The indiepocalypse is just normality

I've just been reading the Indie Dev blog, once more talking about the 'Indiepocalypse' which seems to be getting mentioned a lot lately, and while I have to agree with what's said there, there's something else I've been wanting to point out about this claim.

A lot of things said about the indiepocalypse are certainly true, as Obi Wan Kenobi would say, from a certain point of view.  It is getting harder for a game on the Steam store or a mobile App store to get noticed by everyone, and there are more stories of good games making less money.  But 'harder', 'more' and 'less' are all relative terms.  This is where it depends on your point of view.  If you were one of the few people releasing indie games in these stores when the opportunity first arose, then yes, from your point of view it may seem harder to get noticed.

But I released indie games 15 years ago.  Back then, there were no stores at all - you had to just put a demo or shareware version of your game on download sites or try to get it on magazine cover CDs and hope people found it - if they even had internet access of course, which most people didn't.  You wouldn't think of saying, "My game only got 6 hours on the Steam market front page, boo hoo."  And if they did like it, there was no pre-made payment and download solution that gamers were familiar and comfortable with and already had their details stored on.  We used a company that processed credit card orders and would use your own supplied program to email a registration code in return, but customers back then often wouldn't be comfortable with using their credit card online.  That was a difficult time to release an indie game.

Of course, it was even harder before the internet took off.  While I wrote games in my pre-teen years, as did several of my friends, we didn't release them - I suppose it was theoretically within our capabilities, but it seemed far too hard.  Can you imagine most customers not being able to play or see a demo of your game, just having to read a magazine review a few paragraphs long, and basing a decision on that about whether to buy your game, and if they did want to buy it, having to send a cheque to you in the post for it, then you having to manually make a physical copy of it, package it and send it back?  I don't know if there existed such a thing as a successful indie developer back then.  (And if you think shovelware is a modern invention, I owned an original copy of this.)

It's incredibly short-sighted to say that the good times for indie developers have ended.  If you look at the good times as starting when the internet came into popular usage, the indie games business certainly show no signs of reverting to the level of difficulty it was at before that, and it's hard to see how it possibly could.  If you compare to just a few years ago, then you could argue that things have gotten harder since then, but there's no reason to think that's a long range trend, and it's debatable whether it's even true.  Saying that things have gotten harder since then tends to be based entirely on the stories of games being released now that make few sales.  Well, if it isn't obvious, I can assure you that games were released a few years ago that made very few sales as well.  The only difference is that now you're seeing games on Steam make few sales, whereas probably those same games wouldn't have got on Steam a few years ago.  What used to be, "I've a 0.1 chance of getting my game on Steam, but if I do then I'm certain to get huge sales" is now "I've a 0.5 chance of getting my game on Steam, but if I do then I've a 0.2 chance of getting huge sales".  The chance of huge sales hasn't changed - the chance of seeing poor-selling games on Steam is what's changed.  That's what's generated the attention in the press, and the fear of the Indiepocalypse.  But the poor-selling games always existed.  Getting a hit was always hard, just in different ways.  If you think the easy riches for indie developers are over, you're wrong - inasmuch as the easy riches never existed.

On a similar note, one of the claims about the Indiepocalypse is that the market is saturated now that everybody can make games.  I would point out that when I was a child, there was a whole shelf in the children's section of our local library devoted to games programming books.  One of them was even about programming in machine code - and I repeat, this was for children.  There is nothing new about everybody being able to make games.  What has changed since I was a child, as gone into in some detail earlier, is being able to easily distribute your games.  This benefits the best indie developer as much as the worst, so there's no point complaining about it.  And when it comes down to it, not everybody can do it, as you can see by looking on the Unity forums sometime, and seeing how many questions there are saying, "I have just got Unity, I have the idea to make an MMO with spaceships, what do I have to do???"

Really, the failure rate of indie development hasn't changed.  A few failures may have been fairly high-profile and visible lately, or may just have become a trending topic for no particular reason, as happens sometimes in social networks.  But besides perception of the situation, everything in the industry is just as good, if not better, as it has always been.

From a certain point of view.

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