Indie Haven May Developer Roundtable – Problems in the Industry Laura Kate May 13, 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. This month we kick off our Roundtable series with a fantastic group of developers. Some you know well, some you may not and some are the stars of tomorrow. We’ve got Mike Bithell (Award winning creator of Thomas Was Alone), Charlie Nash (Up and coming teenage dev), Nicoll Hunt (The mind behind Time Travelling Lumberjack Punching a Bear in the Face Simulator Fist of Awesome), Tim Keenan (Half of the husband and wife team behind A Virus Named Tom), Katharine Neil (Creative force behind the darkly humoured adventure Alone in the Park) and Matt Kain Lewandowski (Part of the bearded brotherhood known as Team2Bit. Winners of IGN’s The Next Game Boss and developers of the upcoming beat ‘em up Fist Puncher).Simon Roth (Developer of the huge Kickstarter success Maia) also joins us toward the end of the Roundtable (I say toward the end as he was significantly delayed due to the wonders of public transport). 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. Problems in the industry Laura Kate: Okay, good time to mention question three as you’ve brought up problems in the industry. “What do you think is the biggest issue facing indie devs and games at the moment?” Matt Kain Lewandowski: Fragmented industry. Too many platforms to choose from. So many games that discoverability is a nightmare. Nicoll Hunt: There’s a hell of a lot of us and if you want to make a living from it it’s going to be a very uphill struggle. Laura Kate: Do you think there’s anything that can be done about how overpopulated the industry is? Will that ever not be a problem? Mike Bithell: Honestly.. I think a lack of self criticism is indie’s biggest issue right now. Not a fun point to make, but I can’t remember last time I saw an indie say ‘my game was unsuccessful because I did a crap job on it’.. I feel like we should be the most self critical group, because we’re free to be that way.. and it’s seen as a weakness or a novelty when we postmortem. Tim Keenan: Biggest problems deluge of indie games and race to the bottom making them feel disposable, everyone jumping on the indie train making it lose it’s power. Laura Kate: Or maybe is that overpopulation even a necessary evil to have the creativity the industry has? Katharine Neil: Not sure what I think the biggest problem is, but distribution and discovery (on platforms like iOS) is becoming more of a problem. Nicoll Hunt: I don’t think having lots of people making games is a bad thing, pretty much the opposite. The problem comes when there’s no way for the really good stuff to float to the top. Charlie Nash: The hard process of learning to program helps keep some numbers down xD Matt Kain Lewandowski: Also the ever changing publisher/develop relationship is a mess right now. Pubs want us to self fund and then swoop in and take 30% to help with marketing/distribution. Matt Kain Lewandowski’s Fist Puncher Katharine Neil: Publishers muscling in and turning “indie” into a brand. Katharine Neil: @matt super good point there Mike Bithell: yep.. the boundaries came down (good) but I quickly began to find it hard to find good stuff. I think that’s one reason why so many only buy indie games once on steam.. it’s a badge of quality they can’t get elsewhere. Tim Keenan: @Matt: amen Nicoll Hunt: Also, I think it’s quite bad that people feel they have to apologise for charging £3 for a game. Mike Bithell: @matt yup. Publishers should be a service industry at this point Tim Keenan: @Mike: yeah, curation is such a tricky problem, but so necessary it seems. Mike Bithell: @nicoll so glad that’s not crept in on PC yet Matt Kain Lewandowski: Yup, the race to the bottom. $1 price points are so common. Katharine Neil: @Nicoll – yeah price points on mobile suck. Mike Bithell: @tim it sucks, right? Because I so want it to be an open field, but the players seem not to. Nicoll Hunt: I think it’s been interesting to see Ridiculous Fishing do so well at a “high” price point. Laura Kate: @ mike Do you feel the press side needs to be more willing to be critical of indie games, remove that layer of “great for an indie game” that goes on? Mike Bithell: I love Ridic Fishing.. and how much it pisses off F2P pimping idiots. Tim Keenan: @Mike: I can’t blame them. Without it I fear what feels like worse solutions sometimes. Nicoll Hunt: @Mike TOTALLY Tim Keenan: Look at XBLIG & the app store. Not solutions I want. Mike Bithell: @Laura I do. But at this point, getting a review is such a struggle for most that I wouldn’t push it too hard. Tim Keenan: But they’re aiming at good goals. The problem with XBLIG Nicoll Hunt: Xbox in general has been great example of how to do both “indie” and “quality” game curation in the worst possible way. Nicoll Hunt: Be interested to see what Matt thinks about XBLIG… Charlie Nash: The rise of mobile gaming scares me, I cant see myself playing games