GameTunnel interview on IndieGames

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by cyrus_zuo, Jan 22, 2008.

  1. cyrus_zuo

    cyrus_zuo New Member

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  2. zoombapup

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    Hmm, I wonder if part of the decline is that the "mainstream" has kind of taken the indie scene for granted for a while now?

    I mean all of the people who really pushed the last 5 or so years have kind of veered off into mainstream or other avenues (I'm looking at you GG!).

    Plus of course, a lot of "indies" have gone to casual, or have become a sort of semi-legitimate underclass of the retail industry (introversion spring to mind here).

    But anyway, thanks a lot Russ, your efforts are always much appreciated.
     
  3. Andy

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    I didn't get his idea to mix absolutely different things - the way of doing business ( like "indie" ) and the game genre ( like "casual" ) :eek:
    Russ was always wondering me by differnt point of view on any problem. :D

    Anyway, the interview is mostly devoted to Reflexive = not so interesting for me... :p But sure thing good luck to them anyway. ;)
     
  4. Chris Evans

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    That's unfortunate GT has struggled the past year or so.

    Here's my 2 cents:

    I think one of the major reasons GT has hit a downturn the last couple of years is because it didn't push to build a community on the site and give its readers a voice with the changing times. In the late '90s and early 2000s, gaming news sites basically just dispensed news & reviews, then allowed readers to discuss random topics in a tucked away forum. But the last several years the trend is to have greater interaction between the site and its readers with various "web 2.0" features.

    I think one glaring omission was a blog style comment section on the monthly round-ups. It meant that people might find the Monthly Roundup from a site like SlashDot, but then if they wanted to talk about one of the games on the roundup they would return to SlashDot and discuss there instead of GT. I think this was really a missed opportunity. Letting readers voice their opinion or debate the review scores with other readers I think would have made the roundup more sticky.

    Other things could have been done such as adding user accounts where readers can post reader reviews or earn GT points by participating on the site. These things obviously aren't trivial to add and take a lot of work, but the average web user nowadays has so much being thrown at them that it's extremely important to focus on user retention. Having regular updates just isn't enough nowadays. With so many news/content aggegators like DIGG, you have to give readers a reason to actually come back to your site even if DIGG/SlashDot don't deem your content interesting the next day.

    I think TIGSource proves that a community can develop around indie games. It's definitely possible. IMO, GT focused a little too much on just dispensing content with the hope of being struck by the Slashdot lightening bolt every now and then. Greater effort I feel should have been made to develop and foster reader participation/interaction.

    Maybe you could teamup with someone who has experience developing a community site? Or perhaps you rather take a well deserved break. :)
     
  5. Chris Evans

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    *Sound of Crickets*

    I was hoping Russ would see the responses to his thread. :)
     
  6. cyrus_zuo

    cyrus_zuo New Member

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    I'm not sure there is much to be said. I've been up and down and through the numbers so many different ways that most of what is suggested is something I've already taken a look at and seen as either impractical or not likely to be a good change for the website.

    Some thoughts:
    - Community - I don't think a community would work on the website though I've considered many times making it more community friendly. If you watch posts on places like slashdot, joystiq, kotaku on Indie games (like the one yesterday on Joystiq about Starscape going up on GameTap) you'll see that even with the tremendous amount of traffic those websites have, there are few if any comments on such stories. In my line of thinking was 'if slashdot can't get 10 comments, there aren't many people who want to talk about this stuff.'

    You could argue a lot of reasons why that is, or postulate what could be, but what I see is little community that could be corralled. When GT first launched it was open comment on everything, but I then just had to delete tons of 'how to crack' requests and responses from every story. Which I think is related to why the TigSource community does well. That site has a different focus, looking heavily at freeware and webgames. Those drive conversation, but they aren't within the focus of GT. GT's goal was to present downloadable games from those trying to make a living at making games. That's what we know. I could hire staff that knows something else and try to work that into the website, but I don't have the money to hire anyone and don't think that doing a 'me too' to what other places are already doing well is going to improve GT...

    By the way I'm not disagreeing. I do think that not adding community features may have hampered the website. However, my experience suggests that with those features wouldn't have created the content needed. I watch user reviews on places like IGN and GameSpot to see how many people post them and how many of them are good. What I see is that except for the big retail games, most games don't get any user reviews. Reviews for XBLA and VC are quite sparse. Again I don't know if GT would have the same experience, but I don't see anything that is encouraging to me. I do believe places like Digg and Slashdot can work through their communities, but the communities don't create the content. I'm very dubious on web 2.0 doing much to create content. Most of the content I see coming out of web 2.0 is light-weight rubbish. Web 2.0 websites do a decent (I wouldn't even say good) job of getting content to masses, but I'm not a fan. I think we're all dumber for it :). Well-informed and totally lacking in intelligence.

    So more community might have helped GT. I'm not sure that the website or the industry as we've covered it is particularly fit for community, but it is possible we've missed out in that regard. I may yet add some community features, though I doubt it would happen in the short term. I would clearly have to hire and pay someone to integrate it into the website, which is anything but trivial...and I'm really digging that 'take a well-deserved break' idea ;).

