Independent Obsession: The Over-Romanticization Of Indie Development

"I remember telling my wife I'll quit my job and within three or four months we'll know it if works out," mused Red Barrels founder Philippe Morin to Games Industry International. "It took a year and a half."

Philippe Morin intends to speak in a talk next Tuesday at the 2013 Montreal International Games Summit, where he'll share his hard-earned wisdom regarding independent game development. For many, it's likely to be a reality check. See, indie developers and inventors have something in common: people glamorize and romanticize their lifestyles, while completely neglecting all the negative aspects. 


Suffice it to say, being an independent developer is nowhere near the cakewalk that all too many imagine it to be.

Initially, Morin seemed to have everything planned out. Morin and his co-founders left EA after a game they'd been working on was canceled a year into development. He intended to spend a few months of time putting together a trailer for his new project, circulating it to publishers as a pitch. His team had a AAA pedigree and a distribution agreement from Valve backing them, but there was one problem: they didn't have any funding to speak of. 

"Some people are able to do their project without any salaries for a year or two years," explained Morin. "In our cases, maybe it's because we're a bit older with families and kids, but whatever options we were going to choose had to allow us to give ourselves salaries and also give salaries to employees." 

Unfortunately, Morin wasn't able to find a publisher, and was left searching for alternative funding avenues. There was an angel investor interested, but that support hinged on support from the Canadian Media Fund. Initially, he turned the investor down - he figured he'd be able to get support from the CMF first, then come back. Unfortunately, his team had already missed the organization's first bi-annual deadline. When Red Barrels applied again, they received a simple response: 

"Nope, you don't get it." 

This had nothing to do with the project, as it turned out; it had everything to do with the fact that the CMF refuses to offer donations if they would exceed 75% of a project's total budget. In other order to receive funding, Red Barrels had to get funding. Over the next six months, the team scrounged together over $300,000 from both savings and families, and finally received a grant. Red Barrels was one of the lucky ones - for every independent developer that succeeds as they did, there are ten that fail, ultimately fizzling out. 

The number of failures, Morin suspects, might be related to the relative ignorance of most people concerning the realities of independent development.

"You have to stop thinking about it in a romantic way," he explained. "You have to be able to analyze all the aspects. I've heard stories of some studios closing not because the game they were working on wasn't good, but because they just couldn't go through with the process of managing the company and making sure the budget was spent wisely. And if you're unable to do it yourself, you'd better get somebody on the team who's able to."

Morin will discuss all of this in more detail in his keynote on Tuesday.