At a dimly lit Wolfman theater on the initial day of PAX Prime 2013, five prominent independent developers gathered to shine some light on subjects eager fans and others were looking to learn about. Located on the second floor of the Sheraton, adjacent to the overflowing show floor that is PAX, Wolfman theater offered a brief moment of solace from the constant visual and aural stimulation.
Erik Johnson, Business Director at Arcen Games and panel moderator, opened the discussion by posing the question “What has allowed indies to thrive in the last five years?” Brian Provinciano, Founder of Vblank Games and responsible for the multiplatform hit Retro City Rampage, stated that “Margins are high, there is no need to print copies to be sold, and there is tons of press to allow for extensive coverage.” Johnson agreed, citing community involvement between developers and fans as a key element. Matt Gilgenbach, Founder of Infinitap Games, attributed it to “rising budgets in AAA development. Indie developers re taking risks, not AAA,” which is a trend we’ve seen as of late, and especially holds true with the upcoming console releases.
Johnson continued with, “Where are indies struggling to get a hold, platform wise?” Provinciano was the first to chime in, rating the importance of promoting your own work. “Promotion is absolutely huge. Platforms actually feature indie games now, and not just in terms of indexing and searches. Consoles are working to lower the barrier to entry, but when compared to Steam, which takes about three full man days to get working, consoles have tons of certifications which take far longer.
Gilgenbach highlighted one of the potential pitfalls of Steam allowing so many titles within the store. “The more indies Steam accepts, the more difficult it becomes to promote each title. Just getting on Steam isn’t enough anymore for many of us; you need a promotion too.”
The following question is a controversial one, considering Nintendo’s recent takedown of high profile “Let’s Play” videos from YouTube. John queried the panelists for their thoughts on whether or not YouTubers (critics or individuals playing and recording gameplay footage) have had more of an impact on the promotion for gaming than the press, recently.
While they all enthusiastically agreed initially, Alexander Bruce, creator of Antichamber, took an alternate approach, as he believes that they both have their role in the industry. “We need the press to inform the YouTubers about the games,” and emphasized the fact that “before launch the press is important, but in the big picture, they are equally important.”
The panel concluded with the speakers engaging with one another about the importance of focusing on building the game, not worrying about the tools. Gilgenbach’s most recent game, 2012’s Retrograde, was built from scratch with C++, and in hindsight he felt that much of the game’s four-year development cycle was spent poorly. Most of it went toward architecting a reusable engine rather than focusing on the game itself. Bruce concluded the meeting, chiming in with “Don’t get distracted with tech, just get the game done.”