    - Mainstream - I've been talking about this one for more than 2 years now, thinking that many indies have moved to where they can make money. Be that XBLA, Flash games or Casual. I think that's great! I don't know if mainstream takes indie for granted, in fact I think Indie is better covered now and that the coverage satiates most people's interest in indie. Games For Windows talks about freeware and indie every month, PC Gamer includes it most months. I think that is fantastic! Clearly Indie is much better known than it was. With all that coverage, GT isn't needed. It superfluous in many ways. I'm disappointed, but not upset. Again, I find most of it intriguing as I analyze numbers and watch across the internet trying to decipher where things are, how they got there and where they are going :).


    So there you go...no more crickets! Long rambling answers instead :).
     
  7. zoombapup

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    Russ: thats really what I was trying to say. When you started GT I think "indie" was a very unusual niche, but over time its kind of spilled over in a few different directions. It could be that GT now doesnt catch as much of that spillage as it used to.

    But it does worry me that maybe we're seeing something more worrisome in that really players dont want to see anything "indie" after all. Not that I buy that, but maybe your figures prove that to be the case.
     
  8. cyrus_zuo

    cyrus_zuo New Member

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    I think that what people say they want and what they support are often different things. I'm not sure how much that applies to Indie, but it's a general truism that notable and different have a harder time selling than safe and familiar.

    GT increasingly sells more casual games than Indie games. I keep meaning to put a graph together as the affiliate sales do a great job of describing the slow decline of the site...in regards to indie games. I should note that despite the shrinking Indie side, GT is selling more games than ever...we're just not selling Indie games. :(
    Despite the fact that we are now mostly selling casual games I haven't turned the site into a casual games site. We still mostly review what I would call indie games with some casual games sprinkled here and there. However, it is telling as to what people seem to prefer. Especially as despite all my efforts to get people to look at the Indie games the casual ones are still the ones that sell.
     
  9. cliffski

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    how do you define it though? is kudos indie or casual?
     
  10. Andy

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    Following by his latest post 'casual' is equal to 'selling well' perhaps? :D
     
  11. cyrus_zuo

    cyrus_zuo New Member

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    I'd call Kudos Indie.
     
  12. Juan Gril

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    Hey Russell. I usually don't pitch in this forum, but I wanted to give you my 2 cents after reading your interview.

    I for one have really appreciated your "Game of the Year" features. Specially in the last 3 years (I think) where you have broken it down into genres. As a fan of Sims and Strategy games, it was great to find truly original games in those genres.

    The way I personally see the decline of indie gaming in PC can be attributed probably to a big competition between Flash games, Xbox 360 and PS3 downloads. So the small number of people who in 2003 where downloading PC indie games now are also stretching their time into those 4 different "platforms". That's probably a reason why PC download indie consumption is down.

    The other problem I believe is the fact that we don't yet have one platform or vein where most people interested in independent games gather around. The number of people interested in independent games is too small to be spread out on 4 platforms.

    And of those 4 platforms, there is only one that:
    . It's truly massive, as it runs on any computer with a web browser.
    . It's affordable, as even a cash strained college student can afford 0 dollars to go to a computer lab to play one of those games.

    That platform, of course, is Flash.

    I have to say though, Flash constrains limits us developers a lot in the types of games we can do. I for sure hope it's not the platform of choice in the future. And the revenues you can get with Flash games are clearly not where one hopes it could be, specially with a recession year like this one where advertising will going down.

    Next problem is, we need to grow the audience who consumes independent gaming. My theory why you sell more casual games than indie games is because the 1st major group of indie gamers are "veteran" gamers: people in their 30s who have been playing games since the Atari 2600, and are still playing games (a fraction of the number of gamers of their age 20 years ago). I know this group well as I'm one of them. We generally don't have a financial issue buying the PCs or consoles we need, but we do have an issue of time available, so we start doing more conservative choices when we buy games. So we end up playing light-weight games (like Flash games). It doesn't mean we don't want indie, we just don't want "heavy-duty" indie. The 2nd group of indie gamers are game design/development students and academics, they are very good "customers" of indie gaming, but they are not a lot of people.

    Let me extrapolate the example of this audience to independent cinema: if the local indie theatre can only attract: 1) people who will want to get for free to see a short because they don't have time for anything else or 2) only film students, patrons will be too few to stay in business. But independent cinema works because there is:

    1) a big, well educated audience that it's tired of Hollywood
    2) Three compatible "platforms" where at least one is available to almost everybody: movie theaters, cable tv, and dvds (rental and purchases). No need for the developer to do major changes to change from one platform to another, and the HUGE plus: everybody can figure out how to see it (who doesn't have a friend with a TV and a dvd player?).
    3) the fact that all intellectual circles support it (not the case for videogames).

    I believe our efforts should be now to conquer #3. #2 is such a mess that I don't know how we can solve that (although I'm glad more and more Wiis are sold every day, as it's the only platform where the financial model could work for an indie). #1 will follow the intellectual circles once they approve videogames.

