Indie culling incoming?


#1

So the above tweet from the developer of Southern Monsters seems really concerning. Apparently indie sales are going off a cliff, even for established indies. It sucks, but I definitely see why it’s happening. I’ve been buying a lot less games lately as I continue to just play Overwatch and Fortnite, and indie games aren’t as much of a priority for me these days. What about you folks? Are you buying more or less indie games now than 4 or 5 years ago?


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#2

I find the games I liked over the past 3 years or so have been almost exclusively indie. AAA has been having a bit of a comeback since around the time DOOM came out, but the indie space is still the place to go for the really interesting stuff. Hell, I keep forgetting to start a new game because I keep going back to Into the Breach.

Which is why this is kinda horrifying. A lot of great indies will still be OK, certainly established ones, but the fact that so many fantastic games are going to be completely overlooked is tragic and one of the things that make me hate Steam the most. I keep thinking about Linelight, a masterpiece from last year that I’ve mentioned here before and will mention every chance I get, because it’s SO good, and it never stood a chance. And that’s one I managed to catch. Who knows how many other great games lie beneath the mountains of shovelware.


#3

More or less the same, I would imagine; I’ve never been a huge spender so there’s not a great deal to change. Technically indie games take up a greater amount of time in my life than they did four or five years ago, because I’m pretty sure I was still playing TF2 four or five years ago.

I peeked an interview with Darren Korb the other day that mentioned there are just more indie games all competing for attention these days; while he’s not a finances guy, it sounds like a reasonable statement and I’m willing to believe that it’s not just a matter of triple-A games elbowing in. After all, triple-A games are so… limited? If you’re looking for a five-hour singleplayer experience with unique art style and some weird mechanic, you’re probably not looking in triple-A-land in the first place.


#4

If there’s one thing the last 20 years of articles predicting this extinction have done it’s made it impossible to meaningfully discuss any such event. The sky has always been falling and the only reason there aren’t more predicting doom and gloom before 20 years ago is because there wasn’t the internet (as a common online platform) to create a space for people to worry that their own fortunes are reflective of the entire industry. I assume that the bedroom coders before us were saying the exact same thing about how any downturn was the end of the indie era and it was all doom.

Indies will never go extinct because gaming is bigger than ever and even a tiny slice of that pie is enough to support plenty of devs who want to work for themselves. The Ramen will always flow and the democratisation of tools will only increase the number of hands getting to build games outside the publisher model (and if this is doom then it’s the same doom that gave us every other medium where three girls can pick up guitars and make music because of course we can).


#5

With good curation, I like to think that many lower and mid-tier indie games could find a successful home on GamePass style services where the developers aren’t gambling, make-or-break, on traditional sales but see a more reliable, steady source of income. With indie games generally having shorter playtimes and the impulse-play nature of GamePass, they could attract new audiences and help to build word-of-mouth momentum like Netflix and its originals.

Obviously I don’t know what the financials behind GamePass are, so I could be way off the mark.

I also see Patreon playing more of a role in the indie games scene in the coming years. You can make a good living with just a handful of really dedicated fans who are prepared to support you and your work.


#6

I mean, it’s a fair point about the US in general growing ever more hostile toward people living on the margins, I think? So that it’s harder to do things like being an indie game dev. Not necessarily an Indie Game Apocalypse as things being less friendly for all freelancey type people. I’ve definitely heard writers (novelists) talking about this.


#7

My focus is on the billions of people not in the US who continue to get better access to the means with which to create games rather than how the US is, at this specific moment in time, still extremely bad for independent creators of all kinds because it’s a failed state surviving on the spoils of imperialism to zombie forward.

Yes, for those in the US then getting a few years of not-as-terrible healthcare may have made it slightly less hostile to indies and that erosion is a tragedy but also politics can push forward once more and if we consider indie games to be primarily a US product then we are already lost.


#8

Certainly. Reading the series of linked Tweets, I didn’t get the sense that this person was saying “all/most indie games are from the US” or “it’s bad that many people can make games now”, but rather “there’s stuff going down that is disastrous for many indie devs”. As the US has the third largest population in the world, I don’t think that’s an entirely unreasonable framing.


#9

4% of the world population. The US is 4% but via imperialism is considered far more important in all discussions (so maybe we should focus on consciously rejecting that). [Thread title is “extinction” and the theme of the articles mentioned is “apocalypse” so no I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that 4% get to define such terms while ignoring the other 96% of us.]


