Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

Why There Are No Hit Indie Games 267

Posted by Zonk
from the fewer-pac-men-per-capita dept.
Slate is running an article on why indie games are still such small potatoes in today's game industry. From the article: "In today's movie business, it's possible for an indie film like Napoleon Dynamite to become a sensation. Saw, which cost a mere $1.2 million, grossed 100 times that amount. That just doesn't happen in video games. The average PlayStation 2 game costs about $8 million. Studios often need large development teams--usually 40 or more people--to meet their tight deadlines. They spend money to license everything from comic book heroes to graphics engines. They record A-list actors. And if they burn their own CDs or do their own marketing, costs can really soar."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Why There Are No Hit Indie Games

Comments Filter:
  • No indie hits...?! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JediLow (831100) * on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:23PM (#15421581)
    What about games like Galactic Civilzations II? Sure, it isn't the highest grossing game ever, but its an indie game which outsold the publisher/developers goal within a week of being released, not to mention it made it to the top of Walmart's sales charts for games and to the charts of nearly every other retailer out there.

    Whats the definition of a 'hit' game anyways? Besides the Napoleon reference The article only talks about how much money is spent on games, not if they make money or anythin gelse, doesn't that get to the whole problem we're having now of games just looking good but (most) playing like crap?

    • by Marcion (876801)
      Well 'Indie' is perhaps not really the model we want to be thinking about but rather 'open source'. A collaborative and distributed 'game houses' will emerge in time. So far all the attempts at open-source games have seemed somewhat behind the very big companies.

      However, if you read between the lines of the fine article, you will know that there are some types of game which would suit the open-source model and some that won't.

      Good example - A sports game - the rules of Soccer or Ice-hockey do not change muc
      • by StarvingSE (875139) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @04:37PM (#15421855)
        Also, with movie tie-ins, you have to pay for a license. I'm willing to bet that is out of a lot of open source project's budgets. Some game studios also have exclusive rights to certain movies or characters, which would also stop an open source project using the material faster than you can say "cease and desist."
        • by Marcion (876801)
          >"with movie tie-ins, you have to pay for a license. I'm willing to bet that is out of a lot
          >of open source project's budgets."

          Well it could be a tie-in with an open source movie!! Or at least a smaller movie that was happy for the free publicity. However, there are some enlightened TV shows that allow 'fan art' and the like. So there may be some hope.

          Do not forget that it is always easier to get permission for something that will never make any money. This side of the pond, there ere are also public
    • by jacksonj04 (800021)
      I was thinking "Darwinia". Take a look at the Steam (Gasp shock horror proprietary lock-in yadda yadda) games list and it's definately got a fair few which are close to being hits in their own sphere. Rag Doll Kung Fu, for example.

      The reason there are no hit indie games in a wider scope is because they don't have anything to draw people's attention. People just don't buy games unless they:

      a. Have a good history of games with that same name, for example the UT series, The Sims, Half-Life, Halo.

      b. Come from a
      • I have to add a 'd' to that list.

        People don't buy games unless they look realistic.

        Running the Darwinia forums has turned up a fair few intresting topics relating to the graphics in Darwinia. people saying things from they are ace to they are a cop out of doing any work (which may or many not be true ;) ). Then there's those who hate the game because it doesnt look like {insert high budget/really really new game here}.

        While those people are welcome to their own opinion, sometimes I find it rather shallow. F
      • This rule becomes more true as you move towards consoles, since there is no way to grab an indie game demo on a quick download for your 360, and hence there is no development for consoles.

        I'm not much of a gamer (I don't own a console), but isn't "downloadable indie game demos" (Xbox Live Arcade [xbox.com]) one of the selling points of the Xbox 360 and its free Xbox Live Silver membership?

        Sure, some of them are just old arcade games (like Joust) updated for online play. But games like Outpost Kaloki X [ninjabee.com] looks like

  • by DrMrLordX (559371) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:25PM (#15421590)
    I have no idea how large Popcap Games was back when they released it, but Bejeweled was a hit. In fact, a lot of their games have proven to be popular. Obviously they can't be thought of as an indie game studio now. And then there was that old puzzle game before it that was a huge smash hit created by that Pazhitnov guy in Russia . . . what was that again? I forget.
    • No Hit Indie Games ON A CONSOLE.

      PC, anything and everything goes. Gaia, YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates, anything PopCap seems to touch . . . Hell, anyone up for running through Exmortis or the Viridian Room, anyone?
      • Katamari Damancy? Or is that game not as indie as it seemed?

      • How about Geometry Wars on XBox Live?
      • No Hit Indie Games ON A CONSOLE.

