Rubin: “Games are becoming harder to make”

Infinity Ward’s exec producer worries for smaller studios.


Call Of Duty: Ghosts’ executive producer has highlighted the rising costs and increasing difficulty presented by the AAA market for developers, and even for Infinity Ward.

“It’s a scary thing, and I’ll take my Call Of Duty hat off for a minute here, but games are becoming harder to make, more expensive to make,” Mark Rubin said in a video interview with GameInformer.

“I feel like smaller studios are having trouble – I can’t speak for them but I would think – are having trouble making games that fill the big AAA market because they’re harder to do. It is kind of a bummer that games are getting so hard and difficult to make.”

“People want better and better graphics, they want more realistic looking art assets and that comes at a cost and that’s a hard thing to have to deal with.”

He added that it “bothered” him to think that games were trying to chase Call Of Duty’s success, using the example that he loved MMOs, but wouldn’t want to make a World Of Warcraft clone.

During the interview Rubin, who has been executive producer at the studio since August 200, also spoke about some of the challenges about developing for current and next-generation platforms at the same time. The game is due for release on both PlayStation consoles, both Xbox consoles and PC later this year, and Treyarch is developing a version for Wii U.



Sony: “We’re seeing the birth of a new wave of next-gen developers”

If you’re not an independent developer there’s a chance you might not have heard the name Shahid Ahmad until he took the stage at this year’s Sony Gamescom press conference. He admits his appearance was a bit last minute, a bit unexpected, but it shouldn’t have been. As senior business development manager at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe he’s in charge of strategic content for all the Sony platforms.

Q: How does it feel to be leading the indie charge for Sony?

Shahid Ahmad: The interesting thing is that it’s the indies who are leading the indie charge. It’s certainly very exciting to be involved with so many of them, and it’s a position that can easily change for any platform holder or any publisher for that matter. You have to keep working at it.

It’s a position that we respect. It has only come about as a result of us respecting our partners, many of whom now are independent developers.

Q: And have you seen an increase in the number of people contacting you since Gamescom?

Shahid Ahmad: The interest has been incredible and not just in our approach to independent developers and our perceived greater openness, but just in the platforms, Vita, PlayStation 4, has been huge.

“Vita does seem like a natural habitat for indie developers. It is an incredibly versatile device”

Q: It seems that Vita has evolved to become natural home for indie developers…

Shahid Ahmad: About a year ago, shortly after I took on the challenge of bringing games to Vita, it seemed like a difficult challenge. But it does seem like a natural habitat for indie developers. It is an incredibly versatile device. That screen is amazing. It kind of suits that intimate experience. A lot of indies are making very intimate experiences and completely new types of game.

I think one of the interesting things for me was that if you weren’t going to necessarily get games first on Vita that when they appeared on Vita they were going to be best on Vita. And more and more people – not just me [laughs] – thankfully are coming to that conclusion, and that’s really gratifying.

It’s fulfilling the ambitions of a lot of independent developers and I’m really excited about that. I think everyone at PlayStation is excited about that.

Q: Looking at the example of Mike Bithell who put Thomas Was Alone on Vita, and is now working on Volume for PS4, does Vita act as a stepping stone for indie developers onto console?

Shahid Ahmad: There are quite a few developers who are quite happy to stay with Vita and not see it just as an entry point. But obviously people are going to be excited about PlayStation 4 – who isn’t? It’s generated a lot of excitement across the whole industry, not just with independent developers. But I think there’s a sense with a lot of independent developers that they have more access – or not so much more access but a sense of more openness – from PlayStation, and the very idea that they can develop for PlayStation 4 is very exciting for them.

Thomas Was Alone

And for us it’s not news, you know. Mark Cerny said over and over again that it was developers that helped to shape the design of the PlayStation 4, and of course a lot of the indies that we’re working with came from a AAA background as well. So they’re not all brand new developers.

Q: What areas do you find the indies you work with need support in? What’s your approach when dealing with them?

Shahid Ahmad: Traditionally we’ve been very much a B2B type company when it comes to developers and publishers. The reason for that is PlayStation 2 was huge and we needed to find systems and processes that would help us to work with as many partners as possible, while also keeping the quality levels up.

With indies it’s much more a case of the onus of quality, and the onus of creating a really good experience is on them. They take that responsibility very, very seriously. So there are two things: first of all we have to make the process easier for them – we’ve done that and we’re continuing to do that.

