Indie Development Is Hip Now, But What Hipster Wants To Be Popular?
Quickly, off the top of your head, think of a person who rage-quit the internet in recent times.
Done? Now what’s the chances you thought of someone who was involved in indie development.
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Whether it’s Dong Nguyen, who pulled Flappy Bird from online stores, or Phil Fish, who cancelled Fez 2 and quit the gaming industry entirely, an alarming trend has become apparent in the world of games development and it is simply this: Indie developers are just not cut out for handling this poisonous industry.
It’s somewhat disheartening because in recent years there has been a massive upsurge of indie development which really does inspire the gaming individual when you think about what a spectacle it is to see genuinely hard-working folks beating the system and making successes of themselves on their own terms.
However just like with triple-A development, there are some names in the indie world that are the beloved sweethearts of the industry and there are some who are spoken of with scorn and intense dislike. Limbo developer PlayDead and Dust: An Elysian Tail developer Humble Hearts are examples of beloved developers who are celebrated in the indie sphere. Then you get the likes of the aforementioned Phil Fish as well as Jonathan Blow, who are not always liked but for the most part respected for their work.
One outlier who has reached godlike status amongst gamers seems to be notch — but let’s just leave it at that before I lose my cool.
The thing about indie development is that not every indie developer is a narcissist. More to the point, however, not every indie developer (even the narcissists) is cut out for a life of popularity. Some of them just want to work on games; some just have really great ideas that they want to share with others; some are just extremely reclusive bordering on neurotic in their behaviour and do not care about anything other than their games.
But indie development doesn’t allow for reduced face-time because the onus is almost entirely on indie developers to market their product and once it’s out, they achieve instant celebrity status on the internet and from that point on, every statement they make will be scrutinised, with its own set of naysayers and supporters each time.
As a result, it seems almost too obvious why so many indie developers are crumbling under the pressure and rage-quitting the internet. It’s not because the internet is doing anything different to what it has always done; it’s that unlike development studios, indie developers present a single face to target. A single person to hate.
Allow me to explain this concept with a quick comparison to Iron Man 3. In the movie, the ‘true’ Mandarin reveals himself by confessing that he had used a ruse or red herring if you will, because if you give evil a face, you give the world something to hate and something to rally against; and the true evil may carry on silently in the background. Something to that effect…
Now let’s consider a development house. Sure there are people at BioWare, Visceral Games and so on who do get targeted by angry gamers or what have you, but you see, these are the single individuals who go out and make statements on their own; these are the people who actively interact with the internet, and so the internet actively interacts by returning fire. However if you’re just a random designer or story writer at a development house, you’re not (typically) going to be singled out by the world because gamers have a problem with a game. It’s rare that this is ever the case.
But how many people do you think actively hate Activision? And yet who do we direct our hate at? Bobby Kotick, because he’s the CEO and face of the company, and was in a movie once. That’s who.
The rest of the people, including some of the big decision makers, get away scot-free because we’re all too busy hating on the company instead of the people running it. Evil has a face.
This is the crucial missing element to indie development. Cutting out the publisher and working in a smaller capacity means that gamers will immediately pick on whichever big names exist at a company. Don’t believe me? Try naming another developer for Fez 2 without using Google. Unless you’re crazy into indie, you probably can’t. And yet you probably have an opinion about Phil Fish. Why?
It’s because he interacts with the internet and says silly things such as that Japanese games suck and people who dislike him should kill themselves. I’m paraphrasing.
Unfortunately for Dong Nguyen, a game he put out months ago has suddenly become the reason he wants to curl up into a shell and never come out from it. The racism, the death threats, all of it; that’s what happens when you upset the internet and you don’t have a logo to hide behind. That’s the difference between indie and big-name development.
Oddly enough, it honestly makes indie feel that much more real. In a puritan sort of way. Doesn’t it?