The Indie Game circuit is exploding exponentially right now – and doesn’t seem like it’s going to slow down any time soon.
Steam and iOS devices grant indie developers the chance to showcase their wares via digital distribution, not to mention publishers like Sony investing in indie development, it’s becoming increasingly easy for smalltime developers to get their games noticed alongside the AAA titles from bigger studios – or is it?
One of those big names, Microsoft, has come a long way in giving “the little guy” a share of the spotlight, with programs like the Summer of Arcade bringing in records-shattering sales for the Xbox Live. While everything on the consumer side seems rainbows and unicorns, it seems that behind the scenes it’s a little bit more complicated.
Gamasutra had a chance to talk to indie developer, Jonathon Blow, creator of Braid as well as the upcoming title, The Witness. To hear him tell it, trying to get a finished product incorporated into the XBLA ranks is harder than the game development process itself. Blow was honest in his assessment of Microsoft, admitting that while his upcoming title The Witness took a $2 million budget (paltry compared to AAA-title games), he doesn’t need to rely on Microsoft:
“There’s no need to [sign a platform-exclusive contract]. If the goal is to make that $2 million, not only is that kind of a safe target, but because the game’s 3D and whatnot, I’m pretty sure we could make that back just off Steam and the iPad safely.”
Though where his future titles may end up is another matter, as Microsoft’s exclusivity is known for being especially strict. Blow admits that Microsoft exclusivity is “getting softer,” with shorter timeframes between when a game launches on XBLA and can appear on other platforms such as the PC (or even the PS3).
Even if it’s getting better, the issue apparently lands on Microsoft’s end – where meeting the appropriate certifications per title and breaking thorough the layers of contractual red tape creates the real challenge:
“I can live a comfortable life, and just put my game on Steam without that much of a hassle, or I can have the XBLA business people dick me around and give me asshole contracts that I need to spend three months negotiating back to somewhere reasonable, that they knew, and then have all these arguments with them and go through this horrible cert process. It’s like, at some point, the question ‘Why should I do that?’ arises.”
Ultimately, it comes down to the audience: where Steam and iOS may have the larger and easier market, developing for the XBL has a wider venue of consumers and gamers willing to purchase and play. That’s the true goal for any indie developer: max playability.
Blow is still unsure – even with the rise of indie games and the changes Microsoft has implemented – of what the future may hold with the company. To grow means that one has to change, but it seems harder for companies like Microsoft:
“I don’t know how much longer that that can go without something changing. I don’t know. Maybe quite a long time, knowing the abilities of these companies.”
Given the state of the indie scene and the extreme growth and creativity that has come out the industry, do you feel like Blow is justified for a little unification? If a publisher is unruly in their demands, should a developer search for alternatives (like Steam) or rather demand change?
Sound off and let us know what you’re thinking.
Follow Will on his Facebook and Twitter@ Ayreesfoxx.