Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 23, 2013
I saw what was supposedly an ad on YouTube for the Ouya a couple of days ago, and really wanted to believe Ouya had nothing to do with it. But apparently, they did. I don’t even want to link to it directly. It was revolting and embarrassing.
I wish I could disagree with the article. I like Ouya. I want to see them succeed. But I really don’t get this. Who is going to look at something like this and say, “Oh, boy, that over-the-top cartoon vomit and gore inspires me to buy an Ouya!” I mean, seriously, who is your target audience for something like this?
So I’ve got some advice to Ouya and others out there looking to go commercial with the indie message. I’m offering these absolutely free, and I’m sure it’s worth every penny. If I’m so smart, why aren’t I rich?
All I can point out is what works for me – as a consumer. And that, well, indies are winning, so the “indie message” is somehow working. Finally. So while the message may be slow and not too sexy, it’s worked. Here are some things anyone marketing or evangelizing indie should consider.
#1 – Indie is a marketing term. I don’t think this is a “dirty little secret” or anything. It’s just what it is, and why it came to be in the first place. The bottom line is that indie was there to help reset customer expectations. In a world where gamers had been bombarded with the glitzy marketing message that quality could be determined by polygon count and expensive production values, something had to be done to encourage gamers to give themselves permission to look at these low-budget, often retro-appearing titles.
Yes, it encouraged a double standard. It had to. ‘Cuz the indies were entering a game that was rigged against them from the get-go. We had to change the rules. That was what indie did.
#2 – Indies (and indie game fans) don’t hate mainstream games, nor will mainstream gamers be convinced to hate them. Frustration, boredom, annoyance, sure. But most indie developers were inspired by mainstream games of the past. As gamers, we love great games, regardless of whether they were built by a major studio or a no-name in their basement. We love games. We’re about making more of the games that we love, not about restricting options or hating things with higher production values.
You don’t villainize mainstream games. It’s fun to dig at the creators or publishers sometimes, sure, but don’t go too far. In many ways, they are reacting to economic realities. We may not agree with their approach, but indies have to deal with the same economic realities. You aren’t going to win may converts by convincing them to hate mainstream games.
#3 – Indies can’t automatically compete on price. So new mainstream games are too expensive? Even back when mainstream games were exclusively on physical media, it didn’t take horrendously long for many games to get discounted to price ranges competitive with indie titles. With digital distribution taking over in the mainstream side as well, indies no longer enjoy that cost advantage over mainstream games – they can release games on Steam or the console stores almost as cheaply as an indie. Even as indies have been suffering a price war to go cheaper and cheaper, mainstream games aren’t too far behind. Give it a year or so, and the right sale on Steam, and those of us who tend to sit in the cheap seats can enjoy a AAA masterpiece for the same price as a quality indie title. There are lots of ways indies can compete against the big-budget blockbusters, but price is a weak strategy.
#4 – Indie games are cool. Mainstream games put their “cool” up-front with incredible graphics and awesome soundtracks and cut-scenes that seem designed specifically to put into a trailer video. For indie games, you have to dig a little deeper. But there are plenty of awesome indie games out there with plenty of cool to be shared.
#5 – Indie games are innovative. That’s not saying that all indie games are innovative (most aren’t), or that mainstream games never innovate. But between the sheer quantity of indie games coming out, and the lower cost & risk of innovation that comes with indie development, indie games are where most of the innovation is taking place these days. It’s actually kind of amusing to see the big studios and publishers “borrowing” ideas first proven by successful indies. But for people who are getting bored with the same ol’, same ol’ pushed by the big publishers, the indie scene is an incredibly fresh drink of water. Even something as overdone as a first person shooter gets radically transformed in the hands of indies. This is awesome.
#6 – Indie games offer variety. It goes with the innovation thing, and also the huge number of indie games coming out all the time. There are simply tons of indie games out there covering all kinds of genres. There’s always something different in the indie scene. Yes, it sometimes gets a little overwhelmed by a particular popular genre (these days it’s puzzle-platformers; for a while it was match-three or hidden object games), but those games are the attention-grabbing, popular minority.
#7 – Indie games are niche. Sometimes. Again, with the variety – there are indie games covering all kinds of obscure genres and unique interests out there. Sometimes they are just web games or extremely low-budget mobile games, but they are out there. As an exercise at a Utah Indie Night a couple of years ago, an iPhone developer suggested that if you do a search on any “unique” idea you had for a game on the App Store, you would have a very tough time not finding at least one (often two or three) games that have already done something with that idea. We tried it, choosing topics that were relatively bizarre and tasteless. Sure enough, so long as it wasn’t an area that was prohibited by Apple.
#8 – Supporting indies supports individual developers in a way that buying mainstream games doesn’t. In the mainstream world, developer royalties only come into play once a game has sold far into “hit” (or these days, “mega hit”) levels. With indies, who have usually self-funded development (and I consider things like Kickstarter, where the funds are delivered with no strings attached, a variation on self-funding), the money starts going to the developers with the very first dollar. A lot of players feel good about this.
#9 – They make ‘em like they used to! Except when they don’t. But with all that variety out there, indie games are thriving in once-barren genres: Point and click adventures? Space combat? Turn-based RPGs? Wargames? Side-scrolling platformers? 2D shoot-em-ups? The indies are there and thriving. This has a nostalgia factor, but new gamers are discovering the joys of these old game styles now – with the advantage of some more modern conveniences. This is awesome!
#10 – Indies are approachable. A player can actually get in contact with most indie developers. Their feedback goes straight to the guys developing the game. So does most of the tech support questions. If you aren’t a dickweed about it, most indie developers love this kind of interaction, and players do, too. This direct communication benefits game development in numerous ways, as the developer gets to know who their audience is and what they want to a level that bigger developers logistically can’t.
#11 – Indies are the underdog. Everybody likes the underdog, right? Anybody who likes to see the little guy achieve their dreams can feel good about supporting indies.
#12 – Indie games have personality. Some mainstream games with a strong designer have this too, but with such huge teams the individual contributions tend to get suppressed, and much of the game ends up feeling like it was designed by committee. In the tiny teams creating indie games, the personalities and authorship of the developers can’t help but shine through. There’s true authorship there. In my opinion, it leads to a better connection between artist and audience that makes for a better game.
So – Ouya, Gamestick, Sony, Steam, all the rest of you guys out there capitalizing on the indie revolution – this is what you are offering. This is what you are supporting. Try not to screw it up too much, okay?
Filed Under: Indie Evangelism - Comments: 11 Comments to Read