Polygon has an article up about the challenges of indie game devs, focusing around the fact that there are so many games being made and released on Steam that it’s hard to stand out. It reminded me of my post back in 2017, and especially the discussion in the comments section between myself and Raph Koster, which is well worth checking out again, and not just because I was right again about the next PUBG coming along (Fortnite).
This quote from the Polygon article really stuck out to me though?
He relates a story of a developer friend of his who lives just down the block who obsessively combs through SteamSpy and other public data, trying to pinpoint the perfect genre to strike, but remains paralyzed by a lurking sense of uncertainty, the buck and jolt of a market stuffed to the gills with excellent games.
So we have a (presumably) struggling indie dev trying to dig into Steam sale numbers to find the perfect time to launch a game in the perfect genre to profit. You know what’s missing from all of that? Said indie dev having a great idea for a great game and making it. Wild huh? Do you think Minecraft, ARK, Stardew Valley, Banished, PUBG, or LoL came about because someone picked the perfect genre at the perfect time, or because the people behind those games were passionate about an idea and ran with it?
I also find the whole complaint about too many games a bit comical. The ONLY reason there are ‘too many’ games is because there are too many devs, and the ONLY reason there are too many devs is because too many people want to get into that line of work. The ‘problem’ really is self-correcting.
Additionally, we have to accept the fact that most indie devs just aren’t good at what they do. They make bad games with bad marketing plans and bad business models because they don’t have the ability to do better. Gamer time is limited, especially, as the article points out, since we have titles like PUBG/Fortnite eating an inordinate amount of gamer time with no real end in site (how very MMO-like of them, eh?), so why would you play a game made by an average dev when there are tons of titles made by top 10% or higher devs? And that’s the problem most people don’t want to accept; being average at anything that’s highly competitive means you are likely to fail. I’m sorry (I’m not), but that’s just how the world works.
If the bottom half of all Steam games disappeared overnight, the average game dev would still struggle, because the average player still isn’t going to have time (even if they have the money) to play something average in what is easily the golden age of gaming. Gamers are absolutely spoiled right now not simply with choices, but with top-tier choices in almost all genres. That’s great for all gamers, even the average ones, but it’s a tough environment for the average dev.
My only issue here is actually finding something relevant in the indie scene. There is so much crap bloatware, and poor tools to find anything decent that doesn’t have a marketing push. I follow a bunch of curated lists on steam for the odd chance something seems interesting.
First world problems much?
Do you actually have the problem though? As in, you don’t have a game to play and can’t find something worthwhile on Steam?
Because sure, I’m guessing I missed a few good indie games I’d maybe enjoy (I initially passed on Graveyard Keeper because of its stupid Steam icon, and only got it because a Poly article mentioned it was Stardew Valley-like), but missing those hypothetical titles hasn’t resulted in an empty backlog.
No. I have more games to play than time. But I have trouble finding those indie games where you get a few hours of a great idea.
Word of mouth catches my eye. Kill the spire would never have been found without KTR, for example. You were the first to point me at darkest dungeon. Finding a good one in that sea of junk seems harder than it should be.
Well, at least that article didn’t feature the indie dev raging about people spending money at Starbucks rather than buying their game. I guess I don’t need to add it to the collection.
Still, we’ve seen this coming from a long way off.
Indie devs kicked and screamed about every barrier to entry that Valve has ever had (e.g. ridiculously small amounts of money or the green lighting system to prove the game had some chance of selling). And now that there is practically no barrier to entry (save for the somewhat random “no trolling” metric Valve says they have) they are living the dream by drowning in a a pool of cheap derivative shit.
This isn’t my problem. I have plenty of games to play and still managed to buy new ones on a fairly regular basis. But it has gone a long way towards making the argument that “indie = crap.” Some of those people going back to their day jobs would probably be good for both them and the industry.
People just really want to make games, that’s why they stubbornly refuse to accept reality.
I’m working on a game with another dev, both of us are beyond the halfway point in our careers. It really has not been a challenge finding ways to stand out. Pretty much we picked a genre that suited our strengths, pushed it as far as we thought we could. Which almost immediately puts us into the realm of very little direct competition from other indie teams.
Combine that with the fact that most large studios tend to not innovate much, and it leaves a lot of fertile ground for interesting variations nobody is doing.
I feel the innovation part, at least on taking a good idea or two and running with it, is indeed a wide open space. The core tools needed to make a game are available and pretty cheap, Steam is your distributor, and the internet is your free marketing. If you can execute the good idea, and put the needed stuff around it, you should have a decent to great product.
I struggle to see how this is any different, or indeed any worse, than the way other forms of entertainment work. The world is full beyond bursting point with people who want to make music or write books or make movies. They all get on with it, spending their own time, energy and money. They put their stuff on Bandcamp or YouTube or Amazon or a hundred other digital platforms. They play gigs in cellar clubs, truck their movies around tiny festivals and schlepp hard copies of their books around bookstores.
99.99% of them never make a cent doing it. It probably costs them money even to try. Many of them never even attract a glimmer of interest from anyone. Doesn’t stop them doing it and why should it? It’s their dream. If it’s not your dream you shouldn’t be doing it and if it is you shouldn’t be doing anything else. If you want to make money, clearly there are better ways.
Maybe Steam could have better sorting tools but the problem isn’t “too many games”. The exact correct number of games is as many as people want to make. Oversupply is never going to be a problem. Just don’t expect that every game that gets made is also going to get played.
You’re not wrong. But the tone of the devs in this article, as in so many past variations, is one of, “I can’t earn a living making video games. Somebody else needs to do something to fix this.”
But there is no fix. There is no market imaginable that can absorb 20 new video games a day popping up, any more than there is a market for all the self-published Kindle books or SoundCloud rappers out there. And complaining about Valve, competitors, university game design programs, cheapskate customers, and the unfairness of the market and the world in general won’t change anything, any more than complaining about the shady practices of the music industry or those rejecting bastards at HarperCollins will.
I get rankled about this because I have, as noted above, watched the indie masses besiege Valve over every barrier to entry they have had in place over the years due to the mistaken belief that if they could just get their game onto Steam then success would be theirs. Now they can get their games on Steam. Everybody can. But, in the end, they aren’t better off sales wise than back when they had to make their own website and throw review copies at random bloggers in the hope that something will get them noticed.
How very Polygon of them to publish an article of a millennial complaining “boohoo life is hard!”. I know this is more AAA territory but ESO launches into a crowded mmo scene and failed miserably at first. But they refined their model and game until it found its audience. Isn’t that the point of indies – not to appeal to everyone but a passionate minority? And if it blows up it’s probably a combination of good design and yes probably some luck there too.