A lot of these people absolutely love PlayStation. For them it’s a dream to be on PlayStation and that kind of takes us by surprise as well, because that’s not a typical B2B-type behaviour. It’s very much an individual and a fan-type behaviour, so the interesting thing that you’ve got going on here is a fan of PlayStation on one side of the table, another fan of PlayStation on the other side of the table.

That’s new and it’s very exciting, but the thing is some of those legacy processes still remain so our job is to try and make navigating those processes as easy as possible for the developers we’re working with. They’re not used to that level of process.

Q: And is that just a case of being on call when you’re needed?

Shahid Ahmad: Very much a case of being on call but also of giving them as much help as we can. We’ve got excellent facilities that not a lot of people know about. We’ve got a developer relations team that are constantly available to help with basic account management issues, and then we have R&D who help with engineering issues and technical issues. All of that stuff is free once you’re with PlayStation. Not a lot of people are aware of that.

But us too, in the biz dev side, being available on Skype, being available on email, being available on the phone or in person, that’s really really important. It’s all about the relationships now.

Q: So what does your typical working day look like?

Shahid Ahmad: There is no typical working day. I wish there was. Because we’re working with so many partners they keep things very, very interesting for us. Lots of discussion with developers on all kinds of social media. I think we’re most visible on Twitter, but there’s also a lot that goes on behind the scenes on Skype and email and on the phone.

“Our job is to try and make navigating those legacy processes as easy as possible for the developers”

Then the team is obviously working on production issues for games that are actually being developed, helping developers with new things… The great thing about working with so many new partners is that they’ve all got different things that they want to bring to the table, so every situation is unique.

So it’s navigating through the complexities of creating a full-blown console title and helping the developer do that, the team is heavily involved in that kind of thing as well. Meetings, going to events, talking about new projects, scouring the world for new developers and for existing developers working on new things. There’s never a typical day.

Q: And with finding new developers is it a case of hunting down promising games online, or do people come to you?

Shahid Ahmad: There was a lot more direct prospecting, if you like, over a year ago. I think it’s a bit more indirect now, because you get so much through social media, referrals, people vouching for other people or other ideas. If you want to call it a community, the indie community is very, very well connected. The great thing is about a year, a year and a half ago, we weren’t working with so many of them, and now we’re working with most of them.

There’s definitely a case of if Mike [Bithell] comes to us and says, ‘listen, I think this is fantastic,’ and we already have it on our list – or even if we haven’t, and there are other people saying, ‘this is fantastic, these guys really know how to make great games and this is one to watch out for’. That is going to accelerate our interest.

It’s really important to realise that the indies we’re working with don’t act as gatekeepers, but if we’re looking at a title and someone we’re working with and we trust says it’s definitely worth looking at, of course that’s going to make it a bit more interesting to us.

Q: How has social media changed the way you work? You’re a vocal presence on Twitter

Shahid Ahmad: I think showing a lot of respect is very important. I think not reading too much into 140 characters is also important. It’s very easy to jump on something and to have a take in 140 characters of text that might get you into trouble. It’s much easier just to ask a follow-up question. Just to be really, really careful not to knee-jerk react to stuff and to follow-up and be considerate and respectful of other people.

2Frobisher Says

I wasn’t always like that, but as things got more engaging at PlayStation you have to be more careful. I think we’ve just about managed to get that balance right.

It’s all on the public timeline, and that’s one of the ways we’ve been quite different, I think. Just how much more open we’ve been in the public eye. It’s easier to do that when the direction the company is taking is in alignment with how you’re interacting with people publicly.

So internally as well there’s a drive towards the stuff that’s being talked about externally. There’s a congruence about PlayStation at the moment. It’s not just me. Look at Yoshida-San, for example – he’s amazing. What a figurehead, and this was inconceivable a few years back.

I think there’s just been this really great congruence, where the whole company has been becoming a bit more open. I say a bit more open because we weren’t actually as closed as people think we were before. But the important thing is we’re talking more about it and we’re backing up our talk with action. It is a double-edged sword. There will be times when things are picked up negatively by people, and that’s a cause of heart attacks for the PR manager at times, but it hasn’t happened too often, thankfully. The best thing to do in that situation is if people have got questions they’ll ask you and you can give them a clarification, but if not you’ve just got to leave it, because people are going to make what they will of what you say.

