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Stateside: The 'indie bubble' won't burst, but the one around King and Supercell just might

The indie glass is still being filled

Stateside: The 'indie bubble' won't burst, but the one around King and Supercell just might
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Lately, an idea has been floating around about the idea of the "indie bubble" – essentially, that the current conditions that support the success of some independent developers will disappear as the market gets saturated with more and more games from indies.

Perhaps there is something reasonable about the fear, but it is mostly unwarranted pessimism.

In my view, indies are in a position of growing strength, and there is reason to actually be optimistic about the future of independent development.

Still growing

First, the internet has had a profound impact on the way that content is consumed and created.

As Jeff Vogel, who penned the post that popularised this recent thought, says: "All you need to make a game is a $299 computer, a chair, time, and some software."

Some of that software allows for easy cross-platform creation too. Distribution is easier than ever thanks to the internet. Various gatekeepers have popped up, but it's getting easier to pass through. Creation is becoming increasingly democratised.

So yes, there's a fear of saturation because of the fewer barriers, but the thing about saturation is, while the supply is growing, so is the demand.

The mobile platforms are still growing, and new ones like Jolla and Tizen could even be realistic options. Microconsoles are starting to pop up. Even the traditional consoles are opening their doors to indies. The market has not hit its saturation point yet because it's still growing.

TV times

And even if we argue that the market is starting to saturate, we can look at another entertainment industry where a multitude of new competitors have arisen: television.

In the US, the major broadcast networks dominated the ratings for years. But then what happened? More people got cable and, with more resources from the subscribers, cable networks started to produce their own original programming.

The upstart cable networks are thriving, and the traditional broadcast powers are suffering.

A cable network like AMC might not be truly 'indie' in any sense of the word, but indies can look at how its become powerful.

AMC took advantage of opportunities to start producing original content, helped to cultivate an audience for its acclaimed programming, utilised streaming services like Netflix to get more eyes on its shows, and helped to build itself up.

Years later, it not only airs The Walking Dead - one the most popular scripted shows on US TV in the 18-49 demographic - but it managed to make a legitimate ratings success out of Breaking Bad.

It's growing and succeeding, even though the TV and cable landscape has become more saturated with supply.

Reasons to be cheerful

Game development is not much different: 'saturation' has a larger effect on the share of power and revenue that the traditional powers have, not the upstarts.

Suppliers providing compelling alternative content can find ways to succeed when distribution is as easy as it is now. And the influx of affordable technology makes getting quality production values easier than ever.

In gaming, it helps that popular titles like Minecraft and even non-indie ones like Candy Crush don't rely on sexy graphics, but on their own well-defined styles.

While there's plenty of optimism to be had for indie developers in untapped and emerging markets, the relatively-established one of mobile has been a struggle point for indies.

I believe this has been because mobile's top charts in the early days were accessible to developers of all sizes, but lately the top-grossing charts have become dominated by well-funded developers with marketing and monetisation muscle.

Many indies, however, have been recalcitrant to accept free-to-play and some of the monetisation methods the business model entails.

I don't think Oceanhorn's success at launch at an $8.99 price point is an anomaly: yes, it's a game with great production values, a pre-release hype cycle, and a big Apple feature, but it shows that there are mobile gamers willing to spend money on a game that isn't just a free-to-play or cheap game.

Too many developers have tried to fight on the same scales as firms that can out-produce and out-market them, instead of standing out in their price and content.

When is a bubble a bubble?

A shift needs to occur with indies, that the mobile market has changed. But, honestly, if there's a bubble there, it's one that King, Supercell, and the like currently have blown up with their monetisation tactics. That's the bubble that looks most like popping.

Indies are cockroaches. There will be those developers who will find a way to survive and thrive no matter what. There will be plenty who get squashed, and even with these new platforms opening their doors to indies, plenty will still fail.

A utopian vision of a gaming world where everyone with a quality game finding financial success just won't pan out.

But the shifts in the market are making it easier – certainly not easy, but not as hard as it was before – for developers to succeed, and for more to succeed. Even those with niche products can get their game out there to that niche, no matter where they are.

But just as a metal band shouldn't expect to sell as well as Lady Gaga, or even to become the next Metallica, indies need to be realistic about their chances even in an expanding market. Those who make compelling products and figure out how to sell them, how to solve the eternal discoverability problem, will be the ones to succeed.

Don't just be pessimistic about the difficulties that exist for indies: the glass is still being filled.

Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at 148Apps.com, which was acquired by PocketGamer.biz publisher Steel Media in 2012.