According To Jeff Vogel, The Independent Game Development Bubble Is Popping. Is He Right?
I'll be the first to admit that I absolutely love independent video games. For those of you who know anything about the indie business, it's not all that difficult to see why. Not only do indie games tend to be a steal compared to AAA titles, independent developers have a level of freedom that a lot of larger development studios can only dream of. As a result, we've seen some downright fantastic experimental titles over the past several years - even if we have had to sift through a bit of chaff to get to it.
Not surprisingly, these two factors - originality and low cost - have combined to make being indie one of the most potentially lucrative pursuits in the industry (assuming one's capable of pulling it off). According to developer Jeff Vogel - responsible for such titles as Exile, Geneforge, Avadon,and Avernum - this boom isn't going to last forever. As more and more developers enter the space, the market's starting to get saturated.
In short, the bubble's on the verge of bursting.
Now, I'm certain there are plenty of you who disagree. After all, judging from some of the titles we've been seeing lately, the market's never been stronger. Yeah, see, that's kind of the problem. Because of how strong the market's gotten, everyone wants in on it. And it's not just indie gaming, either - it's the games industry as a whole.
"Steam released more games in the first 20 weeks of 2014 than in all of 2013," writes Vogel. "That wouldn't be a problem if there were demand, but there's not. After all, almost 40% of games bought on Steam don't get tried. As in, never even launched once! At least the people who download free-to-play games try them."
Valve's not really equipped to deal with such an overwhelming flood - no organization really is. That's part of the reason, continues Vogel, behind the Greenlight program. Steam's putting content curation into the hands of its users, stepping in only when there's a serious issue with a game. That brings with it its own set of problems, not the least of which is the fact that it actually ends up hurting a lot of indies in the long run; developers who don't really have the resources for a serious PR campaign.
Vogel points to the iTunes store as a shining example of this problem in practice.
"Indie games started out as games written with passion for people who embraced and loved them. Now too much of it is about churning out giant mounds of decent but undifferentiated product to be bought for pennies by people who don't give a crap either way. It's not sustainable."
Vogel's quick to point out that Steam isn't the problem - the issues with the platform are symptomatic of more far-reaching issues with gaming as a whole. I'll sum his arguments up as simply as I'm able: there are too many developers, producing too many games; the number of gamers (and the amount of money they can spend) has remained relatively constant in spite of this.
"If you are an established developer journalists love, like Supergiant with Transistor, you have a chance to stand out from this horde. If you don't already have a hit, I don't know what to tell you. If I were you, I strongly suggest you write an utterly flawless, ground-breaking title and utterly blow everyone's minds."
I hate to admit it, but...I think he's right. As much as I love gaming (and independent development), what we're doing right now...it isn't working. We've got too many games, and not enough money, marketing, or exposure to devote to them. Something's gotta give eventually. The bubble's gotta burst.
I just hope we don't see too many development studios in ruins when it does. Anyway, I've rambled enough. I strongly recommend that those of you with some time to spare read Vogel's full piece on the matter, and I'll see you folks tomorrow.