        Well, let's hope Nintendo can turn the tides somewhat. From their webpage : http://wii.nintendo.com/hardware.html [nintendo.com]

        Virtual Console: Wii will have downloadable access to 20 years of fan-favorite titles originally released for Nintendo 64, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and even the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The Virtual Console also will feature a "best of" selection from Sega Genesis titles and games from the TurboGrafx console (a system jointly

  • 40 ppl (Score:5, Funny)

    by stew77 (412272) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:28PM (#15421603)
    Studios often need large development teams--usually 40 or more people--to meet their tight deadlines.

    And Napoleon Dynamite was shot by 3 guys?
    • I think the real issue here is that it could have been shot by 3 people... I think the Blair witch project only had about 6 people working on it all in all; also even I could make a film (it might not be very good) but with a good idea and a camera anyone can easily make a film; a game takes a lot of specialised knowledge of all sorts of areas which the average person just couldn't do.

      come to think of it I might make a film... I'll open source it : )


      • Just make sure your definition of movie exceeds The Magic Chex Box [youtube.com] on YouTube [youtube.com].


      • Re:40 ppl (Score:3, Insightful)

        but with a good idea and a camera anyone can easily make a film; a game takes a lot of specialised knowledge of all sorts of areas which the average person just couldn't do.

        Thats where modding comes in. Some of the biggest and most popular games out there were created as mods with teams of under 10 people, sometimes as few as 1 or 2.

        3wave CTF, Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, etc.

        The problem is most consoles just arnt accessible to third party developers-- It doesn't matter how capable they are, if they can't

    • No, but.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by raehl (609729) <raehl311&yahoo,com> on Sunday May 28, 2006 @05:27PM (#15422035) Homepage
      It was probably shot in 3 to 5 weeks. Video games require you to carry those 40 people for months.

      The real problem is not the number of people, but that there's no good way to make a low-budget video game. You can make a good movie for very little money by not spending $100 million on special effects and marketing. Video games don't work like that. If you don't spend the money on having good graphics artists, your game looks like crap.

      You can sell a movie with a great story and no special effects. You can't sell a game with fantastic game play and crappy graphics and sound - those games were already sold 10-20 years ago.
      • The real problem is not the number of people, but that there's no good way to make a low-budget video game. You can make a good movie for very little money by not spending $100 million on special effects and marketing. Video games don't work like that. If you don't spend the money on having good graphics artists, your game looks like crap.

        That's almost it. To make a movie, you point a camera at something, and you've got content. That content can certainly be improved with special effects, actors, direction
    • Re:40 ppl (Score:5, Insightful)

      by colmore (56499) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @05:32PM (#15422056) Journal
      Here here. Independant cenema is as expensive as all but the most expensive big-budget games. The better question to ask is "why does independant gaming lack the financial backing and infrastructure of independant cinema, publishing, music, etc.?"
      • Re:40 ppl (Score:3, Informative)

        by mwvdlee (775178)
        Going out on a limb here, but I think the general audience of independant movies would be somewhat more into cultural things than cheap thrills.

        I don't really think there's an equivalent audience for independant games, at best this potential audience would probably spend most of their money on more cultural activities.

        Unless independant studios can make games which have significant gameplay values to become widely accepted as an art-form, I just don't think there is any audience to justify bigger budgets.

        Th
    • Re:40 ppl (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fermion (181285) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @06:49PM (#15422346) Homepage Journal
      read a bit further into the summary, and you will see that the question of why indie games fail.
      They spend money to license everything from comic book heroes to graphics engines. They record A-list actor
      First, indie films are generally somewhat original and mundane ideas. They do not depend on popularity of concept to compensate for lame writing. This measn that indie films do not spend money on licensing. Niether do they generally spend the millions on licensing books and then millions more on rewrites of the script. Often even music is not used due to costs.

      Indie films also do not tend to have license technology. The creators use what can be had on the budget. This has become much more sophiticated, but still not what big studios have. As far as actors, many will cut thier pay to scale to work on a indie film. This has lead to some aggrivation when the film is really succesful, as the actors then kick themselves from not negotiating a part of the sales.

      In the end an indie film has few if any big name actors, few if any popular characters, shots that are out of focus, lame special effects, and, except in the case where a big studio picks up the picture, no promotion budget.

      An indie film is usually high concept, good script, and personal. Given that video games for the most part are about cool special effects, mass murder, and pushing technology, the two do not seem to be comparable.

      So, why are they not indie games. Becuase indie films are possible because films can be produced on a low budget and there are a network of indie film houses that will show them, even though they is little money made. Console vendors want to sell games, so why bother with a game that is not going to be blockbuster? Stores want to sell games so why stock games that may not sell. Moviegoers will tolerate out of focus shots, unknown actors, and less than ideal theatres just for the hope to see something slightly original. Will gamers make the same compromises?

