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On Independent Games And Cutting Out The Middleman

simoniker posted more than 10 years ago | from the publishers-publishers-everywhere dept.

The Almighty Buck 33

Thanks to DIYGames for their two-part series discussing the problems independent game developers have with distribution channels, and possible ways to stop these distributors taking all the profits. The articles explain the positives of online sales: "Building customer awareness for a game took time and energy... [but] with the advent of the distribution channels like RealOne Arcade, Shockwave, and the others, indies now have access all the customers of the distribution channel virtually overnight", alongside the negative fiscal aspects: "In most cases the indie must agree to give up 60-70% of their game's profits for the privilege of having instant access to the distribution channel's customers." The piece ends by discussing alternatives, pointing out that "A [thriving game-related] community is as viral a selling tool as any, and it helps preserve the life of the game in the marketplace."

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The combination... (2, Funny)

Sevn (12012) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831276)

of some sort of generic payment system coupled with a slashdot mention has seemed to work fairly well in the past.

Garage Games? (0)

nathankerr (722077) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831346)

I thought that the whole problem of distributing games was being addressed by companies like Garage Games [garagegames.com] ?

Wanting to break into the area of indie game development myself, is that the way to go? Or what? Anyone have any experience in this area?

my experience (4, Insightful)

BortQ (468164) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831457)

I am a small independent game developer who handles 100% of distribution myself. It's not really all that hard, and there are advantages to keeping everything close to home.

Not only do I not have to pay some ridiculous percentage of my profits, but I am 0 steps away from my users.

Put up a decent website with a way of getting feedback from your users (I use the excellent and free phpBB [phpbb.com] message board). This can also help create a community around your product. If you listen to what they say then your game will get better and better. Another thing that I have done is try to optimize my website for certain google searches.

I can't imagine any paid distributor putting as much thought and effort into such things for one of a hundred small games they are dealing with. By doing it myself I am confident that it is being done well.

Doing this I have seen my game grow from nothing into a steady stream of sales. I'm glad I did it the way I did, rather then trying to go the easy way and get some other company to do it. See my sig for a link to my game's website, which includes a user forum and an online ranking system.

Re:my experience (2, Interesting)

blueZhift (652272) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831641)

This also sounds like a good way for independent developers to survive and make money against the likes of EA and other behemoths of the industry.

I'd like to think that independent developers will be the source of new gameplay ideas and genres in the future. The ability to easily set up shop on the internet means that the coolest new games won't necessarily be bought at Best Buy.

Re: Yeah well (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7832581)

You might be content with what you sell now, but if you would sell 100 as many units, that's still a bigger profit than you make now even if you lose 50% or whatever to a distributor...

I'd say you should explore ALL options, but just don't sign anything exclusive.

Re:my experience (1)

microTodd (240390) | more than 10 years ago | (#7834234)

So what is your game? I looked at your User Profile and sig and I can't find a link to your game site.

Re:my experience (1)

BortQ (468164) | more than 10 years ago | (#7835020)

It can be found at http://sillysoft.net [sillysoft.net]

Re:my experience (1)

stevey (64018) | more than 10 years ago | (#7852674)

I don't have a MacOS machine so I'm not your target audience.

I would fix the obvious typo on the front page [sillysoft.net] though. "infinte" is not the word you wanted ;)

Glad it's going well for you, but I guess it depends how much competition you have for your game(s) and your platform of choice.

On the PC there are a million and one freeware games that you have to compete with - and lots more shareware. I guess if you can sell one or two and support the cost of your time + hosting then you're OK.

But right now it's hard for me to imagine that a small company could come out and sell enough to become anything other than a cult hit.

Re:my experience (1)

BortQ (468164) | more than 10 years ago | (#7854289)

Hey, thanks for pointing out that typo.

Great model (4, Interesting)

Goldberg's Pants (139800) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831466)

The game "Out of the Park Baseball" was marketed briefly through Infogrames I think it was under the name "Season Ticket Baseball", but that deal finished with version 5. OOTP is a HUGE baseball game with a legion of fans, myself included.

The irony is, an independent developer distributing like this easily makes more money per copy than with a name publisher, and probably suffers less copying. OOTP for example is protected by Elicence which, last time I checked, has yet to be cracked.

More and more games are being released this way. It's very much like the indie film business. The most creativity and originality is with these indie development groups, while the mainstream publishers will only push generic "been there, done that" games.

In ten years, I fully expect the independent developers to rank up next to the independent filmmakers for kudos and cutting edge material.