So there is that double-edged sword, but on the upside it does mean that PlayStation gets a lot more attention, a lot more affection than before, because of the openness. I think it’s a price worth paying.

Q: And is that something, that public-facing part of development, you also offer indies support with?

Shahid Ahmad: Most of the best guys are better than I’ll ever be. They grew up in this space, so to them it’s as natural as breathing. I’m an old guy, I had to kind of get used to it. Take the likes of Rami [Ismail] from Vlambeer. The guy is an absolute professional. You wouldn’t think for a minute that he’s half my age – it makes me sick. [laughs] But he was literally born to do marketing for Vlambeer, and he’s incredibly measured, incredibly controlled.

Sometimes you see what someone is saying and and you think, ‘oh god, I wish you hadn’t said that’, but you’re not going to stop them because it’s part and parcel of learning how to become better at something. We don’t control them. I guess the motto you’ve heard us use over and over again is support, steer, don’t interfere. And certainly you’re not going to interfere in the way they run their marketing. We’ll support them, so for example with a lot of the games that are coming out through the store we’ve got them banner support and we’ve got blog posts up and that sort of thing.

Interfering would be trying to get them to say something they don’t want to say, and we’d never do that.

Q: Has your history as a developer helped when you’re working with indies?

Shahid Ahmad: It was such a long time ago I guess I was indie before there was such a thing as an indie. We were called bedroom programmers, which is obviously not as cool as being called an indie. I wish that tag had been around then.

I think it does help, on balance. And I think it helps because you’ve got more of an all-round perspective on their challenges, and occasionally there comes a time when you can answer a question or support them in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to do without that knowledge.

I’ve called it a Cambrian explosion. That’s exactly what it is because it’s way bigger, in my opinion. I don’t think everyone agrees with that, but I think it’s way bigger than it was in the beginning. Yes it was brand new in the early 80s, late 70s, but now it’s just enormous – it has come to mainstream attention.

“Right now I think what we’re seeing is the birth of a new wave of next generation developers”

Q: Will the number of indies keep growing? Will we stop seeing a divide between AAA and indie?

Shahid Ahmad: I don’t see a divide. I see a continuum of one person creating a game and an enormous corporation creating a game. They’re just games. The tag is useful because I think it kind of bundles up a revolution that’s happened over the last few years, and the revolution has, I guess, three main legs. You’ve got digital distribution, you’ve got games everywhere and you’ve got better tools, and all of that has facilitated this explosion in the number of developers. I think it’s allowed more people to make games than ever before, and some of them are going to move on and do bigger things. They’re going to work with larger teams to do bigger things, and of course some of those teams will get bigger and bigger.

So right now I think what we’re seeing is the birth of a new wave of next generation developers. Some of them will stay small, and I’m really pleased that we’re helping evolve PlayStation to a point where we’re as accommodating to the smallest developers as we are the largest. And the thing is we’ve done this in the past, so for example Minis was really, really good for smaller developers. PlayStation Mobile has also helped in some respects as well. And going back into the distant mists of time you’ve got Parappa The Rapper, Ico, Super Stardust HD. We’ve always dealt with this level of developer, it just wasn’t always as easy as we’ve made it [now], and we’re going to make it easier and easier.

So yes, hopefully in a few years time no one will be talking about indie in relation to games. They’ll just be talking about games, and it will be just as valid to have made something coming from a small developer as from a large.

Q: You’ve been involved with mobile, Move, Minis, Vita and the consoles. Is your role now one you had to create?

Shahid Ahmad: It’s a role I could only have dreamed of. It’s probably the greatest job in video games today. I don’t think anyone could have a more exciting position. I think the first 30 years of my career were preparation for this last year and a half.

Yes, the company has recognised the shift in landscape, but we’ve always done that, we’ve always responded. The way we dealt with publishers in the PS2 era was a response to the environment we had at the time, a response to our dominant position and with digital distribution. We were dealing with small developers back in 2007 as well, publishing games on the PS3 on the PlayStation Network by two-person teams.

It’s just become so prevalent now. It’s not just a few professionals with extremely high levels of technological skill that can do this. You don’t have such a high barrier to entry from the technology side. Just about anyone can make games now.

Q: And finally, Beyond The Final Boss, tell me about that?