    • It doesn't take a genius with a college degree to point a camera and press "record". (OK, it's probably a little more complicated than that, but the point is that there are people willing to work on movies for a lot less than skilled programmers are willing to work on games for.) A lot of the cost of big-budget movie development is due to the unions and guilds (in Soviet California, workers control YOU!) Making a good movie relies more on innate talent, which doesn't take the better part of a decade to d
      • But there were some indie hits. Duke Nukem 3D was really successful; so successful, in fact, that they haven't needed to produce anything for the past decade in order to keep the company afloat. Quake was produced by a relatively small company driven by one rockstar programmer (John Carmack). But games have just gotten to big and too complex to be produced by "indie" studios.

            I hope you're not trying to say that there will never be a "Duke Nukem Forever"!!
  • StepMania (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ilex (261136) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:30PM (#15421609)
    StepMania [wikipedia.org] seems to be a very popular game. There's an active modding community and a multiplayer add-on. Haven't played it myself but looking at some of the clips on youtube.com it looks very polished.

    Must be great fun at a party.
    • You are talking about a non-commercial game. Stepmania is a really good program but it is really only directed at an audience that already plays or knows about Dance Dance Revolution.
    • another good example is pyDDR - i know they guy who wrote it.. and it was a pet project to teach him self python
  • by Ardeocalidus (947463) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:31PM (#15421611)
    Sure there are, especially with the advent of internet publishing. Look at two of the hottest online FPS games, Day of Defeat and Counter-strike. Both were originally made by indie mod groups. However, both became so popular that they were bought up by a corporate entity. Look at Dystopia and Empires, two HL2 mods that are walking in the footsteps of DoD and CS. Though I must say that its much easier to make an independent game using a modification tools.

    We can't rate hit indie games by their fiscal gross alone. Some of the most popular games out there (Continuum, anyone?) are free.

    • Though I must say that its much easier to make an independent game using a modification tools.

      This is telling us two things.

      One, developers are continually reinveting the wheel.
      Two, game engine licences still cost afr, far too much money.

      I think it's only a matter of time before open source game engines and frameworks begin to replace overpriced and overrestrictive proprietary solutions. This will happen first in "basic" areas such as i/o, toolkits, small physics simulations and will work its way up to enti
      • One, developers are continually reinveting the wheel.
        Two, game engine licences still cost afr, far too much money.

        The wheel gets reinvented because if every game used the Source engine every game would play exactly like Half Life 2 and CounterStrike Source and DoD Source. If every game used the Doom III engine every game would play exactly like Doom III and Quake IV. Variety is the spice of life, and it's the variety of game engines that make games different from each other. There's already a chorus

        • The wheel gets reinvented because if every game used the Source engine every game would play exactly like Half Life 2 and CounterStrike Source and DoD Source. If every game used the Doom III engine every game would play exactly like Doom III and Quake IV. Variety is the spice of life, and it's the variety of game engines that make games different from each other. There's already a chorus about how every game is the same, there's no innovation, nothing's original anymore--how much louder would those protest

        • The wheel gets reinvented because if every game used the Source engine every game would play exactly like Half Life 2 and CounterStrike Source and DoD Source. If every game used the Doom III engine every game would play exactly like Doom III and Quake IV.

          It's hard to imagine that Adventure Pinball [ea.com] plays exactly like Unreal Tournament, despite using the same engine.

      • > One, developers are continually reinveting the wheel.

        That is true, but you need to understand why this happens.

        It's about over coming techincal issues in an engine to provide a more realistic game.
        Every game engine is a kludge'd "reality simulator". Even representing color as the popular 3-tuple: red,green,blue is an APPROXIMATION of what happens in the real world, because the only way to get a fast frame rate, is to cheat on the simulator like crazy. As computers get faster, we can do less cheating.
      • Two, game engine licences still cost afr, far too much money.

        How's a $100 dev license [garagegames.com] sound? $395 for indie licenses.

    • Console are not setup to run independent homebrew games without modification. Indie mod groups have made some fantastic PC games or added new life to old games. Sure, mod groups use existing engines, but so do a lot of industry groups. The big reason for investing time in making an engine is to license it to others. If I want to make a great game in a short period, I'm going to use someone else's engine.
      I think indie groups' biggest problem isn't attracting talented individuals, but attracting committed tal
    • We can't rate hit indie games by their fiscal gross alone. Some of the most popular games out there (Continuum, anyone?) are free.

      Not to mention freeciv.

  • Galciv 2 [galciv.com] would be a proof to the contrary. As are many strategies published my Matrix Games [matrixgames.com]. There ARE hit indie games (there may not be much in the way of REVENUE, but the profits are good). Galciv II of the starforce fame was (and still is) on the RETAIL Top 10 lists in US, Canada and also in Europe (at least in play.com). Total budget was something on the order $500000 or so, IIRC. Ok, not just two guys in a basement, but still, very small developer and in my books an "indie".

