GDC '08: State of the indie union

Creators behind Everyday Shooter, Eets: Chowdown, and more talk about the ups and downs of the independent gaming scene.

SAN FRANCISCO--It wouldn't be a gaming conference without a "State of..." panel, and the Game Developers Conference Indie Games Summit fulfilled that requirement Tuesday evening with the final spot on its two-day schedule, a panel discussion titled "The State of Indie Games." The panel expressed a range of attitudes toward the future of indie gaming, with degrees of optimism running the gamut from cautious to unbridled.

Jamie Cheng, president of Eets: Chowdown developer Klei Entertainment, kicked the session off with a hope that the future of indie gaming will see the niche shed some of the assumptions people have about the scene. Specifically, he takes exception to the notion that indie games have to be "quirky," since that's often a code word for "not commercially viable."

"That's the kind of stigma we can fight to change," Cheng said. "We can educate distributors that any developer should and can create different games, but also if they choose to, that they can create mass [market] games."

That hope reflects Cheng's personal view of indie games. As president of Klei, Cheng must handle both business and development concerns, two tasks he loves so much that he said he could never make a game purely for commercial or artistic success. Presumably, Klei's current project, a microtransaction-driven, free-to-play game set to be published by Nexon, is a satisfactory balance of profit potential and artistic endeavor.

Grubby Games cofounder Ryan Clark was slightly reserved in his appraisal of indie gaming's future. While he was confident the medium would thrive, he was less confident about the prospects of any individual developer or studio in an increasingly competitive section of the market. Having a great game is by no means a guarantee of continued success, he noted.

"It's not for the faint of heart... The bottom line is it takes more than great hair to be the next Jon Mak," Clark said, referring to his fellow panelist and Everyday Shooter creator.

For his part, Mak focused less on business prospects and more concerned with the way the gaming medium will evolve. When he first started developing, Mak said that programming even the simplest of actions was an intricately technical process. As such, he said, technical-minded people were more commonly successful with game development, and that has led to a preponderance of games built on lots of rules.

Mak pointed to 2006's Xbox 360 hit Gears of War as an example of a rule-driven game. Players must keep a wealth of rules in mind during the game's moment-to-moment gameplay. How much ammunition is left in the clip? Which actions can be performed in cover mode? Which actions can be performed while running?

However, with the barriers to game development lowering and the process becoming more open to novice coders, Mak said the creative forces behind the games will drift further from the rule-driven action of Gears of War. As for how to turn those ideas into reality, Mak stressed the need to get straight to the heart of the matter.

"Just go and code the game you want to make," Mak said. "A lot of indies think, 'I want to make this game but I can't because nobody will buy it.' That's bulls***. Just make it. Or they'll say they can't work on a game yet because they need a design document first because that's how you do it. That's bulls***. Just go and do your game. I didn't really start feeling like I was doing what I wanted until I adopted that. Before I used to try and make design documents and do things the proper way, define indie games and all that. But once I dropped all that s***, that's when the good stuff happened."

That message aside, Mak did end the session's question-and-answer segment with a tongue-in-cheek definition and a shameless shill for a peer. "If you don't go and buy N+ tomorrow on XBLA, you're not indie," he declared, prompting a volley of laughter.

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Discussion

11 comments
lamprey263
lamprey263

I got N+, I thought it was really cool. Creating levels is fun, though, most the time I just look for creative ways to blow my guy up and see how many bombs the flying body parts can set off.

Link_Destined_1
Link_Destined_1

An admirable standpoint. Being that video games is an industry, most games we get are created for the sake of gaining profit. I'm sure there are lots of great ideas for video games out there, just not a lot that would sell in today's markets.

haesuse
haesuse

haha nice word choice there john! sh1t and sh1t and than some more of sh1t...right on buddy! but i do agree with what he said, specially in that last paragraph. Look at certain downloadables on PSN. PJM, Everyday shooter and so on. Some of the best EVER indie, small time games, and they are getting huge buzz and selling pretty well considering their place in the hierarchy of game. Take PJ for example. They made the racing car (crappy) game and than made monsters. LAtter is a hit and got a major buzz. Now with Eden announced there is legit following and active tracking on the game! thats how it should be done. Give pixel junk or John Mak couple of more years and they will be in mainstream! so yeah it really comes down if u are making the game for the games and gamers or cash money?!

leimeisei
leimeisei

when do i get to make a game for my ps3. i guess it doesnt matter since i only know C# and not c++ or watever they use (yes i am a geek). I would make 360 games if they didnt charge you an XNA membership fee.

gamecubepad
gamecubepad

I think Mak is right on point. I remember a short article about him in EGM and I like his attitude towards developing. Make the game you want to make and don't make excuses. That's logical, I think.

DonutTrooper
DonutTrooper

I agree with the contest against standards and rules in making games. Or maybe I watched FIght Club one too many times :P

monkeyhore
monkeyhore

I think one of the best things that has helped indie games is Steam. I mean, when you go onto the Steam store, you can find all sorts of indie games with trailers, pics, and videos. I've picked up a couple of them just because they look so amazing. I think the use of such companies and their software, like Valve and Steam, can go a long way to helping out such a thriving market in a meaningful way.

tyzwain
tyzwain

Cool I kinda see what they mean. Like you know how far a shotgun doesnt affect you, and how you cant shoot and run.

xgalacticax
xgalacticax

Actually, I've never thought about how many bullets were left in my clip in Gears of War :P

Dmg051793
Dmg051793

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