The real problem is the stereotype (1, Interesting)

superpulpsicle (533373) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831546)

This is a fact, when people think indie games they have a certain image of the game being real shabby. These are some things people told me when I was younger trying to pull some indie product together. Damn disencouraging...

1.) The game will have no real customer support

2.) The indie programmers couldn't have tested it on all these hardware

3.) Indie games are probably too short

4.) If it's so good, why isn't it in stores

5.) By the time you're done the technology has changed

It's up to each developer to change that (1)

Midnight Ryder (116189) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831715)

Yep, those stereotypes exist. Sucks too :-) But, it's up to the developer / self publisher to change those impressions. That's a part of marketing ANY product - trying to overcome any negative impressions that exist about your product.

Can it be done? Heck yeah! Some indies have very ugly websites - well, that's not helping sales any (I've been guilty of this one.) If the webpage & sales pages don't look all nice and polished, why would I think the game it's self is all nice and polished?

Market your strengths - unique gameplay (if your game is unique ;-), incredible online community, whatever it is that makes your game stand out. If it doesn't stand out (IE, you just released your third version of the old standard Arcade Lines clone), you don't stand a chance.

Find out what people's impressions of your game are, both before they have played it and after. Yes, it's quite possible to do, just takes a lot of footwork :-) Then, strategize how to overcome the negative perceptions that people have - and market either directly against that perception, or find ways to actually capitolize on that (For instance - some people think indie games are too short, so, market it as a short game with lots of replay value!)

It's all in how you invest your time and energy when it comes to marketing.

Good work by Dan M. (4, Insightful)

Midnight Ryder (116189) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831640)

When I spoke at IGC '03, one of my comments was "Publishers are tools.", and went on to explain that I included online publishers with that too. By that, I mean they are just another way to build up your business. Use them as you see fit, but, don't try and run your business using just one tool. While Dan mentioned that it's a $57 Million dollar business (download games), that's NOT that big of a pool to play in when you are up against some much larger opponents. Make use of existing channels - get your name out there some. But your core business should be building YOUR channel. Dan presented some excellent strategies for this sort of thing - some of which I'll be making use of since I've got some games going into retail space here in the next month or so. Use retail space and other online sales channels as a bit of a trojan horse for marketing your own channels.

Quick note side note / nearly off topic note about the GarageGames group, since Dan mentions them being great guys in his article - they invited Shockwave and some of the other publishers to talk at Indie Games Con '03, and they themselves are online publishers. Before getting up and insulting my hosts, I pulled Jay Moore of GarageGames aside, and told him what I was planning on saying. This would seem to be a setup for conflict - telling people not to make long-term use of publishers while talking at a publisher sponsored event. Not only did Jay say no problem, the really DO want Indies to build up thier own channels, and Jay encouraged me to say what I planned on saying. To me, they are guys who "Get it" when it comes to dealing with Indies. Shockwave, etc... well, they just want to be yet another retailer, selling online space instead of shelf space. They "Don't Get It" when it comes to dealing with Indies, and I'm waiting to hear the horror stories about Indies who depended solely on channels like them to start showing up in about a year or so. IMHO, these guys are just as likely as big publishers to start bending development teams over the table.

(And in the interest of full disclosure - I talk to Dan McDonnald on a semi-regular basis. But then again... that's pretty typical for Indie game developers these days to chat, talk shop, and strategize with other indies :-)

Whats with former Sierra developers (1)

Mike Hawk (687615) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831655)

So Garage Games is founded by Dynamix of Tribes 2 fame, a Sierra published game. Valve also published via Sierra. Since then Garage Games has sprung up and Valve went for the whole Steam fiasco. What does Sierra do to these developers? You don't see id fleeing Activision or Epic fleeing Atari (Infogrames) even though neither is owned by the respective publisher.

Has this ever been talked about? Why do all the ex-Sierra people feel the need to change the world? Besides Steam, Valve signed a multi-title publishing deal with Activision. [fragland.net] This makes it sound like they are no longer sold on the online distribution thing, but they still fled Sierra. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?

Re:Whats with former Sierra developers (1)

irc.goatse.cx troll (593289) | more than 10 years ago | (#7832485)

Steam really is a great idea, and I hope it takes off. Some friends and I joked about how great it would be if you could just buy a cdkey for a game online, so that we could then download the game(from our own means..heh.) and play without the annoyences that come with buying a game the old fashioned way (the classic Diablo2 Disk Juggle(tm), scratched disks, all that stuff).

With steam, you'd be able to do that, but with them providing the download.

