Freedom and Independence

Freedom and Independence is an essay by Dan McDonald on the Game Tunnel website about the reasons so many people have been going indie.

With so many people becoming independent game developers, the question is, “Why?” What makes it so appealing?

McDonald thinks that being able to create a game the way you want to make it without worrying about appeasing Marketing or some third party investor should be the big reason. Being indie because you want to be indie.

He then argues that the goal of financial independence actually constrains you and makes you less indie. By allowing your game design and creation to be dictated by the bottom line, you necessarily restrict what you might develop. Perhaps, but there is no denying that worrying about the Marketing Department is completely different from worrying about marketing. When you’re indie AND trying to make a living, your customers matter most rather than a checklist provided by a separate group in your company.

On the other hand, maybe the definition of “indie” has been stretched. Is the freeware developer who makes whatever he wants any more indie than the shareware developer who makes what his customers want? It’s one way of looking at it.

McDonald finishes the essay with the following plea:

So to new independent developers, I encourage you to enjoy your freedom and make something you are passionate about. Like most things in life, if you follow your passion you will eventually find financial success. It’s not a valid business plan, but there is enjoyment and significance to be found in creating games with passion. The potential for those kinds of games is why sites like this exist. Do you think they really want to review another game packed full of casual mechanics and themes (or whatever else is the hot selling trend of the day)? No, they exist because they want to support developers who are free to create games that are expressions of their own appreciations and personality instead of what everyone else who’s bound to the almighty dollar is doing.

When I was younger, I wanted to make video games, but I never thought it would be to specifically make clones and derivative works. I’m sure most people wanted to make the “best-RPG-ever!!!!”, or some incredibly involved simulation game. Some people have gone on to make such games. Others might have forgotten to even think about what their dream game would be…

/me adds “Decide on dream game idea” to New Year’s Resolutions.

9 comments to Freedom and Independence

  • Impossible

    I think for most people financial independence outweighs creative freedom. Its basically a compromise between a variety of factors. One man or a small team on a limited budget cannot realistically make “teh greatest RPG evar” as most people envision it when they’re kids or teenagers that want to make games. So unless you have a lot of financial backing you can’t make whatever game you want to.

    This gives most people two real options. You either work on smaller experimental games in your spare time, or you work on casual games and try to develop a stable business that can support you financially. Time and time again its been proven that smaller more innovative games are just not as financially sucessful. Most people work on casual games because its “easy” money. You also can make small fun games that people enjoy playing and appreciate.

    A third option, is just to make “teh greatest game evar” to the best of your potential. I’m seriously considering this. The problem is, I’ve made so many bad semi-finished games over the years and the reactions (consistently coming in almost last in LD48 competitions, having people tell you how bad your game is, or just knowing that the game sucks) have just made me afraid to do it. I just don’t have the ego to put months or years into some project that is completely unknown. At this point I barely even have the ego to release games that I think are pretty good. I’ve been thinking about covering it up a little by starting a blog and calling it a “game prototyping blog” or something, so even if the final product sucks ass people will still get some value from the blog. I imagine a lot of developers working on these types of projects feel the same way. They have tons of unfinished “dream games” that they can’t release because they are just bad.

    Most indie game developers are nostalgic retro gamers, so their “dream game” is actually within scope of their skill set. I’m a graphics whore\programmer so my dream game would require content beyond my skill set and beyond what a single person could make.

    I’d like to hear your dream game idea. For some reason I’m thinking has to do with space :).

  • That’s what made me quit the videogames industry. Well, that, and the promise of a more stable, higher-paying job (it wasn’t the former, and it really wasn’t much of the latter either). I realized that staying with these big videogame companies (I worked for Infogrammes – now called “Atari” in the U.S., and then Acclaim), I’d NEVER be able to work on my own games. I’d always be doing someone else’s game… and usually working on a port of a sequel to a clone of someone else’s game.

