The atypical indie?

April 07, 2012 | Filed under: business

I just read a blog post that I won’t link to, because it will only give the accused exactly what he wants, but the upshot of it is that anyone who isn’t loving their games being pirated and anyone who actually charges money for games is making shitty games and doesn’t live in the real world.

Hmmmm. Just because someone works full time at games, and makes a living from it hardly automatically makes their games rubbish, or makes them a money grabbing satan. Is John Carmack a money-grubbing son of a bitch who hates games because his games made him a millionaire and bought him a string of ferraris? I doubt it, and I doubt his games are shitty either. In fact, the reverse is often the case. It often follows that people who are really good at what they do, tend to sell a lot of games, and thus end up well paid. That’s how capitalism works. Other government systems are available, of course. They are not reknown for outpourings of high quality digital entertainment though.

My point for this post isn’t about that though, it’s a more general call out to both indie game developers and the media that covers the indie gaming ‘scene’ (god I hate that word, do people think we all hang out in indie bars with our own indie slang?)

Please treat indie games like games, not like some desperate call for attention, or some trendy underdog story or political manifesto, and don’t think that knowing the game is ‘indie’ means you can assume anything at all. (GSB is more like Sins of a solar empire than it is like world of goo, for example).

To look at recent press and hype about indies in the gaming press (both online and in print), I wonder if I am a ‘proper’ indie at all. Lets look at the evidence:

  • I am 42.
  • I am not a radical EFF cheerleading cyberactivist with ‘I hate SOPA’ tattooed anywhere on my body.
  • I live in the UK
  • I charge more than $9.99 for my games, sometimes much more.
  • I don’t make platform games, and haven’t actually played one since sonic the hedgehog.
  • I am not a radical left wing campaigner that hates money, and is equally happy to just know people are enjoying my games if they pirated them. (I actually rely on income from games as…. well… my income)
  • I don’t begrudge big successful games developers that have made serious money from gaming or think they must be evil. Brad Wardell (stardock) gets a lot of aggro on this front, which is ironic because he seems such a nice guy. Good luck to him.

I am sure I’m not the only one, in fact I know I’m not, due to many drunken chats in various places with other indies in the UK. I wish the media would realise that indie != notch and indie != starving student and indie != any specific political or activist viewpoint. It’s a lazy stereotype that is long past it’s sell-by date.

Ironically, as someone who has a pet interest in marketing and psychology, I am well aware how easy it would be to embrace the stereotype for my own gain. I’m pretty sure a big ‘STOP SOPA’ banner on my website, and some long angry tirades in favour of linux, ranting at ubisoft for being evil etc, would probably get some press attention, and some PR, and some excitable headlines. It’s very easy to know what the more vocal section of online gamers want to hear developers say. If I was really savvy, I’d hire someone with a cooler name than mine, who looked more like an indie, and get him to do a lot of controversial and activist stunts.

It’s much harder to actually be honest, and say what you really think, something that gets me a ton of grief, to put it mildly.

But regardless of that, I would like people to stop writing about indie developers (as opposed to indie games), and for indie developers to stop acting like they are running for president, and to do something really radical which is this:

Talk about your games.

If I wanted to court controversy obviously add…

Finish the fucking game first, ok?

For what it’s worth here are some of my games, I hope they speak for themselves.

Gratuitous Tank Battles

Gratuitous Space Battles

Democracy 2

To clarify: I’m not saying indies aren’t allowed to have political view, everyone does, or to have strong opinions on controversial subjects, It’s when any discussion about your game is automatically steered to some sort of activist rant to get page-hits that it bugs me. I don’t care if you are Che Guevara or Hitler, I just want to know if that game you are working on would appeal to me.


13 Responses to “The atypical indie?”

  1. Like you say, you’re not the atypical indie. It’s just that the atypical indie gets the most attention so he/she becomes the typical indie in the eyes of the public.

    Also, like you, I hate the idea that indies are all part of the same scene. We’re just people making games. That’s a common interest we share. Don’t judge the games on that. Most indies probably don’t feel that they’re part of any “scene” — they’re just making their games without making much of a commotion about it. (I also hate when indies feel that other succesful indies owe them something because they’re part of this so-called scene.)

    Also also, most indies don’t have money left over for marketing when their game is done, so writing a “controversial” blog post or trying to get attention by having a public meltdown (Robert Pelloni, Adam Coate, and so on…) is relatively cheap. The public meltdowns I’ve always compared to the dark side of the force (sorry, couldn’t think of a Star Trek analogy!): The dark side is quicker, easier, more seductive. But you’ll lose yourself. You may get attention in the short term, but you’ll lose respect.

  2. Yachmenev says:

    “Brad Wardell (stardock) gets a lot of aggro on this front, which is ironic because he seems such a nice guy. Good luck to him.”

    Brad Wardell will get a lot of stick no matter what he says now, because of costly public mistakes.

    1. He promoted the gamers bill of rights very heavy, and the in succession released extremely buggy games that went against much of the content in the bill.

    2. He made a lot of mistakes in the communication with people who had purchased said buggy games.

    3. He tried to promote Impulse by slandering Steam instead of just promoting the good things about Impulse.

    4. He then sold of Impulse to Gamestop, leaving a lot of the vocal loyal Impulse customers in a place where they really didn´t want to be.