Sure it has its drawbacks (I can still pop in a quake1 cd and install it and play it, but I doubt the same will be true for HL1 in another 5 years), but overall its a good idea.

Re:Whats with former Sierra developers (1)

slaker (53818) | more than 10 years ago | (#7836302)

Steam is a lousy idea.

Until VERY recently I had a sub-28.8 connection to the internet.

Someone gave me a boxed copy of Halflife with CS. I blissfully played the single-player game.

Then that same someone showed up with his PC. "Let's play CS!", he said. ... and my copy wouldn't work with mine. At all.
I thought: OK, I'll just download the updates.

The in-game updater throws errors. "That's certainly odd", I thought.

My friend tells me about steam.

I have to SIGN UP with some retarded game site in order to download the steam installer, and wait 20 minutes to download the installer.

And then I found out that the installer was 600something MB.

Which, at 28.8, is a solid couple of days of downloading.

WHY THE *FUCK* WASN'T THE STEAM VERSION IN THE BOX!?! My friend tells me the only thing I needed out of my nice box was the serial number for Half Life. I know the game has been out for a while but if the content for the game has changed that much why are they selling it?

Now I have broadband, I've signed up with the retarded game site, downloaded the 600something MB of CS updates, and found one of the most god-awful launcher programs in the history of time. Window-spawning, moderately incomprehensible stats, a "search" feature that doesn't work and no explanation as to what all the different games are.

Fuck it. I went back to the program that came in my box.

Re:Whats with former Sierra developers (1)

irc.goatse.cx troll (593289) | more than 10 years ago | (#7836663)

"
WHY THE *FUCK* WASN'T THE STEAM VERSION IN THE BOX!?! My friend tells me the only thing I needed out of my nice box was the serial number for Half Life. I know the game has been out for a while but if the content for the game has changed that much why are they selling it?"

It has actually, ever since.. a week after CS went retail theres been a zip file you have to download containing all the stuff thats not on the cd (jos.wad, two maps, updated titles.txt, and some others).
The problem with how it is now is people are still buying off the shelf. When you're able to just double click "Condition Zero", verify builing, and have the game downloaded and playing in ~45mins then it will be much more convienient.

Re:Whats with former Sierra developers (1)

DS-1107 (680578) | more than 10 years ago | (#7833963)

You need not always view it is fleeing the field when you move on. A classic example of this would be Miles Davis and the people that played in his bands, they all moved on, and most did create their own bands after. Now it was not perhaps all due to Miles, but he did help to evolve lots of upcoming bandleaders -. Not sure if I would dare give Sierra an unce of that status, but perhaps the individual developers should be given some likness to the muscians that played with miles, that is wanting to try otherthings, or perhaps sometimes just fleeing. And as they say - The grass is always greener on the otherside.

That said about Sierra, it's correct about people fleeing sierra - I would guess it goes down to support, and sierra seems to be loosing touch in the last years; while both Infogrames and Activision have a pretty good 3d party support, of course there are still conflicts (for example in the PR department).

Live For Speed (2, Interesting)

dchamp (89216) | more than 10 years ago | (#7831682)

One example of an indie game that's turning out to be a very good product is "Live For Speed" [liveforspeed.net] . They're keeping it as an independent product, and seem to be doing OK. I don't know what their sales figures are, but based on the # of online players, it can't be too bad.

I find it amusing when people make a big fuss about not being able to go indie - when others just do it [righteousbabe.com] .

p.s. Anyone remember Doom?

Next to be sued... (1)

thirty2bit (685528) | more than 10 years ago | (#7832032)

Up next to be sued: game distributors EA, Activision, Eidos etc. for infringing upon the RIAA's vampiristic model of marketing and parasitic artist relationships.

Send it to Penny Arcade (2, Funny)

Kris_J (10111) | more than 10 years ago | (#7832575)

If your game rocks 150,000 people will know about it within two days. If your game sucks, well, the same number of people will know about it but it will be your fault. :)

Shameless Phantom Plug (1)

Dr Reducto (665121) | more than 10 years ago | (#7832833)

Infinium Labs, the creators of the Phantom gaming console, have a REALLY good plan to integrate Indies. Since games will be downloaded, and not sold in the retail chain, Infinium is allowing just about anyone to get a development kit. If your company makes a game, infinium will host it and give you 40% of the selling price for every unit purchased! That's a REALLY good idea!

Re:Shameless Phantom Plug (1)

DaveCBio (659840) | more than 10 years ago | (#7832962)

Have you actually seen any real hardware yet?

