A decade ago, indie games promised to revolutionize the industry by rejecting triple-A standards and doing something different. They succeeded, but with the overwhelming saturation of small-scale games means that indie doesn’t feel quite so punk as it used to. As one of the space’s biggest creators says, “Indie is bigger than ever and also it is dead. It is both those things.”
That’s from Rami Ismail, one half of Vlambeer - the indie studio behind games like Nuclear Throne and Luftrausers. At the Develop industry conference in Brighton this week, Ismail spoke alongside Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell on the state of the indie space, and offered advice to aspiring developers.
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“In 2010,” Ismail says (as transcribed by MCV), “the whole idea of indie was like a punk rock kind of a culture, like ‘fuck these triple-A assholes,’ which obviously is super immature. I love triple-A and all of that, but we needed something to kick against, to start something. We didn’t even know something was starting, we just wanted to make games and we needed something to be loud with.”
“Don’t you think we’re also just the last cycle?” Bithel asks. “Like I see punk rock happening and I look at it and I do not get this. And that’s sort of the point, isn’t it? Are we doomed to become ageing punk rockers?”
“Here’s the thing: when I say indie is dead, I think that is good,” Ismail says. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The best thing that has happened to game development is that somebody took a sledgehammer to all those bigs concepts and then shattered them into a million pieces.”
Instead, Ismail says the now massive, fragmented indie space now has its own smaller communities with their own particular ideals, and their own “things they want change, things they want to rebel against. And seeing all these little shards reminds me of my travels when I go to a country and it’s a small eco-system with their own developers, their own heroes, their own purposes, their own history, and I want more of that. Because in the end, to me indie meant you didn’t have to give a shit about what everybody else was labelling you.”
As for what aspiring indies should take to heart, Bithell - head of Bithell Games - advises them not to name their companies after their surnames. But more practically, he says “There is not a way to make a game that’s going to be successful, there is no 100% certainty. The best objective you can have is to survive, be healthy, be happy and keep making stuff.”
“But also do the opposite of that,” Ismail adds. “Aim for the stars, believe you’re making the best hit thing. Make your dream game, make every mistake. Everybody gets there through their mistakes.”