    When someth
    • Yep. And GalCivII sold 30% of its copies online according to their blog post [galciv2.com]. Many game developers would have to split the $49.95 with a retailer, distributor, and publisher, eventually seeing somewhere between $10 and $20. When Stardock sells GalCiv online, they split the $49.95 with Stardock, Stardock, and Stardock (well, OK, kick in something like $.80 for credit card processing).
  • I beg to differ... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by XXIstCenturyBoy (617054) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:35PM (#15421623)
    Its not because you don't hear about a game in the mainstream game review site that they aren't hits. Its just a question of exposure. Take Hexic or Crystal Cave on XBox Live. They fare pretty well for games with 0$ in marketing budget.

    Some games have a niche market and are quite recognized among players. Cave story, Tumiki Fighter or even some *band variant comes to mind.

    In the end its only a question of marketing. Just like Open Source, suffers from a lack of "Open Source Marketing", Indie suffer from a lack of "Indie Marketing". But things are picking up IMHO.
  • PC Games (Score:5, Interesting)

    by colmore (56499) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:35PM (#15421624) Journal
    The natural market for indie games is the PC, the structure of console gaming assumes large publishers; back in the day console games were either first party titles or arcade ports. In the 80s and 90s the majority of PC games were "indie" studios like Maxis, Id, and Sierra: small-staff affiars that occasionally produced mega-hit games, but also subsited quit well on sleepers and more nich titles.

    This all changed after the indroduction of dedicated graphics processing and of online gaming, and the resulting arms race for whiz-bang excite-the-fanboys-with-screenshots features. The arcade culture moved online and onto PC gaming, and the idea of PC games being something that an adult might want to play on their office machine began to die. Megapublishers moved in, purchased the formerly independant studios, and homoginized the industry.

    And now you have an absurd situation where Nintendo is seen as being some sort of guiding visionary for thinking that video games could be intertainment for people who aren't hard-core gamers, when, in fact, before recently, PC gaming had been serving a diverse audience for over 20 years.

    Anyway, I'm of the opinion that video games have become much more narrow and catering to a specific audience, one that no longer includes me. I'm no luddite. I appreciate good graphics and advances in technology, however games that use all these new features in ways that actually interest me are few and far between, and I find myself looking toward abandonware for new (to me) games.

    I have a kind of generic critique of capitalism as a mode of cultural production that relates to this. It seems that commercial art is best when it is part of an immature market. The genre of the summer blockbuster saw a lot more creativity and inventiveness in the 70s and 80s, while the parameters were still being explored. Once Hollywood figured out the basic formulas of that game (e.g. "Die Hard" is a reproducable success, "E.T." is not, etc.) creativity dropped through the floor and you start seeing more and more sequels, licensed adaptations, and such. I'm not saying that profit is incompatible with art, just that it doesn't scale infinitely, when the producers get too greedy and refuse to accept the risk of not having a hit, the fun dies out.
  • Very true (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Metaleks (977598)
    Very, very true... However, the big-shot movies don't learn anything from indie films like Napolean Dynamite and continue to overproduce movies that have a ridiculous budget. In a game though, the big-shot game developers can learn things from indie games like Spiderweb Software's: Avernum and Geneforge.
  • Tight deadlines (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DavidLeblond (267211) <{moc.dnolbeldivad} {ta} {em}> on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:37PM (#15421637) Homepage
    Studios often need large development teams--usually 40 or more people--to meet their tight deadlines.

    Yeah, but indie developers usually don't have tight deadlines.

    They spend money to license everything from comic book heroes to graphics engines. They record A-list actors. And if they burn their own CDs or do their own marketing, costs can really soar.

    Again, you don't need to do this to make an indie game. Games on CD? Thats so 1999.

    If you spend next to nothing to make a game, its easier to make a profit.

    Take this guy for example. [idevgames.com]
  • Distribution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ximenes (10) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:38PM (#15421639)
    The indie movies that are successful are those that manage to reach a wide audience. They get picked up for distribution (art house or even multiplex), advertised, reviewed, and otherwise get very similar treatment to studio movies. There are lots of indie movies that aren't successful and don't get this treatment, but it is a possibility. There are movies out there that everyone has seen and never realized that they were indie.

    This is not true at all for indie games. There is no getting picked up by a distributor, getting reviewed, advertising or anything of the kind. They're either available for free from some site filled with indie games of dubious quality or they try to get sold by some new method (electronic delivery, serialized gaming, etc.). Its hard enough to be successful going against the flow in one aspect (indie vs large developer), and its even harder when you add a new distribution/payment scheme to that.

    How am I supposed to find out which indie games are good? Without totally immersing myself into the scene, its next to impossible. Advertising, reviews and utilizing the existing distribution medium let people find independently produced things in the way that they're accustomed to finding establishment things.

    Also: the game world does not have a clearly defined establishment in the same way that the movie world does. Just because EA is the behemoth now doesn't mean that they have the same kind of history as MGM (used to), and so being independent of them doesn't carry the same connotations in the consumer's mind.
    • Re:Distribution (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cubicledrone (681598)
      How am I supposed to find out which indie games are good?