Shahid Ahmad: That’s outside of my work at Sony, but I guess the goal is to show youngsters that, no matter how bad bullying gets for them that there are a bunch of people out there that overcame bullying and are enjoying a quality of life they never expected to enjoy.

One of the things that’s very difficult for someone being bullied as a youngster to accept is that life can get better. There’s this unbearable blackness and a sense that it’s never going to end, it’s never going to get better. So the goal of Beyond The Final Boss was to gather a bunch of individuals from every part of the games industry who’d experienced bullying when they were younger, and for them to describe how much better life is for them [now]. That they’re enjoying a life experience that their younger self could never have imagined was possible, and in doing so give them hope.

And it was set up because I noticed a discussion on Twitter between my friends Byron Atkinson Jones [director of Xiotex Studios Ltd] and Mike Bithell, who were talking about bullying and how they’d wished that they had been able to address their younger selves in some way, and I thought this needs to be done now.

So I immediately got the ball rolling and set the whole thing up. There’s no money involved, it’s just a website where we feature a load of profiles from people who were bullied, who are involved in games in some way and whose lives are just way better now. Our only goal is to get these profiles out to as many youngsters as possible and that’s it. We don’t ask for donations, there’s no official charity set up, it’s just a website and the only goal is to get some hope out there to some of these youngsters who otherwise don’t have that.


Phil Fish Calls “Fez II”, Game Industry Quits

Fez II canceled Following a heated Twitter exchange with GameTrailers’ Marcus Beer, Fez developer Phil Fish has cancelled Fez II and seemingly left the video game industry for good. The exchange took place after Beer repeatedly denigrated indie developers like Fish and Jonathan Blow on GameTrailers podcast “Invisible Walls”.

Beer called the developers “self-styled kings of the indie genre,” for their “bitching and moaning” over members of the press trying to get them to comment on Microsoft’s policies regarding indie game development on the Xbox One; Beer eventually called Fish a “fucking asshole,” among other things.

Fish then told Beer to look at his life’s accomplishments compared to Fish’s own and “kill yourself.” It escalated from there, culminating in Fish publicly announcing he was cancelling Fez II and leaving the game industry. “I’m done, Fez II is cancelled. Goodbye,” he tweeted earlier today, later confirming with several outlets his intentions.

While Fish could still be develop Fez II in secret without any media scrutiny, only time will tell how serious his threat is, especially considering the developer’s public reputation for the melodramatic. No word on what this might mean for Fez’ chance of coming to PSN or whether the Xbox release will still be patched. More as the story develops.



Xbox One: Microsoft must prove its indie commitment

Developers and analysts give their take on the significance of everything Microsoft has–and hasn’t–said about its new next-gen policies


Microsoft yesterday dropped two big pieces of news about its upcoming Xbox One console. First, it changed its position on allowing independent developers to self-publish their games. Second, it revealed that every Xbox One unit sold could be used to make games. Specific details on those initiatives are being held back until Gamescom next month, but the news is already causing a stir. While it’s clear Microsoft won’t be winning everyone over anytime soon, GamesIndustry International sought out industry watchers and indies alike for more nuanced thoughts on just how significant this is in the bigger picture, and how effective it will be in countering Sony’s previously anticipated advantage on the indie game front. First, the indies, then the analysts:

Guillaume Provost, Compulsion Games (Contrast)

This is a topic we’ve lobbied hard and repeatedly with Microsoft over the last two years, as I know a lot of fellow indie developers have. It was a big announcement in the studio and our team was excited to hear the news. As to whether it puts them ahead, or on an even footing with Sony, well, my guarded response is that it’s an announcement, first and foremost.

From a policy standpoint, it appears Microsoft is solving two of the most important problems facing independent developers: one, it’s currently not possible to get access to Xbox One kits without a top-tier publisher, and two, it was impossible to get our games out on the console without – again – a top-tier publisher. Some of us have grown up; we finance our own games and we do our own marketing and PR. Having to give a chunk of your earnings to a third party just to get a ‘slot’ on Microsoft’s platforms was a bitter pill, and it felt like an arbitrary policy that didn’t take a game’s quality or critical acclaim into account.

“It all starts with people within the organization who are actively seeking to help develop a mutual partnership, and right now I don’t know that there is an official channel or person for us to interact with on these matters at Microsoft.”