    I´m sure he is a very nice guy in person, but he should have kept a more modest public profile.

  3. cliffski says:

    Thats not the stuff I mean though, I have no problems with someone criticising brad for stardocks games or sales policies or tech support, thats just running a games business.
    I’ve seen him get stick for basically not being left-wing enough politically, which really bugs me. Whether someone is left wing or right wing or totally apolitical should never matter to people who are buying games made by that person.

  4. Arowx says:

    Semantic Assembler Online >>>

    Rant Filter Engaged >>>

    Meme Extraction Activated >>>

    Mode: [In A Nut Shell]

    **** Indie Advice: Finish the fucking game first, ok? ****


  5. Ben Hymers says:

    “Finish the fucking game first, ok?”

    Cliff, you’re a star. Good man :)

  6. Beau says:

    I’d like you to include on that list “tell the press you have a game.” I cover indie MMOs, and I can’t find those guys with a flashlight. And, trust me, I cover them. At least one a week. They just seem so shy and fragile! lol

    So, grow some guts and reach out to the press! :)

    Good read.


  7. Albert1 says:

    Games aren’t made to express political ideas!
    Games, for that matter, AREN’T EVEN ART!
    Games are supposed to entertain you, to be fun!
    In short, game are just hi-tech toys!
    And the fact that they are toys doesn’t detract anything, they still are onr of the best parts of my life.
    In my wildest dreams, I’m making a decent living developing these hi-tech toys!

  8. Davros says:

    I like they way you said
    “and I doubt his games are shitty either. In fact, the reverse is often the case.”

    Only often the case, so you are saying some of his games are shitty ;)

  9. Sean says:

    Great read Cliff, the term ‘indie’ is rarely used correctly and I think you are right that it’s starting to become a ‘trendy’ thing with the kids. Almost as much as being in an ‘indie’ band or liking indie bands and being a hipster douche improves their social standing somehow.

    I found your work and story to be a bit of an inspiration and motivation for my own efforts to break out from the grind of AAA publisher gigs and make my own games. I’ve recently finished my first game Lunar Flight which is being released on Steam in a couple days. It has been on sale on Desura and Gamers Gate and heavily pirated already.

    I’m a balding 35 year old, father of two, stay at home dad. I really hope that my game will make enough to allow me to continue working from home and making the games I want to play. If it doesn’t then I will have to find a job and put my kids into care so we don’t live literally pay check to pay check, one step away from the street. If it does really well I hope to use some of the money to contract people to help with my next game thus providing some income for other people. Surely that’s not a bad thing to want money for…

  10. Xietanu says:

    I agree with most of what you say here, in terms of the ‘typical’ indie developer. That said, there is one statement, and a sort of overall feel here that I don’t entirely agree with.

    It’s best summed up with this statement: ‘Whether someone is left wing or right wing or totally apolitical should never matter to people who are buying games made by that person.’ I think that’s only true up to a point, though it might depend on your own opinions. I, personally, do not feel comfortable giving money to people who publicly support extreme political points of view which I oppose, especially if they donate money towards them, regardless of how much I might like something that they have made. For instance, this is why of Orson Scott Card’s books I only read Ender’s Game, despite enjoying the book a great deal. Again, that said, it’s only a problem if they are politically vocal and public with their beliefs, so that doesn’t effect indies like yourself who choose to be publicly apolitical. It’s just the double-edged sword of talking about your beliefs. It’s also another reason why the expectation for indies to get political can be a bit ridiculous.

  11. Gregory Fahey says:


    Those ‘other systems’ are renowned for their outpourings of high quality entertainment. Modern cinema simply would not be what it is without

    Capitalism on the other hand is renowned for its outpourings of low quality entertainment. Cheap things made cheaply sold for cheap. Or my other favourite, Michael Bay films made cheaply and marketed up the butthole with hundreds of millions of dollars.


  12. There’s crap entertainment made in communist cultures just as there’s crap entertainment made in capitalist cultures.

  13. BOB says:

    I think the real issue why people may wish brad was more left wing is because the united states is practically a fascist state with no counter-balance to corporate power. Brad is also a united states citizen.

    Things like sopa are lobbied for by corporations which are all hard right wingers in the states. The US has no political left worth speaking about (that does anything) and the political culture there is a giant circus.

    Things like STEAM and DRM should not be allowed period by any state that was really looking out for the interests of its people. Gamers should be allowed to own games but slowly game companies are taking ownership away from gamers and inserting all sorts of crap like Game For windows live, Steam DRM, or making games “MMO”‘s and then charging all sorts of money for “DLC” which you never own, think of a game like league of legends – a battle arena RTS, a DOTA clone basically. All those kids spending money on skins, etc, when they never get to own the game.

    Let’s not forget the public domain has been obliterated by corporate power. So wanting political balance especially given the illegal spying and other states like Canada (with it’s conservative rightwing government pushing warrant-less spying on canadians)

    Anyone who doesn’t want some left wingers to balance out all the pro-corporate propaganda has to be insane at this point.