      Well that would normally be a function of the gaming media...

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    • They're either available for free from some site filled with indie games of dubious quality or they try to get sold by some new method (electronic delivery, serialized gaming, etc.).

      That's an excellent point. One major difference between indy games and indy movies is that indy movie houses have limited screen real estate. As a result, they have to pick and choose what movies they play, and thus there's at least some amount of selection that goes on. Your average indy game site has effectively unlimite
  • It's simple (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cubicledrone (681598)
    That just doesn't happen in video games. The average PlayStation 2 game costs about $8 million.

    That's called a "barrier to entry." It's a feature of the non-free market which is inaccessible to 99% of business in order to limit or abolish competition (see "insufficient huevos") and deny small business access to the capital markets.

    Let's recap:

    1. There is no free market
    2. There is no competition
    3. There is no access to capital

    Not bad for a capitalistic free market based on competition, don't you think?

    Cue
    • Pretty sure that the "free market" before the anti-trust laws prevented competition just a tad more than the regulation of today's economy. Please be more specific.

      Also, the reason there aren't many indie games now is the same reason there weren't many indie games a few decades ago. We're just getting into the medium and have not developed methods to cheaply streamline the process of game making, whereas movies have become much, much, much less expensive to make. We just have to wait and improve upon method
      • "weren't many indie games a few decades ago" should be "weren't many indie movies a few decades ago". Just a little spur of the moment dyslexia, my apologies.
      • Re:Errr... (Score:4, Informative)

        by cliffski (65094) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @05:03PM (#15421960) Homepage
        Games are very cheap to make. What you mean is 3D games with the latest graphics tech. Thats a totally different situation. A good game is a good game, even if its *shock* a 2D one. If you accept from the start that you are going to make a 2D game, youll be suprised at how cheaply and quickly you can make something fun and popular. At least thats my experience from making these two:
        http://www.starshiptycoon.com/ [starshiptycoon.com]
        http://www.democracygame.com/ [democracygame.com]
  • If a game is not available on the shelf at Walmart and Best Buy, it is very unlikely to be a hit. However, shelf space at Walmart and Best Buy is so limited that game publishers have to rent the shelf space. The publisher pays for shelf inches or an end-cap, and the retailer doesn't care so much if the game sells or not. The retailer makes money from shelf rent regardless.

    Small developers and small distributors do not have the capital to pay Walmart $8M for a national role-out. Therefore there is no she
  • Self Fulfilling? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by peterpi (585134) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:57PM (#15421704)
    Most indie games are created at least partly as a job application excercise. There are two outcomes from this situation. Either the game is good, and the developer gets a job (and so leaves the indie scene), or it is not, and then we have one more example of a poor indie game.

    I'd speculate that the indie scene is far, far larger than it ever has been at any point up to now. In the 'good old days' a one-man bedroom project could rock the industry, but the industry was very very small at that time.

    Today's indie scene is probably far larger than the whole computer games scene of 20 years ago. (I have no figures to back that up, BTW)

  • Tux Racer (Score:4, Funny)

    by Andrew Tanenbaum (896883) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @03:58PM (#15421710)
    End of discussion.
  • I've been under the impression that the development kits for XBox & PlayStation are hellishly expensive, aren't they?

    Besides, don't the real indies develop for Linux? TuxRacer would be huge on any other platform IMHO..!
    • Isn't that only a couple grand, however?
  • Films are finally able to be made Indie style for low budgets and reap huge returns, because you can shoot one with what is now low-cost hardware and relatively low-cost editing suites of software.

    Games will arrive at the same point when great game engines (which are starting to crop up) become available for relatively low-cost... ie: you can get a few people together with a good script, a good concept and some decent artists and create a game using off the shelf 3d engines and minorly tweaked, configured g
  • I think we could see a somewhat indie appearance through the use of Virtual Consoles. Geometry Wars was a big hit even though it did come from a major "game studio". If there could be some sort of open market for Virtual Consoles, like the development kit is free or relatively cheap and game makers get a certain cut of the profits perhaps 50%. That would definitely lead to some interesting games.
  • Are we talking about just console games, or are PC games included?
    Console games are more understandable because there is a higher initial investment. As well you only have a single model of distribution available to you. Which is also expensive.

    On the other hands, PC games have a much lower initial investment (free tools if you really want) and by selling things electronically via a shareware method, you can keep distribution costs low.

    Spiderweb Software still sells shareware games. You can get the demo for
  • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @04:52PM (#15421906)
    Most of today's hits are just new faces on existing game engines. They are only hits because companies spend a lot of money on marketing to convince people that the new game is really something better.

