Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Indie Apocalypse is nigh!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 9, 2015

A few years ago, it looked like selling online was excellent. People were getting rich. Companies swelled from just a couple of guys in their basement to dozens or even hundreds of people. But now everything’s falling apart. Clearly, the whole thing isn’t working out. There isn’t enough room, the market got saturated, and if you are just coming to the party now, it’s too late. Good thing you missed the bloodshed. But now things can finally get back to normal, right?

bubblepopThe above paragraph was pretty much what I heard circa 2001-2003, regarding the “Dot-Com boom.” Substitute gaming for just selling anything online, and … well, that was the attitude. Major business leaders of the “old school” breathed a collective sigh of relief that the whole online thing had been a fad, and things would be back to normal within a few months, and all the laid-off IT workers from the boom days could no longer command gigantic salaries and make their companies beholden to them.

My opinion at the time – which I shared any chance I got – was that the dot-com boom and subsequent “bust” was simply a case of trying to pour fifty gallons into a twenty-gallon bucket. Supply had increased tremendously faster than the growth in demand, overshot, and was now coming back to earth. And while those who dumped tons of cash into that growth were going to fall to the wayside, unless they were in the top five or ten percent. But those with a more careful, measured approach that was focused on providing value rather than cashing in on a trend would be fine.

Ya know what? In a general case, I think I was right.

Now the talk lately is about the “indiepocalypse.” The mobile markets are far beyond saturation, and now that’s happening to Steam, too. The hardest hit are the ones who enjoyed the most success when Steam was still all about curation by a tiny number of overworked individuals who couldn’t keep up with the releases already.

And now the bubble is bursting. Oh, noes!

I’ve seen this many times before. I’ve talked about it many times before. Half the folks freaking out about it weren’t even in this industry the last time we had a major indie bubble burst (in the casual games arena). Indeed, it seems that about half the commentary on the “indiepocalypse” has been more mocking it, or planning for survival.

One approach is, of course, to turn indie game development into bigger-budget, winner-take-all mentality, or “Triple-I” gaming. To this, I say, “It’s been done, it’s been happening for decades.” I mean, back when I started, that pretty much WAS Triple-A game development with a big team. And afterwards? That was… um… non-Triple-A mainstream game development. There’s nothing new there. The only thing remotely interesting is that they’ve been able to bill themselves as “indie.” I call them “big indies” and they’ve got the same problem as everybody else, from the massive publishing houses down to the lone-wolf developers: they have to make a reasonable return on their investment, or it’s curtains for them. And since many of them are asking for only a fraction of their budget on Kickstarter, it’s not like they have unlimited funds.

And burn rates are a very real thing in commercial development, even for successful kickstarter-funded games like Thimbleweed Park.

So anyway…. the indie apocalypse. Great bubble-bursting. The end of the indie fad. Whatever. Yeah, it’s real, it’s happening, brace for frickin’ impact. The suckage has already started, and it’s gonna get worse. Probably much worse, if history is a guide. And then it’s gonna get better. But not like “peak indie.” More like a leveling out and a return to more sane levels of growth. The rules will change for the 9,000th time, but the fundamentals will stay the same.

And people are gonna keep making, buying, and playing games.

Then again, what should I know? I was stupid and lame enough not to be able to cash in on the gravy years YET AGAIN, so what would I know about surviving yet another crash?  I still treat these things as a spectator sport.

Anyway, for a couple more bits of opinion on the coming indiepoxyklipse or whatever, here are some good reads:

The Rat Race to the Steam Store

Ryan Clark: Five Myths of the Indiepocalypse

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Wavinator said,

    Jay have you seen this?

    If accurate, the contention that indies on a platform like Steam aren’t fighting for its 135 million users but rather 1.3 million active buyers is pretty devastating.

    I think the gold rush mentality is really to blame for the coming crash. How many pixel/physics/platformer/hidden object games does the planet need? How many games are being developed solely through analytics of what sells rather than what hasn’t been seen? What audiences are being left behind because someone decided that a given market was obsolete?

    If there is an indiepocalypse I think it’ll just lend credence to Jeff Vogel’s approach of developing a core audience, right-sizing production values and serving a niche.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I saw it and scanned over it briefly, but yeah – I mostly agree with what he said. Which is why I always maintained that you should go niche. That’s exactly it. Of course, I pretty much riffed off of Vogel and a few others when I’ve said that, but they’re right.

    It’s not to say that you can’t expand beyond your own niche audience – I think it’s pretty important to always be growing that. And I think there are larger groups of gamers that may not be buying / playing LOTS of games, but they will buy / play several within a few favorite genres.

    Someone made a great post today in a forum saying that in many cases, it’s not a fixed amount of money that we’re competing for (based on Jeff Vogel’s articles) so much as a fixed amount of *time*. That was a very interesting observation, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It fits in with that article, too… players of Dota 2 really don’t have *time* to play anything else.

    I know that impacts me… it’s not that I can’t afford any particular game, it’s just that I can’t afford all of the games, and I tend to go with the assumption that I just can’t play these games NOW, so I’ll wait until there’s a good sale for the ones I might be interested in down the road. But pay $10 for a game I don’t think I’ll ever find time to play? Nah, probably not.

  • MalcolmM said,

    I would agree that time constraints more than money limits what games I buy. I’m retired but there are only so many hours per week that I’m willing to spend playing computer games.

    Like many people, when I first started accumulating games on Steam, and even more when bundles first became popular, I would buy almost anything I was remotely interested in. But I did force myself to give each game I bought at least a few minutes of my time, hoping to find hidden gems. This had a positive side effect, I don’t like wasting even a few minutes on junk, so now I am extremely selective in what I buy.

  • Modran said,

    Pretty much what MalcolmM said, except for the retired part…
    I’ve got a HUGE backlog, and recently got a screaming homonculus that tend to cling to either my arm or my shoulder, and whose eyes I don’t want to mess up right away. It cut right through my gaming time with a shredding flaming greatsword +5. And through my budget with a vorpal rapier. Cleaner. So yeah, time > money…