I read Ryerson’s piece and listened to a lot of this podcast just metaphorically pumping my fist and shouting “hell yes, tell 'em!” (It was metaphorical because I listen to podcasts while walking my dog and that would be awkward.) We absolutely, desperately need cultural room for small games and games without commercial aspirations. With that said, it’s a little bit frustrating to see criticism of indie-pocalypse theory from this angle not because the criticism is false or unimportant, but because it’s missing a more direct line.
The “too many games on Steam” indie-geddon story is revisionist history. It ignores all the people making games who didn’t find a hit in the so-called gold rush. The idea that ~2008-2012 was a utopian period where any game dev in their garage could build a game and sell truckloads on Steam can only be sustained by carefully disregarding those who didn’t get by on Steam, or didn’t get onto Steam, which was nearly everyone. It’s a story built on anecdotes of studios who had a hit and then a flop, constructed into a terrifying line on a graph. Back when SteamSpy was a thing they wrote statistical horror stories from napkin-math: estimating average revenue per title on Steam, showing a year-by-year downward trend as the title count increases, then shouting “boo!” An honest telling of that story, if the data was available, would include everyone whose games didn’t get on the only system PC players use, and that old median wouldn’t look nearly so shiny.
And this is so much older than Indie Game The Movie. While the famous Atari Crash was going on in the mid-80s, hobby coders went right on writing £3 arcade cassettes for their ZX Spectrums and shareware RPGs traded between Apple IIs on floppies and BBSes. There have always been “too many games” for every game to get the attention it deserves. What we have now on PC between Steam and itch.io is precious, the closest we’ve come to equal footing between publishing giants and lone creators, and I don’t want us to throw that away because some folks find it too inconvenient to discover cool games. A problem I don’t relate to at all, by the way, given that we’re drowning in amazing games and people begging to tell you about them.