#10

I take your point about how people are always complaining that things are bad (the author of the tweet himself mentions the regular “indie apocalypse” scares) and about indies from the rest of the world getting more traction. There’s stuff like Black Friday, Detention and Dandara out there that’s really impressive, and I’m really glad devs from outside the US are getting more attention. But Steam being more crowded is bad for non-US devs as well - even moreso, actually, because they generally have less connections and less access to PR than US devs.

Your characterization of the US is correct, but it actually makes this more serious. The continued dominance of the US means that other platforms, especially non-US ones, get sidelined. Steam can keep becoming worse without giving way to a real alternative. GOG is the closest thing there is out there, but they don’t have anywhere near the reach that Steam has.


#11

Okay. It’s still the third largest. [ed: It’s important to push back against UScentricness, but as I have already pointed out, the person who posted these tweets did not even say anything “most” or “all” or “majority” or “primarily” – merely “many”. Is it incorrect to say that there are many people affected by US policy?]

Something that has been pointed out by very tiny indie devs currently relying on Patreon is that the model kind of encourages certain sorts of creation – either very small projects or small, serializable chunks. That’s not a bad kind of project, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind.


#12

Very true - much easier to pony up a subscription if you’re getting a regular drip-feed of content.


#13

It’s hard to account for my own indie buying, because if you go by sheer numbers I buy more indie games now than I did previously. At the same time, a ton of those sales come from bundles or sales where I’m buying them for a fraction of the price. I also rarely buy AAA games at full price, so it’s not like I’m treating them differently.

Recent indie games I’ve bought at full price have been Heat Signature, Rocket League, Celeste, Into the Breach, Downell, and I’ll probably cave and buy Battle Chef Brigade soon. I’ve bought Nuclear Throne, Sentris, Getting Over It, and Axiom Verge.

I do wonder what the expansion and massive success of FTP and lootbox models is doing for the indie scene as both of those models seem unsustainable without a large audience.


#14

Slightly off topic, but perhaps relevant: I find that I buy and play close to an equal amount of AAA and Indie games, however one place where I’m greatly imbalanced is in talking about indie games. And I think that this is an issue. I’ve been playing Ghost of a Tale for example (and it is wonderful) but I’ve felt no reason to discuss it with anyone other than telling my brother about it because it has no place in The Discourse™.

And this is often directed by games media and writing around games and I feel it could be beneficial for the industry and everyone if games media made more of an effort to unearth games and stream them, discuss them or write about them for real. I understand the finances behind media coverage don’t leave much room for that, but like, I found Dujanah last year because Austin talked off-hand about it for a couple of minutes on the Waypoint podcast and it was one of the most interesting games I played last year. I don’t know, I just wish there were more efforts made in games coverage to promote discussion of indie games or scour itch and gamejolt or indie Dev twitter for interesting games worth talking about. I know Waypoint does this, but I’m just rambling now :confused:

EDIT: Worth mentioning, I recognize that exposure and discussion don’t lead to success, but this is just a thing I think about a lot concerning online discussion of games.


#15

Extremely valuable talk to consider when weighing “my last game made lots of money but this one was just as good and didn’t so the industry is collapsing” stuff coming up (as it does every “indie apocalypse” cycle). It’s a hit-driven system, even the indies (actually may be more true for indies with the explosion required to get more than ignored at release and no money for a big ad campaign to try and break that). If you made a good game then you brought a lottery ticket. Winning once in your first ten years may make it seem like you deserve to win again but you’re only buying more tickets with subsequent releases (even if you expect your visibility and existing fans should make it completely different after your first win).


#16

A lot of discussion from the player side about trouble in the indie game business has been along one line that I think is entirely counterproductive. The argument goes that good indie games (in general but especially on Steam) don’t sell because they’re buried under a flood of bad games, and that if storefronts would curate the games they sell we would instantly enter a golden age where every honest, hard-working developer could make a comfortable living. Nonsense. Good indie games are buried under a flood of other good games.

Here’s the situation. Right now you can spend $29 on Humble Bundle and get 16 games (plus some bonus mystery games), most of which are rad as hell. Next week subscribers to their monthly bundle will get a package of 2 recent high-profile AAA releases and maybe 4-5 high-quality smaller games, for only $12. Steam users who like indie games can spend very little money for an absolute wealth of fantastic games. They’re getting cheaper faster than we can play them, which is great for players but a problem for developers. Why should a player pay $10-20 for a new indie game when our backlogs are overflowing and it’ll be half-off in a few months and in a bundle next year? Besides, of course, wanting the developers to have food and housing. A business that depends on the generosity of its customers is in an incredibly vulnerable position.

