Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Indie Biz: Collaborative Competition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 17, 2010

Shortly after I made the uneasy transition from being just-a-programmer to managing a project and running an actual (if not all that profitable, so far) indie business, I read a very inspiring article. I wish I could tell you who wrote it, or link to it, but I can’t recall. But the author pointed out the difference, in his mind, between “big business” people and entrepreneurs.

The “big business” folks live in a zero-sum world. They often work with a world leader for whom expanding their market share generally means taking it from someone else. Survival and growth depend upon crushing the competition. As many of these businesses are market leaders, they have a siege mentality as hundreds of small, scrappy companies come gunning for them.

Broad strokes, of course, and I don’t know how much I’m reading my own experiences into my memories of the article. I should note (and I don’t recall if the author did or not) that this mentality isn’t exclusive to the halls of the mega-corporations. It’s just that this environment is more likely to reward that kind of attitude and behavior.

By contrast, he claimed most entrepreneurs he knew would give you the shirts off their own backs to help each other and even a newcomer to their ranks. The attitude was completely different – they lived in a non-zero-sum world, where they saw so much opportunity that they knew they couldn’t come close to addressing without help. They saw other small businessmen and entrepreneurs as potential allies – even the ones who might technically be competitors.

I was grateful to see two indies I admire, Jeff Vogel and Celso Riva, recently echoed this sentiment. I believe their sincerity. I’ve seen the results first-hand. When your biggest problem is getting the word out, and your products aren’t mutually exclusive, competition can be your biggest ally. Game sales from my main site tend to flow in waves. An influx of sales from Eschalon: Book 2 is often accompanied by an increase of sales of not only the first game, but a bump in sales across the board. It’s not clear why. Maybe some folks played Eschalon: Book 2, didn’t find the style to their liking, but then decided to give Lilly and Sasha: Curse of the Immortals a try instead and preferred it?

I don’t know. And as Celso points out – you can get to the point where resources get scarce and the competition becomes a problem, as it has become with casual games and mainstream games as well. But we’re nowhere near that point yet.

But then we have something WCG said in a comment to yesterday’s post. He was trying to be frank but apologetic, but I don’t think he should have apologized. I think he hit a nail right on the head. I’ll repeat it here. He wrote:

The other thing is that there are a LOT of indies, or so it seems to me. I can’t find the time to play more than just a few of the games that sound interesting. In the past, I’ve bought games just to support the developer, and sometimes I never did get around to playing them.

I seldom buy a mainstream game until it’s been out a few years. Again, I don’t have the time to play everything I want right away. And then there are old games I want to re-install and play again. Frankly, every time I see a retrospective on a great old game, it brings back fond memories that I want to re-capture. Wouldn’t that be fun to play again?

So you’ve got a LOT of competition. Yes, you’re even competing with games ten or 15 years old, as long as they’re still playable with DOSBox. I’ve got crates of old games stored in the basement, many that I’ve forgotten all about, so I could probably never buy another game and still have plenty to play.

Compared to all that, price doesn’t matter much to me. If it’s a game I really want to play, something that really appeals to me, I won’t even look at the price. (After all, my computer is easily the major expense in playing games.) My limited amount of time is the main constraint. I’m going to be very picky on buying an indie game, just because I CAN’T PLAY EVERYTHING. If your game sounds interesting, but not exactly what I want, I’ll probably pass, just for that reason.

I wish this weren’t true, but it is.

I love GOG.COM.  It’s allowed me to catch up on some older games I missed the first time around… for cheap. Way cheaper than a new indie game, as a matter of fact.

But as an indie RPG developer, I really am going HEAD-TO-HEAD against not only the brilliant modern indie RPGs like those by Basilisk, Spiderweb, Soldak, Amaranth, and  etc. and etc. … I’m going up against Bioware’s and Bethesda’s and Atlus’s latest, and I’m also competing way more directly than I’d like against classics like the Might & Magic series and Realms of Arkania, now available for cheap and fully compatible with modern platforms.

I try not to think of this too hard, because it intimidates the hell out of me.

But honestly? I do think this is a good thing. As human beings, competition improves us. Or rather, competition and a healthy attitude towards it improves us. The entrepreneurial attitude. I hope I have enough of it. At least, what I see when I read WCG’s comments isn’t “Oh, crap, people might not play my game because there’s so much competition from games past and present.” My thought is, “Then I have to figure out a way to make my game more unique and more likely to attract the interest of people like WCG.” Maybe I won’t succeed, but hey, if he doesn’t like my game, maybe he’d like to buy something from one of my competitors? And hopefully they’ll reciprocate, and all of us – players and developers – will be happier for it.

And then our tiny little sub-section of the biz will grow, the games will improve and provide even more variety, the community will grow, the lion will lay down with the lamb and all that crap.

But mainly, we’ll be getting MOAR BETTER GAMES.


Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Of course, it’s easy for me to say all this NOW, as I don’t yet have an RPG *for sale* yet and I’m pretty much at the bottom.