on a small mobile device. Laura Kate: @mike as someone who’s going to be writing for an indie site regularly, what could I be doing that would help indies in terms of criticism and coverage/ reviews? Mike Bithell: @charlie it’s a new field, but it won’t ‘replace’ anything. Matt Kain Lewandowski: XBLIG is a great place to publish a game, but not a great place to make $$$ (unless you make minecraft clones or avatar games). Mike Bithell: @Laura Focus on stuff you find cool.. Leigh Alexander is awesome at that, she finds awesome stuff and screams at the top of her lungs about it. Don’t just write about stuff you hate.. find brilliance. Real Journalism Katharine Neil: I would like to see real journalism happening. Matt Kain Lewandowski: Real journalism? More than just previews/reviews? Mike Bithell: Heresy. Nicoll Hunt: I almost exclusively play games on mobile. There are some brilliant games and ideas, but the vast majority of people that own iOS/Android devices don’t read any games press, or even know such a thing exists. Tim Keenan: I was talking to some journalists that I respect at PAX and it seems we may be part of the problem as well. Mike Bithell: How so? Katharine Neil: I’m kind of tired of seeing press releases being reprinted and interviews conducted that are bereft of questioning or critical analysis. I’m generalising here, of course. Tim Keenan: We send out generic press releases to our press lists, and they regurgitate or we come up with pre-sliced stories (which everyone tells us to do) and they want to find their own stories. Mike Bithell: I don’t get that. WE CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER !!! Katharine Neil: It’s not so much about doing it better. It’s about doing it. Mike Bithell: I actually got into a mini twitter fight with someone suggesting indies do press releases, so dumb. Katharine Neil: The thing is, developers spin bullshit all the time. Tim Keenan: But at the same point we can’t sit back and wait for some press person to discover us, so it’s a hard problem. Mike Bithell: We can’t fight EA on this ground. We have to do our own thing. Katharine Neil: Okay, so they’re not as bad as publishing PR, but they still say some dumb, inaccurate and sometimes wrong things. Mike Bithell: I think it’s cool to get in touch with journos.. I send out emails to guys I think would be interested in what I do.. But it’s way more about personal connections. Nicoll Hunt: After my first attempts at press releases were unanimously ignored, I started to go a bit more “alternative” with any news I wanted to release. Basically meaning I just tried to make myself laugh with the stuff I sent out. It make a big difference to people picking it up. Nicoll Hunt’s Fist of Awesome Laura Kate: I can tell you that made a difference Nicoll, I’ve really enjoyed some of your emails. Charlie Nash: Indie coverage is becoming increasingly bigger and better, I think it has something to do with the fact that indie is now seen as kind of cool and unique. Mike Bithell: My first thomas announcement email to RPS was ‘I made a game in 24 hours and it’s not shit’.. that’s the kind of approach indies need to take. Nicoll Hunt: @Laura Thanks 🙂 Katharine Neil: There have been many times when I’ve been reading an interview or and article and thinking “why on earth did the journo not pick up on this point and grill them on it?” Mike Bithell: In fairness, internet interviews are usually pre asked qs.. it’s not a conversation. Laura Kate: Because often devs agree to email interviews not skype ect and we don’t get to ask follow ups in my experience. Mike Bithell: Which is a bulls**t system.. Tim Keenan: I honestly mostly ask for skype interviews, simply because I have so little time. Katharine Neil: @Laura right, that makes some sense. Mike Bithell: @tim I’ve started to do that. Matt Kain Lewandowski: Yup, Skype is faster. [quote_right]”I think it’s fine to be critical of indie devs, but I can totally see how the abuse that Phil Fish got could make anyone go into hiding.”[/quote_right]Nicoll Hunt: I’ve started to do a lot more podcasts recently and I really like that format. I’ve no idea if anyone actually listens to them but from my point of view I’m a lot more honest about things and spontaneous in my responses. Mike Bithell: podcasts rock. Charlie Nash: I get like 15 emails an hour asking for interviews. Im kind of a big deal. Tim Keenan: I’m doing a weekly video with Holly and we don’t edit it at all, not because of honesty, but because if I edit it it takes time and I’ll never get around to it. Laura Kate: Anything like this where people can have a conversation rather than a Q&A gets much better discussion going. Nicoll Hunt: Agreed. Mike Bithell: @charlie one day dude, one day Katharine Neil: Developers for big name titles get grilled over features, release dates, bugs, etc by journalists and interesting articles come out of it. Matt Kain Lewandowski: @charlie, I just sent you an interview request. Check