Indie Haven August Developer Roundtable – Is Indie a AAA Proving Ground? Laura Kate October 8, 2013 Features We at Indie Haven like to get you as close as possible to the games you love and the people making them. That’s why every month we aim to bring together a wide selection of of Indie Developers from all walks of life, from BAFTA winners to teenage and student devs, to discuss the hottest issues affecting games, development, coverage and the Indie community. These chats will be broken up into chunks and released across the month, before we start all over again with new developers and new questions. If you’re an Indie Dev of any size that would like to take part in a future roundtable, please email Laurak@IndieHaven.com and let us know a little about yourself. The more the merrier. “Do you think that we’re nearing the point where Indie Development will be a proving group for AAA devs when it comes to tackling tough challenges in games? If it already is, what games do you think have been a proving ground for AAA?” Megan Fox: It already is. Alan Zucconi: What do you exactly mean with “challenges” in games? Kyle Welsh: I think 22cans are definitely heading that way. Stacy Smith: I’m not sure I understand the question? Do you mean indie developers going on to found AAA companies or indie games proving a certain genre is worth a AAA investing in? Megan Fox: I mean heck. Indie gamers just helped me fund a game featuring a queer woman of color as the hero, who refuses to kill people on general principle. This in a political environment currently coming down hard on AAA games for being “murder simulators” or whatever… and a gaming environment where every hero is a white straight bald guy. If that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is. Kyle Welsh: The entire point of the studio is to perform experiments. I imagine there will be a AAA title at the end of that Laura Kate: I mean mainly AAA looking at Indie games like Gone Home for example and saying “Ah, that’s how we tackle that kind of story in a game”. Charlie Nash: I can definitley see that AAA games can be inspired by indie games. Megan Fox: If you mean more game design challenges, still, Indie’s already doing that. “How do you make a massive scope game where the player can shift the environment in creative ways? How do you even handle that?” – answer, voxels. Minecraft. Or, yeah. Gone Home or Amnesia, as examples of how to immerse a player in a story without drip feeding it through cutscenes. Stacy Smith: Oh okay. Well I think Gone Home is a good example because whilst it is a great game and it SHOULD be emulated, I feel like the AAA treatment will never be given to games with such fringe appeal. I think the multi million dollar budgets are given to game projects which are proven genres to win over proven markets. Laura Kate: Do you think things like Gone home will ever get used as an example of “bring a considered fringe topic to mainstream games” or will those things, though proven to be successful, stay Indie? Alan Zucconi: Indie developers and AAA developers are usually aiming to different targets. Both in terms of audience and user experience. Indie’s freedom lies within the fact that they are small, thus their development risk is small, thus they can experiment more freely. When you’re a AAA company, there is so much money involved in the project that you can’t risk failure. And doing something “plain & boring” (gameplay-wise) is usually the easy way to go. However, it doesn’t mean in my opinion that one will replace the other. I think that both indie games and AAA games are equally important. Because they are made to tackle different needs. It’s like movies. Sometimes I really enjoy very complicated, artistic movies. But sometimes I just go to the cinema to see some explosions and that’s the same with games. Sometimes I want to play Starseed Pilgrim, sometimes I want to shoot at people in Call Of Duty. I hate Call of Duty, but you get my point. Kyle Welsh: Risks are expensive in AAA, that’s the main problem. Alan Zucconi: Plus, AAA relies on resources that indie will never have. Financially speaking. So they can reach a level of polish and depth of content that “we” simply can’t. And most of the time, this is enough. If you are making a shooting game, you might not really need to tell a story. Because most of your players will just skip it and trying to shoot at people. Kyle Welsh: I do think that, yes, should an Indie develop something and show the AAA scene that there’s a market for it, it’s less of a risk and will let them try more with it Megan Fox: Charlie: I’m making a noir game right now, so heh, yeah, tons