Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

The indie illuminati

There are very few overnight successes. Sometimes people mistake grizzled and battle-hardened veterans for an overnight success because they didn’t see them coming.

I think there must be some tipping point where people go from ‘very well known amongst the local creative community’ to ‘household name’. At that point, everyone wonders where the hell they came from, and people who hadn’t heard of them tag them with ‘overnight success’. Very soon, then get grumbled about, and considered to be ‘above the rest of us’ and so on. Eventually, they get packaged up as ;’the illuminati’ or ‘the bilderberg group’ or whatever. Sometimes this is justified. Sometimes it isn’t. I think mostly it isn’t.

I was chatting to a world-famous indie superstar recently, and he pointed out how he used to think that ‘cool indies’ were cliquey, until he got to know them, and then just realised they were just a group of friends chatting. This seems to often be the case. I bet this happens a lot at indie meetups and games conferences. The thing is, if you know people, you have one experience, and if you don’t, you have another, and we are such basic, chimpanzee like animals that we vastly exaggerate our perceptions of events.

if you attend some indie conference and you don’t know anyone, your perception is often this:

“Everyone is so cliquey, they all know each other. Nobody wants to talk to me. I have no idea who to talk to. Will anybody want to talk to me? Look! it’s that dev who made X and here is chatting to that dev who made Y! neither of them will have heard of me, I’m such an outsider. bastards etc…”

whereas dev X is probably seeing the exact same situation like this:

“Hey cool, it’s that dev who made Y, how are you doing? fancy a beer, have you seen that dev who made Z? she said she was coming. Its so cool to meet up again, I’m glad I know someone here. I’ll stick with them.”


The thing is, there was always an event where X met Y and Z met X. There are no secret handshakes. nobody insists on seeing your steam royalties report or metacritic score before they will share a beer with you. Indies tend to be very nice. They also tend to be a bit shy and insular. We sit alone all day, what do you expect? It’s easy to mistake this behavior for cliquishness but it isn’t.

A game developer that came to an indie pizza meetup once said to me ‘you aren’t as scary in real life as I’d assumed’. This was kinda weird, I’d never considered myself scary. Even when I’m carrying a chainsaw I’m more scared of it than anyone should be of me…

Anyway… what am I saying? basically I’m saying that the ‘cool’ indies probably don’t think they are cool. They probably stick together in their clique because they are as terrified of meeting new people as the people who are terrified of introducing themselves. I’m rubbish at it myself. I still remember the first time I met Paul from mode7, Jake from greyalien games, Cas from puppygames, Mike Bithel, Mark & Chris from Introversion. I think in every case, either they said hello to me or someone else introduced us. ¬†And yet now, I’m aware of the fact that I might be one of these indie Illuminati that seems cliquey to outsiders. I’m not. I’m just shy. It’s easy to get that confused.

if you want to worry about real cliques, worry about politicians. Thats the real clique. In the UK they all went to the exact same school and did the exact same course. THAT is a real clique.

10 thoughts on The indie illuminati

    1. Depends where in the UK you are!

      There’s an excellent monthly one in Plymouth called ExPlay (same name as the conference). You just missed out on one in Birmingham on the 8th Oct (full indie UK). Game Dev North is on in Liverpool in Dec 13th. TIGA regularly run indie dev nights all over the country.

      There are lots more too, here’s a list of a few other ones –

  1. I find at game events people are always willing to talk, just have to introduce yourself (which can be hard I know, I’m getting better over time!) Remember they’re all gamers, coders etc, generally people like you who probably share a lot of your interests. So deep breath, “Hi I’m…”

  2. For your information, in France the politicians almost all got to the same school too. How cliquey!

  3. Good point, Cliff, and as true of the so-called stars of any industry. There are always a few who think whatever deity(ies) exist gave them an ass for the sole purpose of having it kissed, but most are just pretty regular people intimidated at gatherings over meeting folks just like the rest of us. It’s very human.

    Sometimes I’ve surprised myself by getting around this just by being in the right place at the right time, and saying something that wasn’t incredibly stupid (for a change). In that way I developed a low-level friendship with Issac Asimov, many years ago. I can’t speak to whether he was a genius or not as some people would say, but off the stage he was a nice, thoughtful, extroverted letch who listened as well as he spoke, and liked looking down the cleavages of female groupies. We’d meet and chat whenever we showed up in the same places, just because (as you point out) other people would stand back and, well, stare.

    Sorry for rambling, but you’re spot on this.

  4. Heh nice post Cliff.
    I remember when we used to meet up with the old forums people in places like Birmingham and Reading.

    The first time was it was a bit scary meeting everyone but it was always good fun and a good chat with like minded people.

    I’d definitely encourage any indie or aspiring indie to find any events around, these days they seem to be everywhere!


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