    Sure, they may licence new comic book charecters. Or, for sports games, have the latest players names and stats. But, if the game play still is lousy, then ultimately the game is, too. Improving game play costs a lot of money. It's a lot cheaper to try and convince consumers that the product is better than to actually make it better.

    This is no different than movie producers. Indie producers simply do not have the resources to market the film or pay high salaries for name recognition. Very often, their product, as an art form, is significantly better than what comes out of Hollywood, but without the marketing machine, it can't reach the critical mass need for public awareness.

    Game producers are in the same boat. Just like indie film producers, all of the indie game producers resources go directly into improving the product and not the frills. So, indie game producers can and do produce games that are as good or better than what comes out of the commercial game houses, however, without the ability to market them, they can't reach critical mass, either.
  • A thing to remember here is that the so-called "indie developers" are selling to the "big publishers". That's a key part of the problem here. There's a lot of games out there and few companies with the ability to market the game or manage its online presence. It's like working for a normal business. They supply the tools, workplace, and coworkers, and they get the lion's share of the value you produce. If you want more, then you have to do more.
  • I actually don't really understand our obsession with "hits". There are good indie games out there for anyone who wants to look, and there are indie developers making a living off their games, as far as I can tell. I recently had a ball playing Darwinia [darwinia.co.uk], and Rag Doll Kung Fu [ragdollkungfu.com].

    I've made games [binadopta.com], movies [vendettachristmas.com], and music [lisasleftovers.com], and I think it's just about artists and audiences getting over their obsession with being a big hit and dominating the world. Many of my favorite things are smaller scale things that touched me per
  • GarageGames? (Score:2, Redundant)

    by localman (111171)
    Games are a relatively new medium and so things will take some time to settle. Who knows how it'll all pan out? But there is GarageGames [garagegames.com], an early entry in expanding the indie gaming market. They're still relatively small, but MarbleBlast just got ported to the xbox 360.

    Cheers.
  • by matw8 (901439)
    How many copies do you need to turn over, or dollars do you need to make to be call "a hit". The http://www.liveforspeed.net/ [liveforspeed.net] racing game is an excellent sim, and pretty damn popular and uses a fairly unique bit-by-bit sales model.

    Initially they produced Section 1, sold it cheaply which allowed further development, then produced Section 2... etc. etc.

    By the time they finish, the racing public will have paid a total price similar to todays mass market games, but spread out over a year or two.
  • This may sound like Tin Foil Hat conspiracy, but I believe what is going on with the big game studios is more a result of sticking to what they know and minimizing risks. When you know that licensing a big name like spider-man guarantee's at least a minimal amount of sales, why risk even a minimal budget on something that you dont know is going to sell at all. Most big game companies seem to take the approach that the more "visible" the game the better the game will be. They arent really going after gamers they are going after TV watchers and Movie goers. The bonus for them is that if they can convince the public that they are the only option then they can continue to shovel out crap at will.

    Small Indy devs are more interested in pushing the envelope and creating new things, things that are risky. If something takes off it gets noticed but if it flops...usually thats it..game over. Take Castle Wolfenstien and Doom that little indy company Id pushed a new way to interact in a game world that revolutionized the industry. Back then before the days of anti aliasing and pixel shading, a company could afford a couple of Jazz Jackrabbits and Commander Keens before they hit it big. Today you get one chance unless you develop it in you basement you arent going to get the infusion of capital to ever bring an original idea to fruition.

    The flaw in the big studios logic is that for most people that play games regularly they care more about the game being fun and different more than if Joe Movie Star's voice is in it, or if its a licensed character. I cant remember the last really good game I played that had either a license or a popular voice, if it did it wasnt one that stood out enough to notice.

    Still the notion that there are no hit indy games is just noise. You can look as small as bejeweled or as big as Homeworld or Freedom Force to see that small publishers do still exist, they just have to have a product thats good enough to drown out the noise around them trying to convince games that they dont exist. Of couse the ones that do break through usually get bought by the big fish so that they can pump out sequels while tying up the original developers to wallow in the stagnant waters they created.

    Sadly, many of todays games could easily be made for 1/3rd their budgets if they would forget the voices (who cares) and forget the hours of lovely boring cut scenes that most games skip over in the first place. I love cinematics as much as anyone but give it a bit of a rest, if I wanted a freakin movie i'd buy a ticket and go see one.
  • by smash (1351) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @05:57PM (#15422169) Homepage Journal
    I think it's because most of the current generation of gamers/producers are obsessed with eye candy - there's little in the way of original or in-depth gameplay ideas anymore, just the newest shiny 3d engine and surround sound.

    Seriously, when was the latest "new idea" you saw with regards to gameplay?

    Tetris? Lemmings? Command and Conquer? Sim City? Wolfenstein 3d? Elite?

    Everything I can think of these days is a variation on the same general idea (other than flight/driving "sims" of course). The last truly interesting and original game concept was over 10 years ago...

