Thursday 16 May 2013

Re pulling up the ladder

response to "Pulling up the ladder" by Rami Ismail

Rami makes a good point that it's not necessarily healthy for successful "indie" developers to be curating newcomers, because there's a problem of self-interest, they're putting their own hard-earned reputations on the line, making them less likely to recommend risky new things. I'm not sure how large a problem this is - though I'm not personally in such a position, I'll happily recommend anything I like any time regardless of weirdness or inaccessibility.

..which reveals another problem with this: it's based on what the people doing the recommending like, so it tends to reinforce the same set of tastes.

I've made things in a bunch of different genres and styles so I may be better positioned to see this than most. It's very clear to me that whenever I make a new game, those who are keenest to pick up on it are those who make similar games themselves. When I make a roguelike, it's lifted up by the roguelike crowd. When I make a fairly conventional puzzle game with a cute twist, people who make puzzle-games-with-twists talk about it. When I make a slow ambient exploration thing without much conventional "gameplay", it's those who make that kind of thing who promote it. But when I make something that doesn't already have a strong presence in the indie games scene, it fizzles. And I get the reverse effect sometimes too - people say things like "why are you wasting your time making [style of thing I don't like] when you're good at making [style of thing I do]?".

So here's the deeper problem with putting the responsibility of lifting up newcomers on those who are already successful in the field: even if they're completely willing to take risks on things that might not pay off, they're only interested in things that interest them. The gaps where things are really getting missed you don't even see, because they're not things you personally care about.

There's been more discussion recently of the "just make a great game and the rest will magically work out" fallacy. The thing is - this might work when what you want to make lines up with a wave that's there to catch, but not otherwise. The "indie games scene" acts as a filter; it's very hard for a game to reach the outside world without passing through it, the larger videogame community and the world as a whole trust small cliques to curate what might be of interest to them from the masses of stuff that gets made. But the games that might appeal to people out there but don't conform to the tastes of the successful "indie game" clique just get lost. There's no room for anything truly new if for anything to succeed it has to be liked by someone who likes the old things best.

A challenge for everyone : try to perceive the value in something that's not the kind of thing you usually like, and that also hasn't been authorised as "good" by a friend or public figure.


  1. I'd also like to throw in an accusation that this probably limits what the "IGF scene" produces. I mean, a savvy developer is going to recognize what the "waves" are and go for those. End result: high budget artsy puzzle platformers become the indie version of the high budget military corridor shooter. It's just what you do if you want to chase the big bucks.

  2. This hits the nail on the head. Because our GIANT INDIE MONOCULTURE developed from such small origins than it's going to be really influenced from those small origins. We need to do our damndest to broaden what we make and help encourage communities that aren't into "indie" games, but all kinds of experiences. We need more splinters that admit they're not covering all possible indie games but a specific style (eg: being influenced by the tastes of the each curator) and less all consuming media/curation giants that speak for "indie" as if it was and can only be one group of things. Can you imagine if in music everyone largely agreed on what was good and worthwhile? It's getting better definitely, but we have to make every effort to keep widening.