of movie inspiration there. Also, the title comes from a Tenessee Williams play,. Stacy Smith: The idea of the ‘core’ gamer which has always seemed a bizarre term, is often used to refer to the ‘true’ gamer, the one who will claim certain games are not real games for arbitrary reasons and it’s the audience AAAs are trying to reach. Take a core gamer and give them Gone Home and they’re likely to say it’s too easy, you can’t die, there’s nothing to kill, there are like six puzzles in the whole thing, it’s more of a short story spread through a 3D environment. Similar criticisms fell to Dear Esther. Laura Kate: I’d love to see more AAA studios have an Indie arm they just let run wild ideas wise and take small budget risks. Then the AAA studio could look at what is being done by their Indies, pinch ideas that are successful and do those things in a AAA game with the risk already being done by Indies. Megan Fox: Eh, on the indies-becoming-mainstream thing… it happens, but it’s super rare. Rogue Legacy’s a recent example, Minecraft’s an obvious example, and I think Gone Home is becoming another example. There’s this bubble of media you have to pierce to reach mainstream gamers, and right now, it is SUPER hard. Only a rare few games do it. You can tell when you start seeing coverage for a game appearing on sites that have nothing to do with gaming. Stacy Smith: I think bigger studios should encourage their staff to participate in game jams and hackathons to inspire new ideas, BUT anything produced in those jams they should let the team involved keep ownership of. Megan Fox: I don’t think it’ll ever become more common than it is right now. It will always be hard to make non-gamers care about obscure games. What WILL happen is that big studios will increasingly take cues from Indie games and thus push those ideas to mainstream. Hell, Doublefine gets the gold star for that right now. An effectively AAA studio with MASSIVE appeal, putting out games that are extremely indie. Alan Zucconi: Well Stacy this is what lot of medium-indie-sized studios such as Bossa and Curve I think are doing. They’re far from being “garage indie” and at the same time they’re equally far from being AAA. This gives the resources to produce amazing games, with the right amount of innovation. Stacy Smith: We’ve all seen the story of a dev in a big company having a great idea, working on it, then the company says ‘this is ours now’ and either mangling it beyond recognition or just sitting on the IP. Happened to me. Kyle Welsh: I think it’s easier to get them interested in something that’s more about story than ability though. Things like Journey, Passage etc Stacy Smith: Bossa is one I was going to mention. The story of Surgeon Simulator should be shouted from the highest hilltop. Megan Fox: Alan: Absolutely agreed. Indie studios are kind of filling out what used to be the dead middle tier. Alan Zucconi: But those story games also have a very low replayability appeal. Megan Fox: Doublefine 10 years ago would be considered a “mid-tier” developer, but now, they’re… big indie? Who knows. Kyle Welsh: But are “non-gamers” looking for replayability? Laura Kate: I have such an issue knowing what to cover in that middle ground, the too big for indie but to small for not indie studios haha Alan Zucconi: Well Microsoft claim that Minecraft is still indie, so I guess that EVERYTHING can be labelled as indie now! XD Stacy Smith: It depends how you define indie. I used to work at a place that considered itself big indie but it was so corporate… Charlie Nash: Microsoft probably thinks CoD is indie. Megan Fox: Eeeh. Indie is such a crap term these days. It means nothing. But we keep using it, because what else is there. Laura Kate: I tend to think it comes down to their outlook on creative freedom and less common ideas. Stacy Smith: I think some places call themselves indie because of the image it conjures. Kyle Welsh: I think that’s a real problem now, that the terms are getting too restrictive Megan Fox: Stacy: BINGO. It’s an image thing now, and everyone wants a slice of that pie. Laura Kate: We spent 3 months trying to define Indie before our site launched. We gave up and said “screw this, the definition doesn’t matter”. Alan Zucconi: Laura, for me it’s good if there is variety in this sector, because it produces quality contents on several different levels. Not all the games are Call of Duty, and not all the games are Starseed Pilgrim. We have a very wide range, and this is good for players. Stacy Smith: Like when EA tried to snag indie developers and publish for them, so that even a giant publiser like EA could have ‘indie’ titles.