    I personally hope you continue your work with contributors, and think about extending your coverage to the other platforms. Except Gamasutra, not many other web sites are really talking continuously about the Flows and Everyday Shooters of the world. Except Jay is Games, not many other web sites are really talking about Campaign, Cursor or TBA (to mention some of the Flash games that have really impressed me in the past few months and are truly indie in spirit). You could be the IFC or the Sundance of gaming. I for sure will be tuning in every day.

    Cheers,

    Juan

    --
    Juan Gril
    Studio Manager
    Joju Games
    http://www.jojugames.com/
     
  13. cyrus_zuo

    cyrus_zuo New Member

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    Thanks Juan, I appreciated the well-thought out comments and concern :).

    I think it's a bad sign when I look and mostly agree with you and think, "there is no way I have time for that."

    I think when it gets down to it, that is the main reason GT has suffered so much. If I was doing it as a full-time job, it could cover everything I think might be interesting to cover. As it is, the website becoming less of an indie draw and more of a casual draw over time has lead me to spend less time on it, and I find I'm happier spending less time on it and having a steady stream of people reading the indie stuff than I am spending lots of time on it and not seeing the stream grow much. I think that if I spent enough time on it I could get the stream over the hump and see a lot of growth, but I don't currently have the time or inclination to do so. Working at Reflexive keeps me pretty engaged in games already, I have a family to go home to and as I've mentioned casually a few times, I can't see spending more time on a website at the expense of my family. Of course you never know what tomorrow brings, but for right now, I think the site is in a holding pattern.

    I do appreciate the thoughts. I think you are probably right in what would need to happen for GT to really pick up steam, and I appreciated you spelling it out the way you did. Getting all circles to appreciate Indie seems a very large task for GT, one that I doubt I could undertake casually.

    As well, I'd like to agree with your Wii comment...there have been threads here comparing XBLA and WiiWare and I can't seem to convince anyone of what you stated in your comment...though I wish I could! I really believe WiiWare is an opportunity for Indie, perhaps not every indie, but for many it is an opportunity that I think is under-appreciated.
     
  14. zoombapup

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    Now here's the thing. If the wii were a more open platform, maybe that'd be true.

    but its a "platform holder" platform like any other console. So yes, if you can somehow hit it big enough to attract the attention of ninty, youre golden, but otherwise, its a pain.

    Believe me, I'd love to do wii games.

    Just cant face the pain of platform submissions right now and dont know any partners who would on my behalf.
     
  15. Juan Gril

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    Indeed. Nintendo's submission process is a submission process, that's why I stated that the current state of game consoles is the 2nd most important problem in terms of independent games reaching to a bigger audience.

    And we have to also be able to change this fact: As a consumer you don't blame your DVD manufacturer for the crappy or tasteless movie you just saw. Unfortunately it's not the case for videogames today. Even if all consoles will be "open" as meaning what I'm able to do for Windows, the audience will take years to get accustomed to that.

    Cheers,

    --
    Juan Gril
    Studio Manager
    Joju Games
    http://www.jojugames.com/
     
  16. cyrus_zuo

    cyrus_zuo New Member

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    I agree that getting onto WiiWare is difficult. However, getting onto the GameCube or PS2 for an indie was not a possibility. XBLA is a possibility for maybe 1-5% of Indies (more probably the 1% than the 5%). WiiWare I would say the majority of Indies can be involved with if they wanted to be.

    For me that's a phenominal change. I find it absolutely amazing...a dream from where we stood 5 years ago, and though it's clearly not open nor ever will be so, it's still amazing...and I worry that most indies are too busy giving up to try. I hear too many people saying it can't be done when they haven't actually contacted Nintendo to find out that maybe it can ;).
     
  17. Juan Gril

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    I think you may be right Russell, but at the same time I think it was easier for Reflexive and Joju to get Nintendo dev kits than what it would be for most guys who don't even have a game out there.

    Which takes us to the chicken and an egg situation: the new guys have to develop a game for an "open" platform first. But what happens if the open platform doesn't provide the visibility and the financial return even when the game is good?

    And you are absolutely right about the possibilities we have now compared to a generation ago. I see a great future, we just need to focus :).

    Cheers,

    Juan

    --
    Juan Gril
    Studio Manager
    Joju Games
    http://www.jojugames.com/
     
  18. Davaris

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    Dead right.
     
  19. OremLK

    Indie Author

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    Well, as I see, it's more of a linear path; you start out on the open platform, and you just have to work hard both on making good products and on marketing them. Then it's just a matter of doing well enough at both of those to convince MS, Nintendo, or Sony to certify you.

    Of course, for me that's not the end goal, I just want to make a living doing something I love--but it'd be a nice means to the end.
     
  20. Davaris

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    cyrus_zuo: I've got to say that I've been reading through your reviews for '2007 Top 10 Games of the Year' and it makes me want to try most of the games right away. I'll certainly be sending the link on to a friend or two.
     

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