Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

AAA to Indie – is the flow of talent going only one way?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 9, 2015

Many years ago, I wrote an article for the Escapist called, “Going Rogue,” which was about mainstream – often AAA developers – leaving their big-studio jobs for indie development. A few months ago, Jeffrey Grubb wrote “Why Triple-A Developers Are Going Indie (and Why Indies Aren’t Going Triple-A.

I’ve definitely been noticing the trend lately. It feels like the big, mainstream studios are constantly closing down or performing major layoffs, and rather than hunt around and relocate in order to get another job for another game studio that will probably disappear in about three years, the folks are just forming their own indie studio. They’ll put together a Kickstarter to keep themselves in raman noodles for a few months, and go off to the races.

And thus we have a glut of indie game studios out there. Back when I wrote my article, having mainstream game dev experience as an indie was unusual. Now, it may not be typical, but it’s hardly uncommon.

This business is cyclical, and what I expect to see happen is… more of what we’ve always seen happen. Yes, you’ll see more AAA devs leave the mainstream industry to go indie than the other way around. However, once the industry gets its footing again (right now there’s a sea-change going on, and everybody’s reeling), you’ll get the bigger studios / publishers gobbling up the more consistent, quality indie studios. That’s the way AAA brings the talent back in. They promise the resources and deep pockets to help the little studios grow and weather the lean times. But¬†over time, the little formerly-indie studio becomes completely borged and either fully assimilated or eliminated. It’s the game dev jungle.

Of course, I could be wrong. The whole industry / hobby / medium may be changing so much that, like the dinosaurs, the ecosystem may no longer support what we traditionally think of as AAA games. At least not on the scale that we’re used to. I think you’ll still have larger publishers / consortiums / businesses that act to consolidate the industry a bit – just for mutual survival – so there’ll still be the fragmentation / consolidation cycle.

But fundamentally, I think Jeffrey Grubb nailed it. ¬†Right now, AAA doesn’t offer anything for an indie game developer except maybe a more steady paycheck. But as a programmer, I can make more money outside the games biz. And since working for a major publisher often precludes work “on the side” as an indie… that’s really not much more than a fallback position (game designers and artists, unfortunately, have a bit more struggle finding good jobs outside of the games biz). So why go back?


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

  • McTeddy said,

    To be fair, we DO have it the other way too. It’s just not newsworthy that “Indy Dev now employed with AAA again!”

    The other way around “Former AAA Dev says he don’t need da’ man” or “Guy who struck gold USED to be AAA” are a good narrative. It’s a story that people WANT to tell.

    Fighting that evil giant is one of our most classic tales.

    Even when Indies grow towards the AAA methods and become publishers themselves… it’s billed as an “Indy Publisher” to tell a specific engaging story that people want to hear.

    For every “Gone Indy” tale you hear, there are many inverse that you just don’t hear about. This amazing landscape is littered with the bodies of fallen indies who just couldn’t break out.

    This isn’t a jab at them, but a sad reminder that no one knows their stories.

  • Tesh said,

    The industry doesn’t value veterans. Big names, maybe, management, sometimes, but veteran devs? It’s easier and cheaper to grab the next batch of graduates, slot them into the existing structure and take advantage of them until they burn out. Then grab the next batch.

    It’s nothing personal, just business. There’s a labor glut, and the market responds.

    Speaking as an artist, though, I didn’t even plan on the game industry in college. I was aiming for movies. Wound up in games. After a decade, I’m too expensive to keep around when all that’s needed is a widget maker. That’s just poor planning on my part. I should have gone into programming and just noodle with art on the side.

    Art is undervalued in most venues, though, so again, it’s nothing personal, it’s just easy to lowball artists or find someone else that’ll work cheap. *shrug*