The “indiepocalypse” is this looming threat over the welfare of indie developers and the viability of indie games in the marketplace. Under its imposing shadow, indie developers are facing a repeat of the famed 1980s video game crash that ended Atari’s dominance. The threat doesn’t impact AAA developers and publishers, only indie developers. Yet, there is no such threat to the viability of the indie market.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the fear of such an indiepocalypse. The most obvious issue is the over-saturation of indie games on the market. There is something to the magnitude of a billion indie games entering some marketplace everyday. This includes the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Steam, GOG, itch.io, and many more. Some of these stores are easier to get a game on than others, but each of them adds new indie games on a regular basis.
Why is this happening? Because game development is easier today than it has ever been. The mass availability of cheap or free game development tools, such as Unity 3D, Unreal, Haxe, and others, has allowed newcomers to the games industry to create and release games in relatively short periods of time. This has given rise to hundreds of thousands of games on mobile marketplaces, the vast majority of them being terrible. Those that are good and worth the time to play and pay for, are often lost in this vast sea of garbage. The PC scene doesn’t fair much better, but thanks to the more strict nature of admittance to Steam and other PC marketplaces, the looming indiepocalypse isn’t as apparent on that platform.
What this means is that indie developers are having a harder time making a living. But this is nothing new. Indie devs have always had a hard time with visibility, even when the market wasn’t as saturated. The truth is that indie developers have never had it as good as they have it today. Things will only get better.
Just think about it. 10 years ago, getting a game released on Steam or a console was just a pipe dream for most game developers who didn’t have a major publisher. Today, indie developers are getting onto Steam and on consoles with relative ease and on their own merits.
Additionally, the availability of tools and game engines is also more of a blessing than it is a detriment. I have seen many talented game developers arise from nothing to well respected developers based solely on the free to use tools available to them. Without those tools, they would not have been able to express themselves and succeed in that way.
What we are seeing in the games industry is exactly the sort of market upheaval seen in the music, book, and even the video entertainment industries. Independent entertainers of all sorts are able to produce and share their work on an amazing scale today. More people are able to make a living in the creation space than were able to do so 10-20 years ago. This is emphatically a good thing.
While it is true that I have to work extra hard to find the good games, music, books, and internet shows, the fact is I have more good options of all of those things than I could ever play, read, watch or listen to in my spare time. Even if I spent every waking hour playing games, assuming I have the money to do so, I probably won’t run out of good games to play for quite some time.
This doesn’t mean that game developers have it easy, not by far. They have to work hard to reach the level of success necessary for them to make a living. Much like everything else, that is nothing new. They have to make games that people want and get those games to the people who want to play them. There are plenty of people out there willing to share their experiences with others.
Lars Doucet of Level Up Labs shared a great article explaining the various bottlenecks that game developers must tackle in order to get their game into the hands of as many people as possible. Many of these bottlenecks are easy to fix while others may take more time and work. The important points that Lars discusses is that many times developers will focus on the wrong bottlenecks, thus limiting their potential success.
This sentiment is expressed by many other developers.
As a game player, I feel lucky to live in a time where I have so many games to play. As a game developer, I recognize the work that I will have to do to make sure that I make money. For that, I am thankful for the information so many successful, and unsuccessful, game developers share with the rest of the game development community.