Indie Connect: Keynote – Commercialization Raises The Bar For Indies
The first official A MAZE. Indie Connect Festival took off in Berlin with a welcome from the buoyant organizer Thorsten S. Wiedemann and then the keynote from Jonaten Soderstrom, better known as Cactusquid. Like most keynotes, this was to set the tone for the rest of the event and it proved to do just that.
Starting off with quite a disheartened approach to how indie games have changed over the years, Cactus says that he rarely plays indie games these days and he feels that this is because they have become commercial and focused much more on the business side of things in general. He thought to himself, whereas a few years ago, many indie games were released for free, nowadays developers, the press and players seemed more interested in commercial products. The likes of Minecraft have shown that indie games can make a lot of money and now everyone wants their slice of the pie. He also pointed towards Indie Game: The Movie which focuses entirely on games made for a commercial release – Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez of course.
Out of all of this focus on money, Cactus outlined a raise in the bar of the quality of indie games, or at least so it seemed. You look at the kinds of games that are being called ‘indie’ nowadays compared to a few years ago and there is a significant shift in production values. However, he does feel that if indie games become so focused on money then the creative side of these games is marred or perhaps even lost altogether. As you often get with the commercialization of an industry, many people are attracted to making indie games purely by the potential financial gain, thus losing the creativity that may have been displayed before.
This observation or argument is one that has been around for a while now and it is one that Cactus was quick to turn around. He mentioned that those who were making freeware games beforehand, including himself, are now older and have greater financial worries – this may be a family to support for instance – so they need to start making money from their games. He made sure not to imply that freeware games have not totally disappeared, because of course they haven’t, but instead pointed to the rise of Flash games which tend to be more accessible and are therefore open to a bigger player base. He reckons that Flash games are generally more casual than the many freeware titles that came before its rise.
Looking at the surrounding culture of indie games now seemed to churn up the same results: the IGF which presented Fez with the Grand Prize this year, the coverage of indie games by the press, plus games like Journey being called ‘indie’ when, depending on your definition, it may not be. Cactus did point out that this was his perception at first though and actually, upon doing some research, it seems that there has been a shift in focus on commercial indie games but it’s not as great as he thought it was.
The talk came to a close on a more positive note. That being that although there may be the slight worry that commercialized indie games may lose their creativity, they generally make indie games better by raising player expectations and encouraging developers to make better games. The final wrap up was demonstrated by a small game in which a character collected coins and then you went inside their head where those coins were then transformed into ideas that could be collected in place of the coins – or so we’re told, unfortunately the tech let us down.
It was an interesting keynote and though it brought up some relevant issues with indie games at the moment, it was optimistic in the end. The big question was what responsibilities do indie game developers have? Should they focus solely on being creative and pushing the medium as far as possible? More importantly, can they do this and make a living from it without each of their games losing touch with their humble origins and original ambitions (presuming that they weren’t just to make money)?