    There’s merit in that… don’t get me wrong. But it’s not what I wanted to be doing for six more years – especially with the type of hours they demanded of us. (Considering Acclaim only lasted a couple of years after I left – and the studio I was at died sooner than that – I wouldn’t have had six years anyway).

    Creating Void War didn’t make me any money. But it won an award, brought in lots of opportunities for my team and I, and also gave us a sense of artistic satisfaction. Most importantly, it taught the entire team a LOT. In spite of the long hours and frustration, I feel sorry for those who haven’t had a similar experience. It was totally worth it.

    As to the money thing – well, it’s a two-edged sword. I’m glad I don’t HAVE to rely upon my games to pay my mortgage. But on the other hand — games and entertainment are for the AUDIENCE, not the performer. There’s nothing quite like seeing your first purchase come in and realizing, “WOW! Somebody liked what I did enough to shell out their hard-earned money to pay for it!” It’s an incredible validation and makes you feel both humbled and on top of the world at the same time.

  • Impossible: It’s funny, but when I was younger, making the best RPG ever was the best I could think of doing. Looking back, I realize that I had no idea what was possible. Making a great RPG doesn’t sound like the best kind of game I could make anymore.

    But what would? I’ve realized that I never asked the question before, and so I don’t have an answer. Maybe it would involve space, but could it involve the depths of the oceans which are still mysterious? What about just exploring emotions or how people react to certain situations? Can I make a game that would be a commentary on politics? What about a game that suggests you should always ask questions?

    There is a lot to think about, but in the present I still need to really finish Oracle’s Eye…uh, more on that later. Basically, I need to crawl before I can run.

    Jay: That first purchase email will get printed, framed, and placed on my wall. Years from now when I am famous, that email will get reprinted as a collectible item for future game developers.

    I was about to delete that paragraph because I thought it was irreverent, but the more I read it, the more I like what it says.

    Anyway, the idea of making a flagship game is appealing. Even if I don’t make it any time soon, I should really think about how the games I do make will lead up to making that one game.

  • I have been working at Indiepath Ltd which was established in the end of 2004. I originally wanted to make a really nice multiplayer game – something original and different. Tim – the owner of Indiepath – was doing Morphlings online multiplayer with me, but he’s vision leaned more towards publishing & creating casual games (as you can see at http://www.cloverleafgames.com). In the end of last year I started to think about “why I started doing this?”. Even when the publishing deals could bring quite nice money – and making middleware for companies bring even more money that’s not the reason I’m doing this. I still want to create multiplayer games – and that’s why I made the choice and started my own company: Polycount Productions. It’s now registered. We still have shared business with Tim but now my goal is more focused: I’m concentrating on what I have passion to do.

    Money must come from somewhere – but if I think it pays better to do consulting work (or something else) instead of “easy casual games” – if you really don’t want to do casual games.

  • That’s great! I wonder how many people get into their “dream job” only to realize years later that it wasn’t what they had in mind. It isn’t because they hard work puts them off. It’s because they don’t like that their hard work is spent doing exactly what they complained about before they got the job.

  • I’m indie, and my goal is still making the best RPG ever, it will happen someday 🙂
    The best thing about being indie is freedom, not money. You’re surely going to make more money with your daily job, unless the job was cleaning public bathrooms 😉 eheheh

  • I say just make the game you like anyway. unless you are especially weird, there will be many other people with similar tastes. I made Democracy and Starship Tycoon for myself really, but they are my two top sellers. There are more than enough people making uninspired clone games.

  • I wonder if you asked each clone developer what games he played and if you would get that much variety…or quantity. I imagine most people who become developers haven’t played many games and/or are inspired by the same games that everyone has already played.

    It’s kind of like the idea that if you only read Stephen King’s novels that you’ll only be able to write like Stephen King. If you read books from a number of different authors, you’ll probably be able to write as yourself and create something that is more unique to your writing.

  • […] has been about as tough as defining what a “game” is. I’ve covered a few attempts here and […]