The Rise of the Indie Developer

While there's no mention of Basilisk Games, Soldak Entertainment, Iron Tower Studio, Rampant Games, Heroic Fantasy Games, or some of the other independent developers we've been impressed with in recent years, it's great to see a full three-page article on GameSpot that's giving the indie scene some much-deserved attention. In it, they spotlight some of the biggest indie success stories while also interviewing some of the people behind the games:
On the other end of the spectrum lie developers whose previous experience with publishers pushed them towards working independently. Andy Schatz, founder of Pocketwatch Games, designed his 2010 Independent Games Festival (IGF) award-winning title Monaco, a four-player co-op game inspired by French heist films and set in the city of the same name, while working for a AAA studio in 2003. After unsuccessfully pitching the project to a number of publishers, Schatz decided to go solo. While he recognises the importance of platforms like Steam, XBLA, PSN and the iPhone in giving indie developers wider exposure, he is convinced that publishers are not doing enough in this space.

(Big-budget games are boring,) he says. (Even the best ones are boring. Indie games often suck too. But, because there are no corporate dollars involved, indie developers can make games that they are passionate about. Good indie games are never built for a demographic: they are built with the passion of the developer. In the best cases, that passion is infused into the game in such a way that it rubs off on the gamer.)

Schatz believes that as long as big-budget titles continue to (suck), the indie scene will continue to grow bigger and bigger and the quality of indie titles will improve. Although he does believe that there is some value in repeating things that work well, he says that game developers often hit a creative wall when designs begin to cross each other's territories.

(When designs get inbred, they no longer are good designs--they only work for the people that have played all the previous iterations of those designs. I'm a huge fan of RPGs, but modern console RPGs like Fallout and Oblivion have really bastardized the design into something that looks similar to the old games we love, but don't actually work on their own merits. Yet I still played both of those games because I understand RPG conventions. I thought they were both boring, but I played them nonetheless, probably because RPGs are an obsessive compulsive affair. I have a hard time believing that someone who is new to RPGs will really enjoy them. On the other hand I really like the new Assassin's Creed multiplayer. It's not perfect, but it's genuinely fun, and it feels like it was designed from the ground up as a game and not just an inbred variation on a formula.)

Schatz believes indie developers can get a lot further with critical success than with publisher support. For him, winning the 2010 IGF award for Excellence in Design was a big step in the right direction.

(Commercial success would be nice of course,) he says. (It would be great to not be poor. But nothing gives me the inner satisfaction or feeling of self worth like critical success. It's why I've been able to stay indie for the past six years despite modest and intermittent commercial success. It's part of the nature of the indie scene to cater to audiences that aren't being satisfied by big-budget games, so I think there will always be an indie scene making the games that the AAA guys and gals are too risk-averse to attempt. Us indies have to keep exploring, and we have to keep welcoming in outsiders. The current crop of indies won't be tomorrow's innovators: it will be fresh faces, the ones that think we are the ones doing it wrong. I love that I'm getting old and boring; it means that there's more out there that can surprise me.)