Amateur Versus Indie?

13 02 2008

Braid

It started with a GameSetWatch op ed:

The gaming press is conflating two trends in game development into a single category that they label the Independent Game. The first is commercial oriented, casual, independently produced games by people attempting to make a living from writing and designing games without committing to a publisher. These I’m happy to call Indie Games, and they operate much in the same way that the independent labels in the music industry, or independent studios in Hollywood.

The second is subversive, modded, copycat, patched together from pre-built parts, non-commercial or anti-commercial. Amateur game development is done by people who are scratching an itch, who can’t not write computer games, who want to see their ideas in pixel form ahead of trying to generate a return.

and went on to Gamesutra too. The comments on both have been just as polarised as the article itself, but I think he may have hit on a useful distinction, even if it is very rough right now. He’s absolutely right in saying “Most modding efforts are amateur games although their creators may deny it”, and I think the difference between an “arthouse” game and an indie effort aimed at commercial success is going to become more apparent over time as more indie games turn up via digital distribution and others languish in beta on obscure corners of the net.

People seem to feel attacked by the division, as if their work is being called valueless. Some developers are offended by the idea that their games might have no commercial value, and others are offended by the idea that their games have no cultural value.

I don’t think that’s what he’s getting at. Aesthetes and businessmen coldly eyeing each other is an outright caricature of the indie games scene, but such a controversial and quite arbitrarily polarised division raises an interesting question worth examination by all indie developers: Are people doing it for the money or their art? I’m certain most people would answer both, but if they had to give one up, which would it be?

(Pictured: Braid, which as an XBLA game with some very deep thinking and concepts behind it seems to be the most prominent example of both extremes together).

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