Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

When Is It Too Early to Talk About an Indie Game?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 30, 2012

Many years ago, when the blog was young, I was trying to decide how I’d talk about upcoming games in the exciting, growing indie games field that hardly anybody knew about. I faced a little bit of a quandary. At the time, something like 95% (or more) of all indie game projects failed. Early on, I was kind of surprised at this… I remember getting pretty jazzed about some promising games that had some truly beautiful screenshots, exciting design ideas, and promises from the developers that the games were near-alpha, alpha, 70% or 80% complete, or whatnot. There’d be some exciting weekly news, then monthly news, then…. nothing.

So I decided that I’d try to avoid talking about upcoming games unless either (A) they were already pretty near to completion, or (B) by an established developer with a history of released games. I’ve broken this guideline many times, and about half of the time I’ve been burned. And I’ve been surprised to see some long-thought-dead projects get revived years later. Sometimes these projects have been revived and re-killed repeatedly. And then there are some that are never quite dead, but make progress at an incredibly slow pace for many, many years.

Things are weird, now. First of all, “small games” have really grabbed hold of the indie space, even among first-time developers – particularly with the revolution in handheld gaming and web-based gaming. This is actually a good thing. For YEARS it seemed that new, aspiring indie game developers were focused on making the next Halo or Final Fantasy X, only bigger. While I exaggerate, it’s sadly not by much. Unsurprisingly, most of these ambitious projects failed.  Now that more new game developers are setting realistic project goals, my guess is that the failure rate has dropped somewhat. Unfortunately, it’s also true that the less ambitious projects are often less noteworthy as well.  What’s so special about game X, which like games Y and Z was inspired by games T,U, and W? Ummm…

Then there’s crowdfunding. This turns everything on its ear, especially with the current “bubble.” Sadly, I expect a good number of even successfully funded Kickstarter / Indiegogo video game projects to fail. Hopefully far less than 95% of the bad old days, but I don’t think it would be too pessimistic to predict that 50% or more will either fail entirely or significantly under-deliver on their promises. It’ll be another year or two before that sinks in. After that happens – well, we’ll see how people react from there, when they discover what venture capitalists have already learned by hard experience. Maybe then, the crowdfunding thing will turn out to have been a fad, or maybe it’ll turn into one of those things where unknowns need not apply. Or we’ll continue with PT Barnum’s adage about how often a sucker is born. Or maybe backers know dang well what they are getting into right now, and fully anticipate that the money they toss into fund these interesting dreams will never result in anything tangible.  We’ll see.

Whichever the case, this is causing me to re-evaluate my stance. Every week, I’m getting a few people contacting me about projects-in-development, especially crowdfunded projects. A lot of these projects sound really, really cool. Cool enough, in some cases, where I’ve pledged some money in myself, in spite of “Kickstarter fatigue.” It’s also tempting because I’m almost always looking for easy topics for a blog post, and these crowdfunding projects could be a source of two or articles a week.  Actually, if I went down that road, I’d probably have an even tougher time choosing which games NOT to mention so I could have the occasional non-Kickstarter article. Just like the old days, it’d be easy to be overwhelmed by all these cool, exciting-sounding projects with beautiful screenshots and awesome ideas.

And at this point, I have no way of telling which of these projects will ever see the light of day, unless they are (A) very near completion already, or (B) being built by established teams with a history of successful releases.

I’m still sorely tempted to break my own rules, but when actual money is involved, I’m going to feel a little guilty when I was party to advertising vaporware. I mean, if it’s my own money I through down a deep, dark hole, that’s one thing. But if other people were motivated to do the same based on my enthusiasm? Ummm…. sorry, guys?

But on the other hand, these guys seeking funding need to spread the word somehow, right? And I’m one of the go-to guys within the indie RPG specialty, right?

Anyway – it remains a quandary.  I’ve talked about some of the projects I’ve found interesting in the past, and probably will in the future, but like I said – things have gotten weird. I’m not sure how to adapt.



Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 13 Comments to Read

  • Matt Barton said,

    Jay, I think this is the elephant in the room with this Kickstarter blitz. I hate to think how many many of these projects will turn out to be Duke Nukem Forevers or worse. How will even veteran designers cope without having a publisher breathing down their necks? Will fans be more or less generous when it comes to giving them extra time or cash, moral support, etc.? And what if the finished game is a fiasco? Will people demand refunds?

    I’ve acted mostly on good faith with the Kickstarters I’ve supported, but I do wonder what mechanisms (if any) are in place for restitution if things go south. Or is this strictly “pledger beware?”

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    From what I can gather, there’s really no mechanism for restitution. I was even more surprised that IndieGoGo has an option to allow a project to keep the money whether it’s fully funded or not – as is the case with Grimoire (which makes Duke Nukem Forever seem almost timely…)

    Because games have a long lead time, it’ll be a while before people have a chance to quantify the failure rate.

    But again – as you note on your site today ( http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/4970 ), there are a lot of worthy-looking projects that are apparently flying under the radar and not only look / sound awesome, but are helmed by experienced teams that know how to cross the finish line. It seems a shame NOT to send some attention their way, too.

