Independent developers, or perhaps better knows as “indie” developers, have been getting more and more positive attention in recent years. There are indie devs of all sorts and sizes, some in the form of an actual company and others are just a bunch of people who simply enjoy combining their creativity into an art form. Some independent developers even operate completely solo, be it for the sake of perfectionism, pride or otherwise.
The internet has opened up many doors for lots of things (yes, very specific, I know). With the introduction of digital distribution, indie musicians, entrepreneur graphical artists and lively podcasters have found an accessible and affordable way of reaching their audience. The same applies to the gaming industry, where the independent developer is now able to touch audiences it was previously unable to reach. The support of publishers and distribution platforms (I am mainly talking about Steam in this case) has boosted this trend.
With the recent release of Magicka, the community and its workings have inspired me to write this article. An interesting thing about independent developers versus ‘Big Shot’ developers is mainly that indie devs seems to care so much more about quality and interaction. To keep Magicka as an example, the game was released with an incredible amount of bugs. Did anyone regret buying the game? No. Why is that?
The reason – I think – is because Arrowhead Games cares. Never before have I seen such devotion to fix those bugs. Never before have I seen such responsiveness from a developer, indie or not. When I buy a game for £30 or £40, sometimes even 60 quid, I expect at least some support from its developer when there are some blatantly obvious bugs. The issue here is – again, I think – that large developers and publishers have much more buffer budget to cover any blows, or have other games in the pipeline that will make up for it. To translate that, they don’t care.
Sure, you will probably get your lil’ patch after hearing nothing from them for a week. But have they listened to the voice of the players? Arrowhead Games nails it when it comes to feedback, and this is something I applaud them for. They set an example I believe all developers – independent or not – should follow. It’s really not that hard to stay close to your audience, no matter how big you (or your ego) get. What separates indie devs from the big guns? Take a look at the Steam Community board for Magicka. It’s so alive in there, and it’s not just the players.
I think indie development is going to become larger and larger, something major developers and publishers should take an interest in. Because every now and then there will be a small group of people standing out from the crowd, ready to smash the so-called blockbusters with an indie game title. I believe Magicka – still quite a broken game at the time of writing – has sold 30,000 copies in 3 days. Do people worry that their game will not be fixed? No, the community has faith in its development and support. Should Black Ops players be worried? From the rumors I have heard, they are going to pull the plug on online multiplayer. Apparently because not enough people are playing it. Wow, that sounds like a warm embrace from the devs. Maybe they should spend less time on making a COD spin-off every 3 months and focus more on upholding their community. I would be well pissed off if I paid £30-£60 for a game that subsequently gets dropped like a brick. But, it’s not like they care… [It's been confirmed that this was just a rumor, and they have no intention of pulling the plug! - Editor]
Perhaps large developers and publishers need to take a step back, observe what’s happening in the independent sector of the industry and learn a lesson or two.