Epic, Gas Powered Leaders: It's Harder to Stay Independent

Epic, Gas Powered Leaders: It's Harder to Stay Independent

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At DICE 2010, Gas Powered Games CEO Chris Taylor and Epic Games president Dr. Mike Capps agreed on at least one thing: These days, it's harder to be an independent developer than ever before.

Much like the terms "casual gamer" and "hardcore gamer," the phrase "independent developer" is a hard one to qualify. What do you think of when you read those words? Is one guy making a Flash game in his basement on his off hours simply as a labor of love? Is it a polished, for-profit game made by a small twosome like World of Goo? Or is it a large company that produces high-quality blockbuster hits, but doesn't have a parent company to fund its games?

Being independent has its benefits, but no matter the size of your company, it's also pretty trying - at least, that was the message from Epic's Dr. Mike Capps and Gas Powered's Chris Taylor on the stage at DICE 2010, reports Gamasutra. "We've been independent for 12 years this May," said Taylor, whose company was behind last year's DotA clone, Demigod. "There's a real fine line. I guess it's a big line between indie development on the iPhone and [what we do]. Mike's doing bigtime independent stuff, and we're doing medium independent stuff."

As for Epic, one would think that the maker of the Unreal Engine and developer of Gears of War and the acclaimed Shadow Complex would be sailing smooth, right? Maybe not so much. "It's getting harder and harder to be independent, especially at our size," Capps admitted. "Knowing what you know well is important. It's all about picking a battle. For us it's about tech and making a good game, and knowing what we don't do well."

For Epic, the deal the Cary, North Carolina-based developer had made to have Microsoft publish Gears of War had been crucial, said Capps. "[S]omebody's got to put up a billboard in Hong Kong, and it's not going to be me." However, Taylor cautioned against falling into the publisher model too easily: "[E]ven though we were independent, we were so dependent on these publishers that we were basically outsourcing studios. That's not being independent," he said. "It's been really unfortunate for a lot of independent developers who are basically beholden to the traditional publisher model."

"Once you get on that cycle it's hard to get off," agreed Capps. "It's like, 'Oh, your independent IP is great, but why don't you do this license for us at the same time?'" The Epic president admitted that running a company like Epic was filled with difficult financial decisions. "You can make a game like [Chair Entertainment's] Shadow Complex, be a 10- to 12-man team for a year, get to be a best-selling game on [Xbox Live Arcade], and then still have money be tight."

Either way, it came down to a tradeoff between freedom as a developer and financial stability: "Talking about freedom, you take on a lot of risk, so my children will probably not go to college because of Demigod," Taylor said, half-jokingly.

A half-joke is half serious, after all: Is not being beholden to a publisher or a parent company worth the uncertainty of whether or not you'll be able to provide for your family?

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Interesting viewpoint on the industry. Personally, I'm fascinated with how it all works and I'll be studying to get involved with it very soon, so it's always nice to hear how things work. An unsettling eye opener like this is far better than being blindsided down the road; now I know what I can expect.

I need to buy Demigod so I can compare it with League of Legends and Hero's of Newearth.

Also... I... Agree?

TsunamiWombat:
I need to buy Demigod so I can compare it with League of Legends and Hero's of Newearth.

^ This. Though I should probably wait until I get a proper internet connection which can play the bloody things first. *kicks stupid firewall*

Is not being beholden to a publisher or a parent company worth the uncertainty of whether or not you'll be able to provide for your family?

Rationally? No. You don't really want to gamble with the food on your table. However with all the stories about parent companies 'crunch times' (looking at you Rockstar!) or publishers pushing release dates early (LucasArts and KotOR2) I can see why people wouldn't want to have to work under such conditions.

I understand their point, and sympathise, but I'd never want to put myself in a state where I'm concerned that I can't purchase food next week.

Dosnt help with money problems about at the moment. IF anyone is able to stay above the waterline and still manage to release good titles...its a good thing.

Certainly going to be intresting seeing where they will all go in the next few years

Yeah, games are probably the hardest entertainment medium to be independent in. The amount of work and time that goes into a typical AAA title is staggering, and the quality of those high-profile titles is what most gamers expect out of games these days. For a developer with limited resources or staff, that's a lot to compete with.

That really sucks, because in the 90's, it wasn't as difficult in terms of competition because there were so many independant developers and no really massive mega-corporations eating up so much marketshare.

today, being an independant developer is like trying to start up a car company from scratch and trying to compete

So hard to be an independent developer. All these big-name studios keep trying to employ you. What's worse, when there's a recession, you can't even have a decent mass layoff.

I sorta think Matthew Smith had it harder than Chris Taylor though...

JeanLuc761:
Interesting viewpoint on the industry. Personally, I'm fascinated with how it all works and I'll be studying to get involved with it very soon, so it's always nice to hear how things work. An unsettling eye opener like this is far better than being blindsided down the road; now I know what I can expect.

Same here.

Pretty tough I guess. But don't give in. SupCom 2 is coming out soon! *evil laugh And so is Gears 3. *Even eviler laugh

trying to even get started as an independant is harder than you may think. finding decent people who will work cheaply is near impossible. there seems to be alot of people who have gotten it into their heads there is good money in making games...they are wrong. for every two or three hundred games released in a year only a handful are ever in the spotlight.

and those handful have wads of cash backing them up forcing people to give them the time of the day.

i'm an amatuer modeller working for FREE on an indie project because i think the project has merits, it shows more on my cv than a fatter bankroll does if the project gets to the end, and because it's not a bloody mmo.

the next issue facing an indie studio is the graphics technology, licensing graphics/games engines (no they are not the same) is an important step. engines like unity cost near to 10,000 per seat (each programmer) give good results bt have crap performance. leadwerks is 200 per seat and puts out the best lighting around but has the worst art tools ever conceived (imagine working on art without undo) many faetures are also implemented in counter intuitive ways forcing people to write workarounds.

the list goes on and on and your gambling that these companies will exist long enough that you can release a game. if they don't have a stable release and the lead programmer gets hit by a bus...your essentially stuck with older feature sets, or a complete overhaul for another engine. you might doubt how likely that is. but engines are always beeing revised and expanded to keep pace and the latest builds can vary some things hugely. ie complete physics collision format rewrite requires all convex hulls to be re converted to the same format (thank you newton)

our project recently changed from one engine to another becuase the engine had more "must change's" and not enough "that work's well's" luckil;y it's very early days and only a few models need changing but everyone has lost productivity as we all had to learn completely new art and programming techniques to utilise the new engine .

and if your thinking just write your own graphics engine...i've been associated with leadwerks for years and it's a long way from matching AAA engines like unreal. while AAA forces games ever onwards to push limitations it makes life so much harder for anyone not wanting to compete with popcap.

Yeah, it's pretty hard to stay independent when your last 3 products were:
a badly made savage ripoff.
a badly made diablo ripoff.
a badly made console port of a genre that simply doesn't work on consoles.

"It's getting harder and harder to be independent, especially at our size," Capps admitted.

Of course if you treat customers(gamers) and clients like shit. What goes round comes round :P

Hmm... maybe I should buy Demigod...

 

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