Guillaume Provost

Unfortunately, I don’t think policy is the only thing Microsoft needs to fix. Outside the business unit responsible for signing first-party deals, there is currently (to my knowledge at least) no contact person at Microsoft for independent developers. In fact, the only person in the organization that handled those needs of independents resigned last month, and indicated we would not, henceforth, have developer account managers unless we had a publisher. So ensuring there are actually people in place to reach out, evangelize, and educate the independent community about how to get onto their platform is something I would like to see.

This is something Sony does extremely well, from helping us during conferences by supplying hardware, stations and booth space, getting us early access to kits, walking us through the submission process, helping and integrating us with promotional plans. It all starts with people within the (third-party publishing) organization who are actively seeking to help develop a mutual partnership, and right now I don’t know that there is an official channel or person for us to interact with on these matters at Microsoft. Sony has built a lot of extremely positive goodwill with the community, and – beyond policy – I think Microsoft still has to show the community that they are committed to working with developers directly.

Finally, my biggest question has to do with how the store will be curated and organized, and whether titles that are independently published will get attention. One of the reasons Steam is largely perceived as a friendly platform to independent developers is that there is – usually – always one or two premium slots reserved for top independent or innovative games. I would hope that Microsoft is able to organize their online store in a way that makes the discovery of such games easier than it has in the past.

Dave Voyles, Xbox Live Indie Game Uprising coordinator

At this point we (as developers or consumers) are running on scarce number of details from all of these platforms. Which language will we use to write these games? Which tools? How much does a dev kit cost? Is console exclusivity required? As both a consumer and developer I think we win when the big three compete, and surprisingly it’s Nintendo who has revealed the largest number of details. Their indie platform welcomes developers who are using HTML5/JavaScript, and development kits will cost “the same as a high end PC”, as stated by Nintendo at GDC.

“Microsoft has had problems and blunders with XBLIG, but they are still the only console manufacturer who even HAD something like XBLIG to have problems with.”

Daniel Steger

Daniel Steger, Xbox Live Indie Game developer (Baby Maker Extreme 2, Mount Your Friends)

From my point of view, it’s great. Being able to have any indie able to create games for a AAA console and have an easy way to sell them is a good thing. I honestly didn’t expect Microsoft to be rushing to do this so soon. Even just having Kinect support for indies is an exciting thing. We’ll see all these exciting uses of the Kinect hardware that I don’t think we would see if access was only given to bigger studios who are afraid to experiment, or make “smaller” apps/games with the Kinect. Microsoft has had problems and blunders with XBLIG, but they are still the only console manufacturer who even HAD something like XBLIG to have problems with. I’d rather have a slightly broken platform like XBLIG than to not have any at all. I hope Microsoft has learned from the pros and cons of how XBLIG was run when they move forward with Xbox One’s indie publishing system.

Billy Pidgeon, independent analyst

Marc Whitten’s comments regarding Microsoft’s policy changes for independent developers and games sound promising and could lead to more good will between indies and Microsoft. It appears the company is responding to industry and consumer concerns, and Whitten’s remarks address big issues for independents: lower barriers to entry including self-publishing, and freedom on pricing and curation to overcome the discoverability problem.

Marketing independent downloadable games is a process that will take time and will require experiments, some of which will surely fail. Creating and marketing appropriately priced quality independent games will require ongoing attention and sufficient resources as well as transparency and communication between industry business partners and consumers.

“The dedicated game platform vendors have an elevated opportunity to get it right, and more to lose in the short term if they don’t.”

Billy Pidgeon

Microsoft’s previous attempt to run a community-based independent game marketplace and Apple’s App Store give small developers somewhat open access but result in a glut of undifferentiated software of questionable quality and value. Apple’s model in particular leads to low quality copycat software where significant spend is necessary to attain the top chart positions that enable developers’ success. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo all need to bring more quality and value to their respective downloadable software markets. The dedicated game platform vendors have an elevated opportunity to get it right, and more to lose in the short term if they don’t.

Downloadable game marketplaces accessible via phones, tablets and PC/web will improve and the successful players will benefit by forging better relationships with developers and consumers. The platforms with unbalanced downloadable retail outlets attempting to maximize profit through volume-based plays that exploit rather than benefit consumers and developers will lose.

