I’m going to add another log to the fire that is “Polygon has an article about an indie dev talking about how hard it is to be an indie dev”. I wrote a post about this back in Oct of 2018, with the ‘problem’ back then being too many games on Steam. Today, the problem is… that and a bunch of other stuff. (Spoiler: making a good game for an audience large enough to support you isn’t on the list of problems, shocker I know).
Immediately what jumps out at me with this article is the game it’s focused around, HypnoSpace Outlaw. Who in the actual fuck wants to play a game that simulates the shitshow that was the Internet during the Geocities days? If that group is larger than five people I’ll… continue going about my day, but a bit more surprised. Plus the game can’t even trick you into thinking its something else, because it also LOOKS like Geocities back in the 90s, and that’s absolutely not a compliment to their art style. I could sue Polygon for giving me eye cancer just from the opening header of that article.
And look, if you just want to spend time working on a pet project for yourself, that’s one thing. Go nuts. But to make said pet project, for what is likely an audience of one, and then go on and on about how difficult it is to make money being a game dev? GTFO.
I’m not going to rehash my post about this that is linked above, and I don’t think much has changed since that time either. Did Valve maybe change the algorithm in the discovery queue? Sure. But just like Google changing their algorithm and that impacting blog traffic, at the end of the day if I write interesting posts at a frequent pace (been failing hard at that for a long time now), I’ll get traffic. And more importantly, the traffic I get (or eyeballs on Steam for games) will be people actually interested in what I do/write and likely to come back (buy your game) if the quality of the product is high. Visibility isn’t going to help much if quality is low, either for this blog or your indie game.
The thing that always rings most hollow to me here is that right now, in 2019, we are in the best age for gaming. The best quality games, the best distribution model, and the most variety in not only gaming options, but business models as well. And that’s for both consumers and devs.
I had a comment for this, but then I looked back at the two comments I made on your October 2018 post and decided I would stand by those. Steam with almost no barrier to entry just validates Sturgeon’s Law.
That said, the article isn’t a bad indie view. I’d likely wrestle over the idea that good games are released all the time and ignored. Call them “good enough” instead. There are probably a ton of adequate for the price titles out there that don’t stand out. But if the worry is that some other title is going to steal your limelight, that is as much as admission that they are likely better in some way. And from there the jump to “better games are eating my lunch” isn’t all that far.
My issue with the whole ‘release timing’ thing is that it usually sounds more like an excuse than a valid issue. In this case, does APEX Legends getting huge really hurt something like Hypno? I can’t imagine the crossover for the two playerbases is all that high. If Hypno was a BR shooter? Yea, absolutely releasing around the time APEX did would hurt. But here? Come on.
I’m going to guess that there is probably more bandwidth for coverage if you launch a smaller game on a week when Anthem or Apex or The Division 2 isn’t launching. But on the flip side, if you’re an indie like that there probably aren’t a lot of weeks during the year when there won’t be something bigger launching. I’m pretty sure GoG.com listing Diablo would be as much a threat to getting some press coverage. The only real hope is to be good enough that you stand out enough to get word of mouth that builds to some eventual headlines. Being good enough isn’t going to get you there.
Triple-A releases clear the schedule of the smaller studio releases that normally prevent an indi release getting visibility. There will always be plenty of people not interested in the latest AAA game. Indi games are ideally released when there are fewer tier 2 game competing to hoover up the the leftovers.
To be fair, the dev of this dreadful-looking game (and it really is a terrible concept; using it as supporting example for any argument at all is just rhetorical malpractice) wasn’t really whining too much or clamouring for change. Just mostly sharing the emotions associated with finishing an indie release and musings on how things are.
The only clear complaint has to do with volatility, and I have some sympathy for that. Steam (with its crapshoot of an algorithm) having a near-monopoly on distribution is a double-edged sword, and the ancillary marketing of sucking up to streamers, making promotional content for the dev discord, etc., must be thoroughly exhausting. And then at the end of all this busting your arse, you become a millionaire overnight only because a Kardashian happened to tweet about your game. (or some other silly breakout event)
In an ideal world, games would have an easier and clearer path to adoption or rejection by their intended audience, and live or die by their merits reliably, with less RNG involved. Granted, I have no idea what that world would look like.
On the RNG of it all; I believe any career, including game dev, is like poker. Any one hand (job, game) you can play perfectly and get screwed by RNG, but someone with ability and talent will eventually come out on top in the long run. Good game devs make good games, just like smart/talented people succeed in the real world.
If your hope of success banks on a Kardashian making you famous for 15 minutes, that’s really no different than buying a lottery ticket. Is there a tiny chance it works? Yes. Is it a smart approach to being successful? Not at all.
Any one hand (job, game) you can play perfectly and get screwed by RNG, but someone with ability and talent will eventually come out on top in the long run. Good game devs make good games, just like smart/talented people succeed in the real world.
Ehhh… that’s way too much “Just World” nonsense for my tastes. It’s especially bad in the context of game devs, because unlike poker, hardly anyone can afford to just play another hand. These people often quit their day jobs for 2+ years to create a game, or otherwise try and complete something in their spare time. They can’t really afford m(any) failures.
Of course, they aren’t owed anything either. Success is not just having the answer, but making sure everyone knows you have it. Having their own Polygon article (and this blog post) is certainly putting this game dev above their peers already.
“Just World” has little to do with talented people getting ahead of those without it. This has nothing to do with morality or fairness.
Also quitting your day job to bank everything on your indie game making it is little better than buying a lottery ticket, because we aren’t talking successful indie game anymore, you need it to blow up to justify that investment of time and lost earnings.
Also, this post on Polygon has managed to get HypnoSpace Outlaw much more attention than it otherwise might have managed. Well played indie dev, well played.
Yikes. I don’t know why anyone would want to play that game.
“Eye cancer” is a bit harsh, but perhaps it’s accurate.