Joe Indie referred to Dan McDonald’s Sustaining Independence at Game Tunnel. Previously, McDonald had written on the topic of independence, stating that financial pursuits necessarily makes a developer less independent. His latest article continues this line of thinking:
An independent developer that wishes to sustain their independence must pursue their own interests in game design and development and give them preeminence over their interests in business and profit.
At first I was inclined to disagree. How can you expect all people to starve for their art? Can’t people be considered indie while simultaneously earning an income from their work?
Of course, how you define an indie is important. Many would argue that indie simply means you are not financially dependent on a publisher or other entity. If you extrapolate this definition, technically most people who call themselves “indie” are in fact financially dependent on their customers.
What is your goal? Are you simply trying to make money? If so, game development is just one of many activities to achieve those goals. “The pursuit of money is inherently an ambition devoid of any value or meaning. If the only value one derives from an activity is monetary, then the activity itself is of very little consequence.” You could replace game development with database programming or bartending or painting or blogging, and in the end you’ll still have your money. What’s game development to you other than a job? Whether it is for someone else or for yourself, its a job, and creative control is in some way not completely yours. Change something about your game for the sake of pleasing the customer, and you’ve given up some control over the direction of your game development.
McDonald’s indie, on the other hand, would have a goal of perfecting his/her craft. Game development for the sake of game development. Making games to learn how to make better games.
A lot of business gurus will tell you that to be successful, you have to realize that making money is not only good, but it is the main goal. It makes sense. How can you hope to make a living from your business if you don’t accept the idea that you should be making a living from it? You can’t make a million dollars until you accept that it is a possibility. Most people don’t think they can. Some people do. Who is more likely to actually make the money? The purpose of a business is to make money.
The purpose of an indie, on the other hand, is to be independent. An indie experiments with making great games. An indie can make money, of course, but making money was never the main goal. His/Her overriding goal was never about making more money so much as making better games.
Are the business and the indie in perpetual conflict? How can an indie survive? If trying to make money taints the notion of independence, are all indies doomed to working odd jobs or doing other things to make a living? Are most indie’s forced to relegate game development to a hobby? I’d like to say no. Making better games, you will undoubtedly hit upon something that other people also like. Making better games, you will create a world that other people believe in enough to pay money for the right to participate in it.
Is it wrong to try to make money from your game? No. I also don’t think that the general definition of “indie” will change to exclude those developers who make games on their own for the purposes of making a living. Is it possible that a game created for the purpose of making money can also be a great game? Perhaps, but if your main goal is to make great games, wouldn’t you be more likely to actually make one? And if the game is truly great, won’t a lot of other people want to play it?