    Given that, the only real way to distinguish yourself as far as marketing goes, when limited to a fixed number of game themes, is by graphical or audio superiority. This costs money.

    Sad really... if someone was to come up with an original (or even, not flogged to death in the past 5 years), entertaining gameplay idea, they'd do well...

    Me? I'm waiting for a decent new 2d platformer to come out :D

    smash

    • KATAMARI DAMACY (Score:2, Interesting)

      by JRGhaddar (448765)
      Umm... I think that game is a "truly interesting and original game concept" that has come out recently.

      Other games that I find to be fun and amusing are games that move away from the conventional console controller. (Nintendo realizes this, and thus the Wii controller was designed)

      Samba De Amigo, DDR, Guitar Hero, Donkey Konga... games like that have a very bright future.

      With the new systems all having some sort of network for gameplay the doors are wide open for possibilities. I always thought that a team
    • Comparing movies to computer games is a bit like comparing an orange to a Ferrari 911.

      Excuse my ignorance here, but what do you need to make a great movie?

      - great script
      - great actors
      - a camera...

      umm... that's about it. (Ok, wardrobe, scenery, lights... but even then). Sure it's not going to be The Matrix, but it could be the next Blair Witch project.

      Now what do you need to make a great game?

      - Great and lots of programmers (oh yeah sure, just 'buy the engine', don't give me that)
      - Great script
      - Great gamepl
      • But damn it, I want someone to prove me wrong! Write the next awesome game yourself! (I want a version of Global Thermo Nuclear Warfare please)

        I wrote that a good few years ago, but some pesky kid kept hacking into my WOPR and buggering about with it, so I gave up on the game and bred Yaks instead...
    • by DeanCubed (814869) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @11:25PM (#15423121)
      "Seriously, when was the latest "new idea" you saw with regards to gameplay?"

      Super Monkey Ball - inspired the much lauded Katamari Damacy in obvious ways.
      Pikmin
      Donkey Konga
      THE FREAKIN NINTENDO DS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Nintendogs, Brain Training, Pac Pix, Kirby DS, Yoshi Touch and Go... *sigh*
      The Sony EyeToy
      The Nintendo Wii
      Goldeneye 007
      Metroid Prime
      Eternal Darkness' sanity meter
      WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2006's GM Mode - it's a freakin marketing video game!
      Are you even paying attention to anything out in the last 10 years? Looked at Nintendo lately? What do you think their point is? It's basically: "Something new has to be done soon or else no new gamers will ever be created, and the market will be even more stale from the latest cars'n'guns'n'thugz game."

      "Everything I can think of these days is a variation on the same general idea (other than flight/driving "sims" of course). The last truly interesting and original game concept was over 10 years ago..."

      It's true that in 1996, 10 years ago, original game concepts were very common, it's because Nintendo released the analog joystick on the N64 controller and Sony promptly stuck 2 onto the PlayStation. Noone had done something like Twisted Metal or 1080 Snowboarding or Tony Hawk's Pro Skater or Mario 64 before. The problem with this gen is that there's no massive gap like there was between 2D and 3D, so Sony and MS have invented the theory that HD picture is the next big step, and Nintendo is saying "wait, if it's HD that's the next big thing, what will that change in terms of gameplay? I think you guys are wrong on this... lets make a better controller so everyone can play, not just geeks and college guys"

      "Given that, the only real way to distinguish yourself as far as marketing goes, when limited to a fixed number of game themes, is by graphical or audio superiority. This costs money."

      Or, you know, create new forms of control like a touch screen or a camera or a microphone or a controller that detects its position in 3D space, or a bongo drum set, or fucking DDR!

      "Sad really... if someone was to come up with an original (or even, not flogged to death in the past 5 years), entertaining gameplay idea, they'd do well..."

      Yeah, well tell that to all the people who DIDN'T buy Alien Homonid or Katamary Damacy or Eternal Darkness or Pikmin or LEGO Star Wars or Goblin Commander...

      "Me? I'm waiting for a decent new 2d platformer to come out :D"

      Umm... there is one. It's called "New Super Mario Bros." and it kicks nine kinds of ass... not to mention Kirby on the DS, and well, maybe you just really need to buy a DS and quit analyzing an industry you haven't been a part of in 10 years...
    • Seriously, when was the latest "new idea" you saw with regards to gameplay?

      Katamari Damacy.

      Wario Ware.

      Dance Dance Revolution.

      Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

      Animal Crossing.

      The games are there, if you look around.

  • Having shipped a few titles, here is what I've noticed...

    1. Tecnically Details of implementation
    On a console, there are numerious technical details (barriers of entry) that need to be worked around.
    On a 40 man team, usually there is 1 guy dedicated to just rendering, 1 to CD/DVD & movie loading/playback, 1 for physics, 1 for audio (basically core engine), the rest of programmers on the game coding. Memory Mananement is a secondary killer issue to worry about. Now, you just don't sit down one day and d

  • I really like FlightGear.org and TORCS on the sim side.

