Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Indie Community and Rock Stars

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 17, 2013

First – an announcement:

SHOW ME THE SALES! – Almost Over!

There’s only a day left in the Show Me the Games sale. This sale is the only one that is 100% indie-driven, 100% indie-revenue (and 100% indie games), so if you really want to support the indies, this is the way to go. About 3 dozen games, all of them pretty awesome, are on sale. Including Frayed Knights! (Although the coupon code for half-price – “SHOWME” – for my game will probably still be good through Saturday. Probably.)

Now on to today’s rant…

“The Indie Community.”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, the Princess Bride

Indie Games have become the “rock & roll” of the games industry. Well, a really geeky, naval-gazing, not-all-that-sexy version of rock-and-roll. Without groupies. Hopefully without the drugs. Okay, this analogy is getting us nowhere. The thing is – well, indie has become a little bit of “the thing.” For now. To a point. Indie games – or at least a subset of indie games – have grabbed the spotlight. The indie narrative is compelling – it’s the stuff I’ve been evangelizing about it for years: creative control, gameplay over graphics, getting back to the purity of what made the hobby great in the first place, experimentation, innovation, and all that.

Very cool stuff, for people who consider themselves “gamers.” And even that word – “gamers” – has changed meaning over the years, from “people who play video games” – which is an awful lot of people these days – to “game fans.” I’m tempted to call then “hard core,” but that tends to have a whole separate meaning now referring to game style, not the amount of time spent or appreciation held for the games. Man, when did vocabulary get so weird for games?

So the challenge is – as Andy Schatz explained at this year’s IGF – that indie’s getting a little mainstream, now. “The system we’re fighting kind of likes us now,” he commented. “Like it or not, we’re not the Clash anymore. We’re Green Day.”

But we still put on the story, the narrative. We hold to the title “indie” because it serves a very useful purpose – it resets player expectations from what the AAA industry has been indoctrinating them to expect for decades. It explains, “Hey, this is a garage band playing at a bar, not a big expensive studio band with a million-dollar stage production.” That way people don’t get confused and disappointed when they don’t get a laser show and fog machine, and the lead guitarist can’t afford to smash his guitar to pieces on the stage.

So then we refer to the “indie community.”  Broadly defined – as I can not understand any better definition – this is “everybody who makes indie games.”  With the explosion of indie games (just look at how many games are in the app store nowadays – most of ’em are indie) over the last few years, that’s a freaking huge group, with vastly different personalities and interests. It’s like saying, “The writing community,” or the “music community.” Crazy. Yeah, we don’t have very many points of unification.

Now, gaming journalists can’t handle the breadth and depth of this “community” – it’s far too large for anybody to get a handle on it all – so they picks a few people to represent it. These people – and their close associations – get most of the spotlight, often because they are outspoken, successful, or simply somehow have an interesting story that caught somebody’s attention (possibly by acting out or playing the role of a poor man’s tortured genius or rock star). And from there, you get concentric circles of attention with the “communities” around these people jockeying for position to share the spotlight of attention.

‘Cuz lemme tell you – if you are trying to not starve as an indie, your number-one currency is attention. Simple as that.  And for some people, the attention IS the goal. And sadly, when it’s attention you are after, it can often be a zero-sum game. I mean, I try to pay as much attention as I can to what’s happening in the computer-based indie RPG world, and I cannot keep track of it all.  That’s the right kind of problem to have, but it is a problem.

But from those little sub-communities with limited, zero-sum Attention Currency, you now have some pain and angst going on. And you have poor newcomers thinking of one or more of these  sub-communities as representative of the entire indie games community, and feeling excluded. It’s junior high school all over again, I guess. But here’s the news flash: there are lots of “indie games communities” out there, and they are all different, but most of them don’t get much attention. So if it’s attention you are after, well, you’ll either have to play the clique game, or do it yourself.

The other thing is… well, community is different things to different people. I’ve got a few hangouts (private and public) where I at least lurk, but they tend to be either related to my audience, or professional. I’ll hit forums for help in my tools or something when I need them, but I tend to devote my time to just a few communities – including right here.  I love going to Utah Indie Night and spending time with some of the local developers. I have several fellow game-developers who I feel privileged to be acquainted with and we try and help each other out. I know several of the very talented individuals involved in Show Me the Games, and I’m pleased to be in a ‘community’ with them, but most of them don’t get tons of press attention either. Most of the time, they are head-down in front of their monitor making games or trying to figure out how to sell them. Yes, even most of the “indie darlings” – the “rock stars” of the so-called “indie community.” There are no free rides in this business, and attention can be fleeting.

So I guess what I’m saying is this: Be very careful painting the “indie community” with a broad brush. There are vocal sub-communities that are getting the attention right now (and thus growing rapidly) which may have certain characteristics, but they are far from representative of the whole. Also, are you involved in any of these communities for the sake of making games, or being part of “the scene.” While there may be a big “scene” out there, one that might really be getting incestuous and buying into their own hype, that’s not all there is. And if it really does get that bad, it’s going to fragment. It’s the nature of the beast.

But really, it’s supposed to be about the games, and there’s always going to be “community” to support that. You just may have to find it a little out of the spotlight. If nothing else – be a community builder. Reach out, chat with other developers. No you may not be able to get a big, popular, busy game developer to answer your emails out of the blue (I imagine he’s pretty swamped), but form your own bonds where you can. Network with other like-minded developers. Attend indie meet-ups or conferences where you can meet people face-to-face, and exchange business cards and email addresses. Learn from them, share with them, and treat their time with respect. A good community can be a big help for you as a game developer, but you have to remember to reciprocate that help in return when you can.

And remember – it’s always about the games.  The community is there for mutual support and helping each other retain what shreds of sanity you collectively still possess.

And all that being said – if you are making indie RPGs, especially for computers – please keep in touch with me, too!

Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • Cuthalion said,

    “And all that being said – if you are making indie RPGs, especially for computers – please keep in touch with me, too!”

    Well, I’m still reading and commenting, years after finding this blog (via twentysided?). And after starting work on a game and getting to interview you by email. That counts, right? 😛

  • poopypoo said,

    I would note that, relatively speaking, there IS SOME community. Much more so than say, a writing community – more like a movie community. Like movies, there are only a handful of venues to showcase your wares. In movies you have strong unions to draw people together, and in games you have forums and associations (you guys could REALLY use a union lol… the AAA guys, at least, not the indies). And both productions typically take a lot of people – even the cheapest indie games typically have a progger, artist, and musician. Just sayin. Your points are correct – but I can see why people become convinced there is a community – a lot of you guys really know each other. Contrast that with painters, for example. The famous ones DID have a community, it’s part of how they got famous. The french at the turn of the century had their own zines. But the vast majority of painters paint in something of a vaccuum. Anyway. Thanks for lissnin!