  • Ayrik said,

    Kickstarter answers this question for you if you look: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/faq/kickstarter%20basics#Acco

    Not that it matters because obviously people will not read it anyway.

    I seem to be at mostly the same stance as you, Jay. But I wonder if it would be worth writing about these games anyway and just stating that their future is never 100% certain. In fact, having a segment, call it Spotlight or something, about it that always disclaims that at the top or bottom would interest me as a reader because it’s always nice to come across the “Gems” that are hard to find otherwise.

  • Michael Brough said,

    I usually feel like the smaller games are actually *more* noteworthy. There’s a tendency for the big ones to tick all the boxes before getting on with doing their own thing – you’ve got to have an open world combat crafting magic system scrolls potions demons vampires npc plot trees towns shops conversations multiple endings AND THEN once we’ve implemented all that we get to our special unique feature that really makes this game stand out! Whereas for a smaller project you cut out all the derivative crap and focus just on what’s unique.

    Okay sure there are plenty of small games that don’t have anything unique about them, just as with big games. Just listing inspirations and features doesn’t give you the whole story though – e.g. my Zaga-33 has very little in it that wasn’t in Rogue 30 years ago, but by careful selection of what to include and what to omit it feels to me like something fresh.

    Matter of taste, obv. If you just really love scope, that can only be satisfied by scope! But I’ll take a game that does one thing well over even quite good large games.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    You are preaching to the choir, Michael; I hear ya. Even if I do personally have a tough time walking my own talk. But this has always been the case, long before crowd-funding. That’s part of why I started this blog – to shine some attention on the really cool but obscure games. Problem is that it takes a lot of time when I’m laboring away making my own cool but obscure games… 😉

    The challenge is that it’s really easy to talk about a game you want to make. Putting together a prototype is a little harder, but still not too great of a challenge. But even with smaller games… it’s a BIG DEAL to complete and release a commercial game as a product. Way harder than most first-timers imagine. Heck, I’ve been doing it for years, and I STILL underestimate the challenge. Until these games reach a certain stage, they are just ideas and dreams. I love ideas and dreams – that’s where great things start. But that’s all most of them ever become. And it gets even hairier when money gets involved.

  • Califer said,

    On that note, we’re going to do a kickstarter for Siphon Spirit. Could you mention that on your blog? kthxbai 😉

  • Jam said,

    Well, I subscribed to this blog because I enjoy hearing your thoughts about current happenings in gaming. So I’d like to hear what you think about recent, interesting Kickstarters =) And if you talk about things like the current status of the project, the developers’ track records, etc, it should help people make a better informed decision about what to do with their hard earned dollars than if you just left them to it.

  • Corwin said,

    While I’m part of a site which actively supports and encourages Indie RPG’s (RPGWatch) I have totally avoided anything to do with this Kickstarter craze. While I wish these people well, call me when you have something I can play, even if it’s just a demo/pilot. Most games which get to that stage get finished.

  • Maklak said,

    I like it that you sometimes write about games, I wouldn’t otherwise know of, but as far as kickstarter goes, I’m only interested if the people who started it are well established.

    In general I don’t care much about upcoming games because most of the info is hype anyway. I’m interested in games that were either released already or have at least a playable demo.

  • chiefnewo said,

    I think if the people making it are known to you personally or the project has a completed prototype/demo you can comment on it is worthy of a post, always remembering to add the caveat that just because you’re talking about it doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed thing. Otherwise leave it for other people to bring up or just write a short reference and link in one of your roundup articles if it is really interesting.

    Personally I’ve had to put a stop on backing any more Kickstarters for the near future as $10 here, $15 there, starts adding up quickly and my savings weren’t able to keep up. And I haven’t even gotten through all the games I bought in the Steam Summer Sale yet!

  • Pompi said,

    I completly agree with me. I agree about what is going to happen when many of the kickstarter projects will have to deliver, and I also agree that open development and building a fan base isn’t for everyone.

    One of the reasons why showing your game early on is bad, is because people are the most excited about new things.
    If people get excited about your game before they have anything they can download or try, their excitment will soon wear off and they might never get excited about it again.

    You want to sell those buns while they are hot. 😉

  • Xenovore said,

    I agree with Ayrik: Just write about whatever sounds cool — and if it looks vaporware-ish, point that out in big bold letters. At least we’ll get to find out about it if we haven’t already. =)

  • Albert1 said,

    I suggest you to endorse only projects that have at least some proofs (a video, maybe a demo) of a complete, working level/scenery/take your pick.
    This is related to how much indie game dev changed in the past 10-15 years. In the late 90s was very hard to even start the very early development without a lot of money, because GCC aside, free development tools weren’t really good. In those days the sprites “needed” to be prerendered, and you weren’t going anywhere without 3DS Max/maya/softimage, and they costed thousands of dollars.
    These days you can get for free quite good compilers, quite good ides, quite good modelers (Blender, although difficult, is very capable). So, I think it’s not justified anymore to go asking people’s money with just design docs and no working prof. As you wrote a lot of times, the bigger the design doc, the faster it gets trashed by the harsh reality.