Michael Pachter, Wedbush Securities

Anything that gets tools in the hands of creative people with less friction is good for the business. Essentially, they are making dev kits available for $500, and the approval process is similar to the iOS approval process. I think this is really user friendly and will encourage a lot of people (including a ton of people who have never developed a game) to give it a try. That will increase the number of games developed, and it is likely that a few of the efforts will be really cool.

“Just look at the incredible success of Minecraft on the Xbox 360. Imagine what Microsoft could do for indies if it stopped shooting itself in the foot with onerous terms and conditions!”

Lewis Ward

David Cole, DFC Intelligence

It definitely makes it more developer friendly. Developers will definitely flock to it. One thing is will they ease their publishing regulations? We don’t know. There is always an issue of concern when you open up publishing you get a lot of junk and it can overwhelm consumers. The overall impact on the Xbox business is probably negligible. It mainly means consumers will have access to a bunch of products that are already available for PC and mobile platforms, so it is not really a big selling point to get someone to buy an Xbox One.

Lewis Ward, IDC research manager

I think this is a big deal for smaller developers. Xbox Live, despite its historically high patch costs and requirement that indie developers basically give a share of their revenue to a publisher that may add very limited value, has emerged as the best overall connected console environment in North America. Just look at the incredible success of Minecraft on the Xbox 360. Imagine what Microsoft could do for indies if it stopped shooting itself in the foot with onerous terms and conditions! Well, this is a big step in that direction. This was the last big “philosophical” difference between where Xbox One appeared to be going and where PS4 and Wii U were going in terms of indies. It’s too bad that Microsoft had to be dragged kicking and screaming into doing the right – and smart – thing, but, hey, however you get there, you get there. I think this will now allow the Xbox One to have it’s share of innovative indie hits in the coming years. Unless this barrier were removed I think Xbox One digital sales would have suffered a significant blow over time.



Self-publishing is the future, not an optional extra

Successful platforms need to engage niche audiences. With mid-range games in a death spiral, indie titles will rise to take their place

Self-publishing is the future, not an optional extra

Microsoft’s announcement that the Xbox One will provide some channel for supporting indie developers and self-publishing is an important step for the platform, and confirms a major change in the status quo of the console market. All three platform holders will now, through a number of schemes and in a variety of ways, allow small studios and indie developers to create and sell games on their consoles without going through a major publisher. The details of Microsoft’s programme haven’t been revealed, while Nintendo’s indie support is a promising but poorly heralded work in progress, but the overall picture is clear: self-publishing is set to be a cornerstone of the next generation console business.

“Between the App Store and Steam, the inevitability of an industry with lower bars to entry and direct routes to market has been insanely obvious for several years”


In a sense, the only reasonable response to that “bombshell” is a slightly exasperated, “of bloody course it is” – after all, self-publishing has become a completely legitimate and successful channel in just about every other form of media over the past decade. Even in books, where self-publishing was once an act of deluded vanity, a handful of authors each year become self-publishing millionaires, while dozens more stack away a tidy living from their writing without ever asking permission or handing over control to a publisher. In games, self-published titles have become a core part of the industry’s output while console platform holders napped in between generations. Between the App Store and Steam, the inevitability of an industry with lower bars to entry and direct routes to market has been insanely obvious for several years.

However, only a few weeks ago Microsoft seemed intent on ignoring the indie sector and refusing point-blank to open up its business to the extent required for self-publishing to work. To those insisting that this move has been part of the Xbox One roadmap all along, I must ask – who, exactly, drew up a roadmap whose early stages called for pointless dishonesty, alienating key partners and annoying the core audience, before taking a sharp turn for the better? If indie support really has been on the roadmap all along, then perhaps whoever is dreaming up Microsoft’s communication strategy based on that roadmap ought to be excluded from any future cartographical endeavours, because their map-reading skills suck and the driver is looking very bloody confused.

With regard to the topic at hand, though, the very necessity of a Microsoft U-turn – bafflingly planned or otherwise – demonstrates that the apparent inevitability of self-publishing as a major pillar of the industry has yet to sink in at some companies and at certain levels of decision-making. There is a tendency, I think, for this whole side of things to be dismissed as a niche obsession: a vaguely hipsterish field that occasionally throws up very creative work, far less frequently creates a freak blockbuster (Minecraft, basically), but generally has little impact on the business of games. What’s actually important is FIFA, Madden and Call of Duty; indie concerns and self-publishing aren’t even secondary, they’re simply a vanity project that pumps out some core goodwill for supporters.

