For 6 years now, I’ve thought of myself as Indie, but I’ve been fooling myself.
Going to ramble a bit. For all passengers safety, it is recommended that you buckle-up now for the rough ride ahead. It may be quite a while before we reach our destination.
Now, first off, “indie” has a lot of different meanings depending on whom you ask. For myself even, it has different meanings based on context. When I first came to GA (summer 2010) and attended my first Game-Dev Meet-up, I considered everyone there “indie” because the word wasn’t well defined yet (for me). But really, there were Small Studio Devs there that survived by mostly doing 2nd and 3rd party development. There were some professionals that were gainfully employed by bigger companies like CNN, Cartoon Network, or a host of other local Game companies that support their own original IP. And the rest were either students or hobbyist or both. There were only a couple of people like myself that were actually making a full product and trying to leverage the sale of that product into supporting their business. At the time, I started to think of myself as “indie” but also as a solo-“indie”. So much so, that I thought the IGDA stood for Independent Game Developers Association (which is wrong by the way…but in Atlanta maybe not as wrong as in other parts). It actually stands for International Game Developers Association and Atlanta is just one chapter.
Now, the first person that remembered my name and actually enquired as to how my first Clutter game was going was Andrew Greenberg. At first, I was super impressed with this, but when I realized he is the Ambassador to all things Georgia Game related, then it’s not as impressive. (Because it’s kind of his “job” in one sense. And I know this, because as I made the decision to get more involved in the local dev community, It’s become part of my “job” to be better at that as well (remembering people, and enquiring what they’ve been up to – I don’t do that “job” well…but I’m only a Junior Ambassador)).
Ok…now…a few years ago (Summer 2013), I made the mistake of accepting an opportunity to “showcase” my game (Clutter III at the time) at the San Francisco Casual Connect. I say mistake, because that’s when I got a closer look at the “indie community” and how a lot of that “scene” is diametrically opposed to what I’m about. My view is so tainted, that at the last Game Jam, I created a sub-company to Puzzles By Joe called Piaget Games…where Piaget stood for (Pretentious Indie Art Games ETc…). I felt like I was just a piece of meat or a seat-filler, and although they let me speak at the conference, even that experience was not exactly a confidence builder. And I felt like the “indie” scene…was more like the Fashion or Art world than it was about games.
For a guy who’s mantra was “Gameplay Mechanics Tops Art”…I was easily repulsed by the “indie” scene, especially the whole notion that Story/Narrative/Art is what matters most, and worse…the personal “story” of the people that created the games…sometimes overshadowed the game itself. It’s like we’re stuck in a real world gamer version of America’s Got Talent where we have to understand the great hardship that the performer has overcome to be there, so that America can “fall in love with them” and they can be the next great America’s Got Talent winner. Yes, even in a “talent” contest. Narrative reigns supreme (over the actual Talent on display).
But I digress. But wait, there’s more. All of a sudden, I learn that “indie” can mean 5 professionals that split off from a huge non-indie company, secure a few million in VC or Angel investing and create the next great piece of Art (oops, I mean game).
And don’t get me started on Kickstarter, where 3-5 professionals can get together and “pitch” their “idea” for their next great piece-of-Art…involving an IP that no one’s heard of for 20 years and raise a few million for their next “commercially viable success”? (Or early access STEAM…where we can just give you an unfinished BETA and hope you’ll tolerate it long enough until we make enough money to finish it).
But again, I digress…and I’m obviously biased.
I work in a land where I know my final product will be seen and all that matters is what percentage of people actually play and like it…and the crux here is this. They get to make that decision BEFORE they actually buy it. Yep, the game has to stand on it’s own.
After the negativity of the Casual Connect and the up close look at “Indie-Prize-Contest” like events, I started re-evaluating the local game-dev community and started pushing back a little bit. I noticed that even in the local community that people seemed to confuse the notion of “talking about games” versus actually “making games”. My new mantra became – “talking isn’t doing”. But I started thinking of these folks as a new kind of “indie”, for me, those folks reflected the “indie” in “industry” as I realized that there was a whole popular-culture (similar to the Art scene) aspect to the “indie scene”. And just like who cares about the Kardashians, I find myself hardly ever caring about what the Rock Stars of Indie are doing (with maybe the exception of Rami Ismail because he’s always got something interesting to say).
About the same time, I realized I was a true indie-fish-out-of-water, because I was a Puzzle Guy surrounded by FPS, RPG, MMO and/or other “serious gamer” types. To this day, I still don’t use a controller or play X-Box, PlayStation or even Wii. I never learned to navigate a 3D game or even a side scroller. If an arcade game had/has more than one button on it (in addition to a trackball) then that arcade game wasn’t made for me.
But again, I digress…
So for many years, I lived with the “I’m a semi-successful-solo-indie” label even though there was so much of the indie-scene I didn’t like or was just missing out on. (Even watching “Indie Game – The Movie” confirmed this…as I watched it and thought…”Well, at least I’m not as crazy as those people”.)
Now, I’m so much an Indie…that when I get an idea and my first thought is “Wow, there is no way Jim (or CJ, or Peter, or any other producer/boss I’ve ever worked for) would let me put that in the game”, I know that I’m on the right track. So part of indie to me means “defiant”/”rebellious”/”take no prisoners”/”get the job done”/”Doing it My Way (cue music)”. Or just…”Damn it…I’m just going to prove I can be successful at this.”
Now after 5 years of being a defiant solo indie, I decided that I really wanted to grow beyond the “solo-indie” label and find some folks to collaborate with. It took me about a year to find the right collaborators but luckily they found me about 6 months ago now. And it hit me just yesterday during one of our every-two-week-or-so meetings/meetups, that I now had a much better handle on exactly what the indie label means now.
Now, that would take another blog, that would be just as long as this one, to explain but part of it is the small-family-community aspect of “indie” as opposed to how the anti-indie soulless-corporations are believed to be. But what I realized most is that I no longer had to define “indie” anymore. Like pornography, art or beauty…I know it when I see it.
At yesterday’s company-meeting, we (3 of us) hammered out the details to the Clutter 7 story. And regardless of the specific details, it will be a better story due to our collaborative efforts. And although it’s a messy rambling process, it was a highly productive meeting…and it’s obvious that they both care about the final product as much as I do.
What hit me as the meeting ended was this…
…although I play the part of the soulless corporation and I pay them…
…We Are Indie…