NBN-Tendo is a weekly column that explores interactive entertainment, industry trends, the latest news and the cultural impact of the video game. This week, we're taking a look at indie game developers and their success stories.
Meet Fez. A kind of poster boy for the independent game movement, Fez was developed over the last five years by artist Phil Fish and had a painful development, which is documented alongside other tales in Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary about the difficulties and rewards that come with creating your own video game. Premiered last weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, it has already been picked up by HBO to be remade into a half-hour drama about aspiring indie game developers. And one can see why, as the independent game industry is just a world brimming with the creative energy of people doing what they love.
A Community of Make
Independent development of entertainment is largely limited by budget and the nature of that medium’s distribution platforms, but indie game developers have learned to overcome these restrictions. Cost is certainly something that holds indie devs back from making titles comparable in scope to the likes of Skyrim or Mass Effect, but many developers circumvent this by taking risks that larger developers can’t afford and offering experiences, like Die Gute Fabrik’s Johann Sebastian Joust, that aren’t found in triple-A gaming. When it comes to distribution platforms, indie developers can see their games onto consoles, computers and smartphones. The sudden rise of the app market gave small developers the opportunity to put simple games directly in the hands of customers, as demonstrated by Rovio, the Finnish game studio behind Angry Birds, which had only enough money to make one more game after 51 flops and is now valued at nearly $9 billion.
Beyond success stories like Angry Birds though is a community that also cares about their fellow gamers and designers. Developers help each other reach a wider audience by pairing popular games with obscure ones to generate more revenue. These bundles, like the Humble Bundle and Indie Royale, not only help the developers make ends meet financially but also help raise money for charities like the video game-oriented Child’s Play. Outside of philanthropy, the Toronto-based independent gaming collective The Hand Eye Society organized The Difference Engine Initiative to introduce “new gamemakers from under-represented groups” in the game development community, and therefore diversify the types of games we play. Communities like The Hand Eye Society have appeared in places like Chicago, Boston and Austin, and accurately represent the spirit of a larger community that is about coming together and making exciting new works of entertainment and art for the right reasons. It is this sort of creative synergy that binds the community to each other, its audience and its promise to make inspiring interactive entertainment.