh gaming wilderness, indie devs have become pack animals
There's never been a better time to be an indie developer, but in some ways it still kind of sucks. For better or worse, the popularity of independent games has skyrocketed over the past five years. Game development tools have gotten better and easier to use, and there are more options than ever for getting a game out to the public. And yet the oldest and most difficult hurdle for indies to overcome is still a problem: how does anybody know you're making a game?
On Saturday, June 29th at 10:30 AM (EST) a band of indies will unveil their own particular solution to that age-old problem. They'll be running a 13 hour telethon-style stream event on Twitch.tv that will introduce viewers to 25 games such as Tower of Guns, Paranautical Activity, and Ray's the Dead, all of which are currently seeking approval on Steam Greenlight.
The Greenlight Supershow, as it's being called, represents the latest in a trend of indie developers grouping together like a waddle of penguins, huddled together for warmth in the unforgiving wilderness.
“Our motto while making and promoting Legend of Dungeon has been 'obscurity is death' and I think that it's a fairly accurate reason for all these indies grouping together,” said Alix Stolzer, organizer of the Greenlight Supershow. “When we band together we are something people almost have to notice. If I sent out a press release saying 'I'm going to be streaming one game no one has heard of for 13 hours' I don't think I would see any interest whatsoever.”
The idea of grouping together makes sense for more reasons than just for exposure though. It provides a wide-ranging list of benefits for the indie community.
“Indie developers are building such a large variety of games and we charge comparatively little that it doesn't make sense for us to be in angry-competition with each other,” said Joe Mirabello, creator of Tower of Guns, and a participant in the Greenlight Supershow.
“Rather, it makes more sense to stick together and try our best to inform gamers about what even exists in the world of independent games,” he continued. “And, of course, these events are tons of fun, and you get to meet a lot of awesome people. The kind of genuine developer-to-developer cheerleading that rises up from groups like this is infectious and incredibly motivating.”
In this case it seems like the emotional boost that results from a sense of camaraderie is an important factor that keeps indies working hard and pursuing their visions. The creator of the Greenlight Supershow, for instance, doesn't even have a game that's being shown in the production. She's just doing it to support the community.
Window into the future
These groupings of indies may not produce immediate sales, but they can often be a great look at what lies ahead for the gaming industry as a whole.
“You can see the list of games that have been through IndieCade and subsequently picked up or released to great success,” said Stephanie Barish, CEO of IndieCade. IndieCade is like an indie dev advocacy group that puts together events like the IndieCade booth at E3 to display the latest and greatest indie games. “IndieCade is consistently a window into the future. And not just for digital games, even our board games have gotten publishing deals.”
Barish rattled off a list of well-known games that have gotten a boost from participating in the IndieCade group: Skulls of the Shogun, The Unfinished Swan, Hohokum, LIMBO, Johann Sebastian Joust and Fez.
It's not always about producing big hits though. In some cases indies don't have any choice but to publicize their own games.
“Legally, Microsoft couldn't promote [Xbox Live Indie Games] due to the fact that they were not certified by the ESRB, PEGI, or other ratings board, therefore it was in the hands of the developers,” said Dave Voyles, co-organizer of the Xbox Live Indie Games Summer Uprising in 2011 and Uprising 3 in 2012. “We saw an open opportunity, took it, and I think it worked out pretty well for everyone involved.”
“In today's gaming landscape, it's not only the quality of the game that counts, but how effective you are at promoting awareness and providing a charismatic face for your company for gamers and journalists to communicate with,” said Voyles.
Getting involved in these sorts of large-scale collaborations isn't the only path to success, but it gives developers a number of advantages. It's the latest solution to a long-standing problem that has plagued indies for decades.
“It's certainly a very smart way for a developer to validate themselves to the press,” said Tower of Guns' Mirabello. “Association with Indiecade or the Greenlight Supershow provides a form of instant curation for both [journalists] and the gamer.”
“Getting people aware that your game even exists is a constantly evolving problem and as independent developers we just have to keep our eyes open and adapt.”
The only potential trouble is that these days large-scale collaborations are becoming common enough that even they themselves might need to be curated. With the IndieCade, XBLIG Uprisings, the Greenlight Supershow, the Independent Games Festival, the Indie Megabooth, the Indie Game Showcase, and plenty more, even the big-name pushes for publicity may begin to overwhelm gamers. Until we get to that point though, these are some great games getting much-needed attention.