    I can see talent and continuity issues in particular trying to coordinate game creation with a lot of people. But impossible?
  • by macserv (701681) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @07:02PM (#15422396)
    Developing and publishing a successful, mainstream home console game is a massive undertaking, in terms of both funding and staffing. Hundreds, even thousands of people; millions upon millions of dollars. Many smaller, more innovative development houses are left out in the cold, or relegated to cheaper platforms, like GameBoy Advance.

    It's a problem upon which Nintendo has set its sights this time around. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo Corporation's (ex-developer) President has repeatedly stressed how disappointed by the current state of game creation.

    Not much is known for sure at this time, but many are speculating that it will be easy to build and sell games for Nintendo's Virtual Console service. Several sources have also speculated that a Wii Developer Kit will cost about US$2,000.00. Now if Nintendo could only somehow help with the other costs of marketing and publishing a new console game, it could bring a lot of cool games to a lackluster industry.
  • changes afoot... (Score:3, Informative)

    by pedantic bore (740196) on Sunday May 28, 2006 @07:07PM (#15422406)
    It's true that the combination of high cost to develop a game and the high probability that any given game is a dud make it very difficult for an "indie" to compete with the big boys, particularly in the on-line multiplayer world. If you do everything right, then eventually you'll make a bunch of money, buy odds are that you'll have to eat a lot of losses first.

    But this isn't the first time this has come up. For example, at GDC this year there was something called Project DarkStar [projectdarkstar.com] from Sun that aims to level the play field by providing the infrastructure (software and hardware, I think) for people developing MMORPGs in return for a cut of the action -- if the game doesn't make money, then it's free; if the game makes money, then the game developer pays a cut. Intriguing model. They had some nice demos. If it pans out then I think there could be a lot of new, imaginative, risky games that start to appear.

  • Counter strike, pokemon, wario, super mario 2, gauntlet, dead or alive and a whole bunch of others were initially indie projects, the thing is in videogames HIT indie projects ussually dont stay that way too long. (although they are some exceptions like popcap, gish, alien hominid, etc) the same can be said about the movies you mentioned though.
  • A better comparison is to consider where the media is played. For movies this is a cinema and DVD, for games this is on a PC or console.

    Not many Indie titles are released on consoles as those platforms are expensive, dedicated platforms with slick marketing and tightly controlled distribution channels.

    This is very similar to the mega-cinemas with massive screens and surround sound. Those big mega-screens show mostly blockbusters with expensive special effects, not indie titles. Instead, the indie films make
  • I think the main issue is the literally hostile relationship console makers have with the indie scene. I mean, console makers view your average "indie developer" more as a "hacker looking to crack the copy protection scheme" than as a "potential developer of the next runnaway success", and treat them accordingly.

    They've erected massive barriers to entry. Historically the development systems have been ridiculously expensive. The NDAs, licenses, royalty agreements are burdensome. Your developing on a highly p
  • by podperson (592944) on Monday May 29, 2006 @12:37AM (#15423263) Homepage
    What this article basically forgets is that the established studios are, in a sense, indie developers.

    Consider that id, Eidos, Blizzard, Bioware, etc. are, essentially successful indie developers. In some cases -- e.g. 989/Verant -- a big company gets involved to bring what essentially started as an indie game (EverQuest) successfully to market.

    I note that Snood is available for Gameboy DS -- that's an indie game.

    The big game companies are analogous to movie studios. They try to pick winners at various stages of development (with similar degrees of success). A no-name independent developer might become interesting to a studio when they have a compelling alpha, while a big-game developer might essentially get backing for any hare-brained idea.

    An innovative smash hit game essentially becomes a game genre. E.g. Wolfenstein 3D / DOOM created the 3d first person shooter genre. Having decided you're making a game in this genre, given there's pretty much no "script" (even a comparatively plot-heavy FPS such as Half Life has a laughable plot) so it all comes down to production values.

    Unless you're being truly original, you're only going to compete with the big guys on production values. Independent movies can compete on the basis of writing (which doesn't cost a lot of money), acting (which needn't cost a lot of money), subject matter (...). By and large, these aren't seriously useful options for indie game developers -- so unless they're very original they're limited to competing on production values, and they'll lose.

    OK, rambling. Will shut up now.
  • by dcs (42578)
    So, exactly how isn't Tetris an indie smash hit?
  • by barfy (256323) on Monday May 29, 2006 @10:46AM (#15424762)
    This is JUST WRONG!
    ID software defined Indie Hits. And if that is not recent enough for you...
    CounterStrike redefined Indie Hit.

    The premise of the article is wrong. Yes it is hard to make a hit indie. But it happens, and happens with a vengence.

"It's what you learn after you know it all that counts." -- John Wooden

Working...