Re:Shameless Phantom Plug (1)

Dr Reducto (665121) | more than 10 years ago | (#7833004)

Yeah, there are actual shots of it in action, not just the renders that everyone complains about.

The Inside Story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7842693)

Dave, as the unofficial "insider" on games.slashdot.org, what is the industry's general perception of the phantom? Do you guys joke about it at the water cooler, or are people viably looking at supporting it as a platform?

Re:Shameless Phantom Plug (1)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 10 years ago | (#7833353)

Of course, from everything I've read about indie deveopers and the Phantom, they'll still be shut out. Because the more the developer (or publisher) pays, the more exposure the game will have to the audience; meaning high-ranking slots will be reserved for high-paying developers and publishers, instead of high-quality indie games. So really, it does nothing for the indie developer besides waste their money.

Re:Shameless Phantom Plug (1)

Dr Reducto (665121) | more than 10 years ago | (#7833430)

But does that mater with an online distrobution model? They are not fighting for retail space. If there is a "highest-user rated" feature that picks the best games regardless, Indies will be able to get on roughly equal ground distribution-wise.

Re:Shameless Phantom Plug (1)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 10 years ago | (#7843314)

They're still fighting for space in order to be exposed to potential customers. From everything I've read, there will not be a user-rated best pick, only spots that developers pay for. I would post a link to where the CEO and folks said this, but I'm too lazy to look through the penny-arcade archives to find it.

Re:Shameless Phantom Plug (1)

Senior Bevis (657822) | more than 10 years ago | (#7857360)

Who cares. I don't think I'm the only one who chooses games based on third party reviews and word-of-mouth, not which one is one the top shelf. As long as they offer a search function, it shouldn't matter (much) which game is one the home page or the top of the genre's listings.

The First Phantom Fanboy? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7842655)

Wow! DrReducto, I dub thee "FIRST PHANTOM FANBOY." You have a long and arduous journey ahead of you, filled with taunts and insults containing the letter "X" and numbers repeatedly from all *3* - no *4* (this is slashdot; lest we forget the PC fanboys!) - video gaming camps! Stay true, noble DrReducto, and you will actually get to visit Infinium Labs offices...in a secret CAVE!!

Online distribution (2, Insightful)

DaveCBio (659840) | more than 10 years ago | (#7832952)

Is the only hope for independents in this age of consolidation. Publishers are less and less likely to take on projects from companies with unproven track records. Even if they do, the devs often get the short end of the stick in terms of royalties and keeping their IP.

BitTorrent? (2, Interesting)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 10 years ago | (#7833338)

Let people download software for free after paying for a serial number to register it with. If the game involves online play, only allow a certain number of serial numbers acive simultaniusly - like neverwinter nights or diablo. Use file-swarming, like BitTorrent, to keep costs of serving the large files down. You could even incorporate file-swarming into the application - if it has online play - so that users with broadband connections act as low (1-2kbytes/sec) seeds. Most of this, of course, depends on the game being partially or completely multiplayer. But what kind of game is it now-a-days, if it isn't multiplayer?

the only necessary distribution channels... (2, Informative)

*weasel (174362) | more than 10 years ago | (#7835348)

a service just needs to crop up that offers indie game developers site/game-downloadhosting, and secure payment for a basic monthly fee (to cover hosting) and then a small cut of any profits (to cover CC transactions).

offering optional web design service, marketing service, and software protection/activation service would be a plus, but not particularly necessary.

Another handy thing would be a gaming press that actually paid attention to the indy scene, instead of just the mainstream scene or the japanese import scene.

Indie developers just need someone to let them start taking sales when and if they ever get done. mixing it with the most primary community building/advertising tool (the official website) is just natural.

i dunno, all these other 'channels' like shockwave and such seem like unnecesary overhead. sure those sites can drive people to your game - but so could ads on those sites, or more importantly ads on sites known to garner serious gamers. the kind of people who -know- indie gaming isn't all inside the stereotypes (as pointed out above).

the problem is, traditionally 'publishers' are the people indies -want- to talk to, because they have seed money to help the thing happen. Personally i don't think any indy should go that route, and i don't think any game that does go that route can be called 'indy'. quite simply - big business will never be interested in fringe and unproven games (unless from a multiply proven team) - and quite frankly they shouldn't be. it isn't good business to keep taking big risks.

Furthermore, not having a publisher is rather the bit that keeps most indy games what they are. true to the intent and spirit of the designer: not marketing, not sales, not focus groups, not suits.
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