your inbox. Tim Keenan: NICE. Nicoll Hunt: Haha. Mike Bithell: @kat Very true. Although I don’t like the flip side, when you see journos taking pot shots at popular targets… like Phil Fish. Katharine Neil: I think pot shots are okay, if developers get the chance to defend themselves (though I don’t think his comments about Japanese games were racist at all, tbh). Mike Bithell: @kat.. Him and Notch constantly get inane tweets turned into negative articles.. a little scary. Nicoll Hunt: I think it’s fine to be critical of indie devs, but I can totally see how the abuse that Phil F got could make anyone go into hiding. Katharine Neil: @mike yeah it’s a bit boring too. Mike Bithell: It does make you think as an indie.. if you’re followed by enough journos you definitely start watching what you say. Katharine Neil: That pile-on kind of internet behaviour sucks because it can be abusive, but from a journalistic point of view it’s bad because it’s me-too-ism. Katharine Neil’s Alone in the Park Mike Bithell: Very true. Tim Keenan: I’d fear that stuff could turn a joy in my life pretty sour. Good thing no one cares what I say 🙂 Katharine Neil: Slagging off Phil Fish yet again for the same thing isn’t generating new ideas. Tim Keenan: @Katharine: amen Mike Bithell: I’m at a a point where I’m considering a twitter alter ego so I can use it as intended.. for ranting about my atheist views in peace 😀 Laura Kate: Could you maybe argue though that this happens a lot to mainstream AAA devs too and to expect indies be immune from it kind of demands a different type of coverage in some press eyes? Matt Kain Lewandowski: @mike: we tried that. Got old. Katharine Neil: @mike See here we’re getting to what I was worried about before – I DON”T like having to watch what I say, just to keep people on side. Mike Bithell: @Laura.. It’s bullshit whoever it happens to, but you’re right, not exlusively an indie issue. Mike Bithell: @Kat Yep. It’s an issue. Laura Kate: I’d argue that trying to say it shouldn’t happen to indie devs already creates a bit of a coverage division. Katharine Neil: My employer once censured me for expressing my political views publicly – because Bruno Bonell might be in a cocktail party with George Bush one day and I’d get him in trouble. No joke. Mike Bithell: It’s very odd seeing my tweets about atheism pop up in Kotaku comment threads… Tim Keenan: @Katharine: If you are okay with it possibly biting you then dont worry about it, if you are then yes it’s a crappy problem. Mike Bithell: @Laura That’s fair Katharine Neil: Well I’m not okay with having to to be disingenuous in order to be some kind of perky, loved-by-all marketing machine. When i worked for Atari I just made games, I didn’t have to wear a tight top or whatever and smile at people. Mike Bithell: @kat tight tops actually diminish my following, I find. Matt Kain Lewandowski: Hey, I went indie so I could wear tight tops. Tim Keenan: But many are loved for being cynical, what about that cynical brit guy 😉 Mike Bithell: TB? yeah.. that’s his whole thing. Tim Keenan: (matt does seriously wear tight tops) Nicoll Hunt: I much prefer reading about people who don’t try to please everyone all the time. Charlie Nash: Total Biscuit freaking loved Mikes game. Laura Kate: @kat As an indie you don’t have to either, I love you for your personality in conversations 😛 That’s what got my attention at the indie meet up at eurogamer. Tim Keenan: Tada. Mike Bithell: Exactly. Katharine Neil: I think i may have been drunk. Laura Kate: You weren’t afraid to be honest about your game. Mike Bithell: I only worry about coverage because I like to be liked.. it’s not essential. It’s an ego thing. Tim Keenan: TB is still balking at AVNT due to it’s puzzle-ness, perhaps someday… Katharine Neil: The people at Eurogamer were awesome – I miss having British people to hang about with. Tim Keenan: Seems like they’re everywhere to me 😉 Nicoll Hunt: @Mike I was really impressed when you did that thing where you got other devs to tell you what with wrong with your game ON STAGE Nicoll Hunt: @Mike BALLS OF STEEL Laura Kate: Make friends with Brits on twitter then, that’s your way to pitch yourself 😛 Tim Keenan: @Nicoll: Is this online? Mike Bithell: @nicoll.. Criticism dude. It’s the most important thing ever. Charlie Nash: Eurogamers the best convention I have ever been to. Its not the biggest but the community and atmosphere is just so damn awesome. Nicoll Hunt: @Tim I read an article about it. Mike Bithell: @tim http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_hoDUEX4V4 / http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_oWw3J4wCSE And with that we end another segment of Indie Dev Roundtable here at Indie Haven. Next time Simon Roth finally arrives. What nuggets of wisdom will he bring with him? Only time will tell. What do you think? What’s the biggest problem facing indie devs andf gaming today? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.