Why on earth would someone give up a nice career and/or great, stable income to sit at home doing childish stuff like making video games? Well, there are probably as many stories about that as there are independent video game developers. But what is indie gamedev and who are those people?
There seems to be certain types of indie game developers. There is the young, hippie-looking guy who makes pure games (according to himself, at least). Often still in school or recently graduated, very often with badly groomed facial hair, he mingles a lot in various big and small indie video game meetings and conferences, and makes those retro games. His games are purer than yours because he tunes his game mechanics a lot and the game is not about fancy graphics like in that triple-A FPS everybody loves to hate. His life is good enough that he can get by making games and posting pictures of his hipster beer on Twitter. Often he lives in a shared apartment which looks like a bunch of hobos lived there. I have no idea how these guys get by or had enough money to start their gamedev journey in the first place. Ranting aside, there’s a lot of awesomely great games coming out from these gamedevs.
There are also the professionals who have been in the video game industry for many years, often in bigger, perhaps AAA game companies. One of them gets enough of the shitty projects and insane deadlines, and nicks a few friends with him when he quits. They set up an independent game studio and push out the games of their dreams. These games tend to be the big hits as they got all the components – graphics, audio, game mechanics – on a very professional level. The game studio is financed by everyone’s savings until the first game is out, after which they are filthy rich. Perhaps they have got some funding from external investors, but how indie is that?
Then you have the guys who wanted to do something else, or always wanted to jump into their dream job of game development. They’ve saved enough money to make the jump, or they have good connections to their previous profession and do some sub-contracting to get income during the game development time. They might do full-time or part-time depending on the possibilities around their very grown-up lives. Often a bit older with a significant career or work experience in their back pocket – most likely from whole another field of work than gamedev. They seem to overuse the word “dad” in their Twitter bios.
I’m of the third kind. Too old to be a hipster hobo and no gamedev experience in my career to jump-start a professional game studio with friends. I was a bit hasty in jumping into this field, which has always been my dream work, so I did not have enough savings to go full-time indie. I resort to the pretty-good solution of doing sub-contracting into my old field of work. It has upsides as well as downsides – the upside is that the money is pretty good, and in one aspect pretty easy as well. The downside is that it eats up a lot of your precious time of game development. Now, for a bit younger guy – one without family, that is – this would be no problem as I could just code deep into the night, around weekends, around working days. But I’m not a weirdo who loves his job more than his family.
As the success of an indie gamedev is, for the lack of better generalization, the amount of games he has pushed to the market, I have been toying with the idea to go full-time indie. But there’s the income-issue to be solved. Crowd-funding? Zeroing out gamedev time to go beg for money to angel investors or VCs? Begging for investments from family and friends? Perhaps go as deep as taking a personal loan? Viable options, all of them.
But what is “indie” then? I’m not going to dig deep here, and trying to define it is only for amusement. Most people use the word “indie” as opposed to the big game studios pushing out all the well-known games (“AAA games”) with massive marketing budgets. But I’m a bit more strict than that: “indie” comes from “independent”, alas, if you have a lot of outside funding, you are not independent anymore. Sorry about that. Now, there is some wiggle room here. If your funding is mostly from family and friends, or the like, I bet they do not want to meddle with your game ideas that much. You’re still indie. If you got investors who don’t want to design your game too much, then you’re still indie. My point being, as long as you and/or your team which is directly involved in the making of the game is still in charge, you are an indie. You create the game independently of any outsider. I think such a setup gives you a lot of freedom as you are making the games YOU want, and that is why we see such a great amount of creative, weird, cool, awesome games from indie gamedevs.
Being indie is naturally no magic recipe for making great games. If you are making another clone of an 3D endless runner where you swipe on the screen to make your game character move away from oncoming obstacles, your game still sucks. Also, stop with the Minecraft clones. It is embarrassing.
Well, that’s it for some ranting. Enjoy your holidays – I will take some time off and hang out with friends and family. Even as an indie gamedev I can afford that.