    In a few years, when I’m rich and powerful and master of all I survey and fighting off the hordes of scavengers who want to muscle in on the market I totally dominate, I really hope I have the strength of character to at least pay lip service to these principles… 😉

  • Arkos said,

    There’s a lot of truth to that. I didn’t even know there were indie games out there until about a year ago. Some bloke mentioned Eschalon Book I on his site, and intrigued, I checked it out. I became a fan, not only of the game but the philosophy and attitude of the creator.

    And before I know it, I’m being pointed out to tons of other indie games I did not know even existed. I wound up here at this site, as well as Hanako games, Soldak, etc.

    And sad to say, I have not played them all–barely scratched the surface. I don’t have as much time, and admittedly some of that time is dedicated to old games I all ready have (one of these days I will finish Baldur’s Gate, I swear it!). Luckily, there’s not much in the way of new mainstream games that appeal to me. Last new game I bought was Dragon Age, and the only one coming out I’m excited about even a little is Fallout New Vegas.

    But nevertheless, I am determined to at least try out the demos of every game on this site, sooner or later. 🙂

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Well, I’m a little ahead – I’ve played at least partway through every game on the site. But I really don’t have time to play all of them through to completion (for those that even have a completion). Seriously – it would be a full-time job just to keep up. But there’s some very exciting indie games being made in this genre that are well worth playing, and I don’t think we’re even close to saturating the market yet. Just my own limited schedule. 🙂

  • Celso Riva said,

    Glad you like my philosophy 😀
    I really believe what I wrote, as long as the games are clearly made with passion and not just carbon-copy clones (but I believe that is only evident in casual games).
    I think we (indies) have a different mentality – sure we need to make money and pay the bills at the end, but we still have moral/ethics and we work mostly for passion, rather than being ruthless businessmen only thinking about profit.
    Sadly I met many people of the second kind in the mainstream game industry before turning indie 🙁

  • Jay K. said,

    Amen! So true what both of you said. A GameCrazy near me is going out of business, so I’ve bought a few games I’ve been meaning to play for the last couple of years. Just started playing Heavenly Sword (2007 PS3), I need to finish Oblivion and Fallout 3, and of course there’s Torchlight and Din’s Curse on the indie side that I need to play.

    Man, no time at all. I think this is why I’m not actively pursuing a game in my spare time any more. I’ll definitely come back to a project I have in mind.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Heh – Hollywood Video is going out of business near me, so we picked up cheap copies of Tales of Vesperia, Eternal Sonata (actually my daughter bought that one – I get to mooch off of her for a change!), Ghostbusters, and The Last Remnant. Oh, and I went halfies with my daughter on a replacement disc for Persona 4, which went bad as I was on the penultimate dungeon (had to borrow a friend’s copy to finish it).

    Yeah. I’m gonna have time to play these…. someday.

  • WCG said,

    On the positive side, the number of gamers must be growing like crazy, so if there are a lot of games available, there are a lot more people to buy them.

    Still, game-playing isn’t universal. And if you or one of your competitors can get a newbie playing – and enjoying – a game, that person is likely to buy many, many games over his lifetime. So you’re right, it really ISN’T a zero-sum game.

  • ClassicsRemade said,

    That post really hit the spot 🙂

    Being that I am new in this world (I hacked away at Peregrine’s Song, then followed through with Underworld with no clue there were so many indies out there – I think I only knew about Vogel in the RPG field).

    With the first version of UW out, Hanako posted here and told me at GMC. Then from here Getter77 posted at RPGWatch & RPGCodex. With traffic showing up in my stats from these places I had never heard about, my eyes were opened to the true extent of the indie world.

    And with that… The fear and certainty that I was cooked 😀 Not only are there a lot of games, but they’re made by teams – oO – With entirely professional graphics (even Vogel’s latest Avernum!)

    Here’s hoping you’re right, although to be perfectly honest (and having the oh too typical post release blues with v1.02 finally done) I somewhat suspect some good old positive thinking? WCG isn’t the only one I’ve read saying time was an issue, not to mention the people hit hard by the crisis that put buying games on hold…

  • Tesh said,

    I think GOG.com is one of the best things to hit the game industry. Not only is it great for players to get to play classics, but devs have to step up their game to compete. The industry as a whole has a real problem with ignoring its roots and games that have solved design issues in previous generations. It’s part of why we see sequelitis and stagnation; we don’t understand the design side of things nearly as well as we could. We just throw money at pixel shaders and voice actors.

    …or maybe I’m just bitter that we don’t have proper sequels for Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Master of Magic and X-Com. Those were great games, but it seems like their DNA strains fell off the genome map when Big Business started pushing 3D and bling.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    It’s not a TRUE sequel, but Stardock is coming out with Elemental: War of Magic (which I understand had a tongue-in-cheek working title of “Not-MOM”). As I heard it, they approached the license-holders (Atari?) to get the Master of Magic license, but the asking price was ridiculously expensive. So they bagged worrying about the official license and are just making a game “inspired” by MOM. I haven’t played it yet, so we’ll see.

    X-Com – I haven’t played any of the “inspired by X-Com” games yet, but I intend to. I take that back – there was one, but I never got into it, and I can’t remember the name of it now. It was an indie game. I haven’t played the Laser Squad games by the original developers, either.