Sometimes I’ll play a cool little game that has online leaderboards with like 150 total scores and my heart just drops. (Shout-out to We Are Doomed, a handsome clever arena shooter, and The Royal Cosmonautical Society, which is Lunar Lander meets Flywrench). Or I’ll be browsing SteamSpy and notice how many good games have total estimated owner counts lower than the margin of error. I feel like I’m contributing to the problem when I buy games on extreme discounts, but at the same time I only have so much money for games and my wishlist on Steam is only getting longer. I don’t think there’s a consumption pattern that can solve this. (More public arts funding and a strong social safety net could do a lot, though.)


#17

Something that I’ve been wondering is whether or not full-featured passion-project indie games are largely a product of, and made ‘for’, a specific segment of a generation. Is it possible that the next-youngest player age demographic is just not as interested in these kinds of games as the average 25- to 38-year-old?

I’m 32, and I saw the rise of the indie game alongside the explosive success of Braid and all that followed shortly thereafter, so I am susceptible to the draw of that type of game. I’m familiar with that kind of experience, and familiarity breeds comfort. It’s often what I seek from indie games. What I don’t tend to see a lot of - and I recognize this is anecdotal - is the next generation spending as much time exploring the quiet, solo experiences that are typical of this game bracket.

The next generation (pre-25) seems to spend a toooon more time streaming and consuming streamed games than millennials (who still stream and consume a hell of a lot of streams!) Given that, is the emergent action and comedy that so often draws streamers and stream watchers to them a necessary enough factor for the post-millennial generation that many games are just skipped outright for lacking those things? It seems like procedural animation, physics-based gameplay, and intentional silliness are a safe bet for even the most half-baked games if they want to hit a few thousand sales.

For example, Human Fall Flat, a procedurally-animated physics sandbox game, received average reviews, but has sold 2 million copies since its release in 2016. Don’t get me wrong, this seems like a fun game! But, it benefits from being janky. Games of basically any other ilk don’t, and have to be tightly-made and QA-tested to hell and back - that takes a long time, and if it isn’t done well enough, it’ll take the hit in Steam reviews. On the other hand, Beast Battle Simulator, an arguably unfinished sandbox in which you drop a few hundred random stupid animals into a field and then hit “Go” to watch them charge each other, appears to have sold at least 25,000 copies at $10 a pop.

It’s also worth noting that millennials are getting older, starting families, working harder, making less money…all of which leads to buying and playing fewer games at a time. When I was 25 or whatever when Braid came out, I slept till 4PM before going to serve tables at 5. I’d come home and get high and play games till 3AM. I could do that. I, the demographic for so many indie games, can barely eek out an hour a day these days. I’m sure I’m not alone.

I know there are exceptions for this, but ultimately what I’m getting at is I think that smaller games without procedural elements, that don’t lend themselves to emergent surprises, are in a really tough spot with the post-millennial generation. My guess is that it has to do with what that generation tends to look for in an indie game, and how that differs from the perspective of the millennials who are making them.


#18

So I guess there’s “indie extinction incoming” and then there’s what the linked Twitter thread actually says; I don’t think the former is a reasonable conclusion to derive from the latter.

It would certainly be interesting to explore that hypothesis. My gut instinct is that even the procgenish, wacky-physics type games are more a matter of getting lucky, attentionwise, and I wonder a little how much of the streamer-love for those types of games is a matter of fad – but of course I don’t have the slightest anything to back up that instinct!


#19

I’m generally pretty suspicious of generational models for social and economic change, and especially so when we’re not basing it off of…anything. If people under 25 do buy less indie games, and this speculation is based off something I’d hazard it’s because people under 25 are not likely to have much disposable income if any, be that from working paycheck-to-paycheck or from student life, meaning people just buy games less period. I have bought maybe 2 games in the past 3 years, between rent, utilities, medicine, food, and any unforeseen expenses, non-trade, non-degree wages just make it really hard to justify dropping even $20, that’s assuming you’ve got the $20 to drop in the first place. As for students, unless their parents can afford to bankroll everything, they’re not gonna have a lot of money to drop on games either, and if they do they’ll want to on big expansive things that last 100+ hours.

EDIT: I don’t mean to sound rude, I am on edge about anything money-related, I am currently posting out of a public library computer, if that means anything.


#20

Yeah, the thread’s title is… unfortunate.