Ken's Design & Development Notes

Just talking about stuff I've learned…

Posts Tagged ‘indie games

What is an Indie Game?

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During lunch today, I read an IGM article asking if MineCraft was still an indie game.  Apparently there is some internal angst about whether they should continue to cover this game.  Some people think MineCraft is too big and/or has made too much money to continue to be classed as an indie game.

I think that’s hogwash.

First of all Mojang employs only 16 people.  That’s all!  This is a small company.  In comparison, I work for a company that employs 10,000+.  Your local grocer probably employs more than 16 people!  OK, OK, most XBLIG indies are made by 1, 2 or even a few people, but since MineCraft is now available on multiple platforms, just how many people can they really afford per platform?  Not 16.

Second, they don’t make “too much money.”  How was that ever a qualifier of an indie game?  Is CastleminerZ no longer indie?  What about The Impossible Game?  C’mon, if we’re at all honest, most of us would love to publish a game that sells millions of copies.

Third, IGM took a poll, and so far, 73% of the readers think that MineCraft is still indie.   We’ll see how the poll ends, but for now it’s pretty clear to me that MineCraft is, and always will be, indie.  Yes, a big, successful, money-making indie game, but an indie game nonetheless.

Maybe Mojang will one day no longer be an indie studio, and maybe if MineCraft 2 ever comes into being it won’t be very indie-like, but for now, I’m sure Mojang can continue to be innovative and “independent” of the corporate influences that can stifle agility and innovation in larger companies.

UPDATE: As of 8/4 (Saturday morning) The IGM poll is up to 580 votes, and 76% of the readers think MineCraft is still indie.

Written by kenccone

July 31, 2012 at 6:00 pm

A Few Lessons Learned…

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Image: Boxart for Andy's Notepad [Saucers]

Boxart for Andy’s Notepad [Saucers]

After several months of part-time development, we finally published our first Xbox Live indie game.  It’s been out for just over three weeks now and I’ve learned as much in the last three weeks as I learned in the previous three months! Here are a few of the most important things I learned.

  1. Just because you like your game doesn’t mean everyone else will.
    Reviews for our game have been mixed, ranging from “A” to boring.  No one said it was A+ and no one said it stank.  It has been really interesting to hear the (very limited) feedback.  There are some really helpful points that have been made, but not many reviewers seem to have seen the game the way we do. Maybe we’ve gotten too close to the game?
  2. Reviewers have a different set of goals than developers. 
    Yes, we both want games reviewed, the difference is that I want my game reviewed, and they want to review many games, preferably the types of games that will get them the most mileage.  (This of course depends on the type of reviewer they are, what kinds of reviews they like to write and what their readers like to see.)
    What this really means is that the developer has to make it as easy as possible to review their game, and that no, most critics don’t have the time, or maybe even the desire to help you improve your game.  You’ll sometimes have to read between the lines of a vaguely negative review or ignore what will seem like an incredibly harsh statement to get to the gem of feedback that is offered. That’s OK; just roll with it and improve.
    For the record, at least one reviewer has been nice enough to provide further feedback. IndieTheory comes to mind here…
  3. Don’t release your product until you love it!
    You know, this is probably the most important lesson of all. I loved the multiplayer game in Andy’s Notepad [Saucers], but had gotten used the weapon imbalance.  I didn’t realize that Justin (my Coneware partner) didn’t love the single player mode until after release.  Last our kids had some suggestions that would have improved the game, but somehow we let those get lost in the pressure to release. (Indie devs get pressure to release? Really? Yes, we do.)

For now, that’s what comes to mind.  I could also talk about lessons from gameplay mechanics to the (in?)effectiveness of our marketing but these are my top three, at least for now.

Written by kenccone

July 24, 2012 at 3:21 am

For the Love of the Game

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We’ve had a few pretty cool reviews on our first indie game: Andy’s Notepad [Saucers].  Our latest review (by @IndieGamerChick) was notable.  It was both complimentary and critical in the scathingly constructive (or should I say constructively scathing?) style that I’ve only read on her blog.

Damaged "Saucer"

A Truly Horrible AI

Kairi (her “stage name”) first complimented our game on its style.  Then she proceeded to criticize the gameplay, weapon switching, AI, weapon balance, and bullet visibility, of course with the accompanying word pictures often found in her reviews.  I really enjoy reading her reviews.  …of other people’s games.  To be honest though, I couldn’t help but laugh as I read her review of ours.  …and yes, I did enjoy it, I must admit.  I’ve read it several times, and each time couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face.If you’ve read the review, you know she didn’t like our game.  I think she wanted to like it, but it had some flaws in her eyes.  After reading throught the review, I twitter-thanked her for her well-written review and she responded, thanking me “for taking it well.”  I also remember her tweet to the devs of A Pixel Escape complimenting them for their “good grace and class.”

Which brings me to my point.

  • Style
  • Craftsmanship
  • Design
  • Gameplay
  • Mechanics
  • Quality

…all are necessary, but not sufficient.

What is most needed in indie games today is “the love of the game.”

To me “Indie” should be synonymous with “Amateur” in the best sense of the word.  Meaning “lover of,” an amateur (indie game developer) ought to be someone who does this for the love of the game or the love of developing games.  We don’t do it for an ego trip, and we’re not doing it just for money, believe me.  I’ve got a real day-job for that.

Does loving what we do mean we’ll always make the best games? Not necessarily, or at least not at first.  But I do think it means that we’ll enjoy the journey, appreciate those who travel with us, and because of the community feedback, we eventually will make the best games.  Our attitudes show up in our games, and I don’t want anything we produce at Coneware to be truly describable as “joyless.”

So a note to developers: You are not your game.  When someone criticizes your creation, even though you may have poured your soul into it, unless they come out and name you, they are not criticizing you.  Critics are a necessary and helpful part of our creative process and if we can take their sarcasm with a grain of salt (or bucket, as applicable) then maybe we can improve our skills.

In the end we, at Coneware, take what we find helpful, apply it as we need to, and hopefully bottle up some of the fun we had in creating our game, so that you the player can enjoy the game like a bottle of fine wine.  And if our games start out more like the boxed wine variety, then by all means enjoy it, but for the love of all that’s holy, please don’t drink it out of a Dixie Cup!


Written by kenccone

July 11, 2012 at 6:37 am

Posted in Indie Games

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