Indie Games: Competition and Authorship

09 Oct 2012

Using Brenda Brathwaite and Tom Hall's Old-school RPG Kickstarter campaign as a starting point, Jay "Rampant Coyote" Barnson writes on the subjects of authorship and competition in the indie games space. Here's a sampling:
While it’s certainly possible that I might say, “Oh, crap, I spent too much money on games this month between Kickstarter and purchases, so I cannot (yet) buy this really cool gaming that’s coming out this week!” But it’s not a direct, zero-sum relationship. I’ve had months where I’ve bought no games at all, and months – like this one – where I’ve gone overboard. There are a lot of variables involved. So while there is competition, it is not zero-sum, and money allocated to one title is not directly harming the sales of another.

Which brings me to one big variable:

Authorship.

It’s not so much “celebrity designers” as it is authorship. Authorship is something that has lost a lot of ground (by necessity and by design) in the AAA world. When you have a development team measured in triple digits, it’s going to be very hard for anybody’s contribution – even the lead designer’s – to really exert a powerful influence on the game. Really, it takes a commitment on the part of the studio and publisher to make sure that happens – and to give the responsible parties credit. Publishers have very little motivation to do so, as they can own a property, but they can’t own a designer. A designer who becomes too much of a ‘celebrity’ can very easily leave a former studio and franchise and do their own thing with all kinds of support coming from their “cred,” and cast doubt as to the future of a company or franchise trying to soldier on without them – much like a rock band replacing its lead singer.

We used to have it in the old days, before publishers began dominating the industry like they did in the early 90s. That’s where a lot of these names came from. Or they came from the “indie” realm (like Tom Hall and John Romero), even before it was called “indie.” With tiny teams, no middleman, no external controlling influences, and the reality of ownership over their products, indie creators can’t help but infuse their creations with their own voice and personality. They own it, warts and all. In that way, they are more like authors of a book.

And it means I can have favorite game-creators again. If you read this blog a lot (or note the list above, where I referred to the sometimes lone-wolf team names rather than their games), you know some of my favorites.