There’s some truth to that viewpoint. Right now, it’s actually not a bad description of the indie self-published sector as it stands in relation to the rest of the industry – although of course, it completely undervalues the cultural and creative side of things, a particular short-sightedness that is not uncommon among even in this supposed ‘creative industry’. In terms of the raw numbers, though – the audience, the revenues – it’s quite correct.

“The dawning of the age when self-published content is of enormous consequence to this industry is a matter of simple economic and technological calculation”


But it won’t be. The dawning of the age when self-published content is of enormous consequence to this industry and every other media industry isn’t just a question of optimistic thinking or creative hopefulness; it’s a matter of simple economic and technological calculation. The progress of technology has reduced effective distribution costs to zero, has given creators the ability to access and engage audiences directly and, even though it has inflated the budgets of high-end games and media, it has brought the production of mid-range games within range for even the least well-resourced creators. Increasingly advanced tools are offered, often for free or for a nominal fee, allowing individual amateurs to create games of a quality comfortably in excess of most console titles less than a decade ago.

This progression isn’t going to stop. In fact, its effects are going to become increasingly pronounced. Even as tools like Unity and the simple power of online collaboration bring the creation of ever more impressive games within the reach of indie developers, the evolution of distribution channels and increasingly nuanced ways of engaging an audience and making a living from their support are ensuring that this revolution will be no flash in the pan. On the contrary – without ever actually supplanting the likes of FIFA, Madden and Call of Duty, all of which will remain perfectly secure as multi-billion dollar cultural touchstones, the self-published indie sector will quite inevitably grow in scale, reach and revenue. Even as we bemoan the slow, gasping death of the “A” and “AA” sectors – games which never matched AAA in quality or audience but still matched its price tags – the successor to those sectors is growing, expanding and maturing.

For Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, faced with what some believe to be an existential threat to the entire notion of a games console, embracing this future isn’t a matter of being nice to indies or giving props to creativity – it’s a matter of survival. I simply don’t believe that any console platform can survive and thrive on blockbuster AAA titles alone. The most successful console platforms in history, such as the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo DS, have been notable for the sheer breadth and depth of their software libraries. Each had their truly outstanding best-sellers, but the extraordinary success of each console was founded in its ability to offer a vast range of A and AA level games that appealed to a whole host of different niche audiences. Anyone familiar with the App Store will recognise the pattern. Beyond the best-sellers, Apple’s remarkable iOS ecosystem has built its appeal on the huge range of games and applications that bring together a wealth of niche audiences into a single, gigantic customer base. In fact, Microsoft of all companies should know the value of this. The Windows hegemony was built not on the success of blockbusters like Microsoft Office, but on the vast number of small applications, essential to various kinds of business or hobby, which often don’t run on anything other than Windows. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Microsoft’s Road to Damascus conversion to indie support occurred so soon after a former Windows boss took over the Xbox division?

“The cost of creating increasingly impressive games will keep falling, and the knowledge of how to do so will continue to spread – so more people will be making games”


There are many different scenarios for the future of the games industry, and nobody whose opinion is worth listening to can honestly pick just one and say with certainty that it will come to pass. It’s hard to say whether consoles will continue to exist beyond the current generation – I vote yes, personally, but with the full understanding that it may be as much an emotional as a rational vote – although anyone keen to dismiss the emotional component of consumer decision making in the games business doesn’t understand the games business very well. It’s tough to say what shape exactly the dominant business models (plural, for the existence of several is one thing of which I am quite sure) will take. There are wild-cards in the pack, like the intriguing idea that indie developers could start to work co-operatively and end up, accidentally or on purpose, creating a United Artists of sorts. The role of publishers is very much up in the air.

Yet there are certainties – absolutes that simply won’t change, no matter how wildly you choose to speculate on the future. The cost of creating increasingly impressive games will keep falling, and the knowledge of how to do so will continue to spread – so more people will be making games. The audience will grow, because more creators means a more diverse spread of content, which means addressing wider demographics. And much of this – the new creators, making and distributing their cheap yet impressive games to audiences who exist in niches we have yet to explore – will take place not in the confines of the existing business model, but outside, in the world of self-publishing and direct audience engagement. That’s certain. Indie development isn’t a fragile flower that needs to be nurtured by platform holders; it’s a train that’s gathering pace. Their choice is to be on board, or to attempt to stand in its way.