2012 feels like it is the year that indie games are finally having their moment. Indie Game: The Movie was a Sundance smash, game funding has exploded on Kickstarter, and indie game developer Jonathan Blow was the subject of an in-depth profile in the most recent issue of The Atlantic. Stephanie Barish, the CEO of IndieCade, the international festival of independent games, sees things a little differently.
“I think that they’ve always been having their moment,” said Barish in an interview this month, “it’s just that people are noticing. If you look at independent films, there are constantly new ones having their moment, but it took a while before people were really paying attention to that side of the industry. Now it seems like part of the fixture, I think that’s really what’s happening.”
IndieCade, which was founded in 2005, has become an integral part of the indie game scene. The festival and conference, which takes place in Culver City, California each October, brings independent game developers from around the world together. Best practices are shared game dev to game dev, while the general public gets their hands on games in various stages of development.
Game studios who don’t have the backing of major studios face the challenge of getting exposure. When the sheer number of games being made at every level of the game industry are factored in, the work being done by small teams can get buried in the digital haystack.
“That’s part of the reason that we set up IndieCade to begin with,” said Barish, “this feeling that there’s all this work out there that people need to see, and that there also needs to be some kind of process for being able to really show some of the most innovative and interesting work.”
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of Turnstyle that we steered the conversation to the burst of games crowdfunding excitement that was kicked off by Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure earlier this year. The trend is one that Barish has been watching as well.
At the moment, the crowdfunding seems to favor established studios, who are using Kickstarter and its ilk as a kind of pre-ordering platform. Gamers offer wild amounts of support, and feel confident that the games will ship.
“But I don’t know what kind of pressure it puts on indie developers once they’ve got that funding, because creating an indie game is really hard work. You have to go against the grain, you don’t have the resources even with whatever Kickstarter funds you get you’re still not going to get enough resources.”
Many indie games take far longer to complete than the development teams anticipate. The game Fez, which was featured in Indie Game: The Movie, finally came to market after a five year long development cycle. The pre-order component of crowdfunding creates consumer expectations that untested developers may not be ready for.
At them moment Barish isn’t ready to make a final judgement on what impact Kickstarter is going to have on the health of the indie game scene.
“I think it’s too soon to see. There are going to be some games that fail and some that don’t.”
The pressure crowdfunding creates to ship product only intensifies issues that indie game devs already face with structuring their projects. As anyone in a creative industry can tell you, talent rarely translates into solid project management skills. To help solve those issues IndieCade is taking a cue from the Sundance Film Festival model and has launched a lab.
“The lab is mentoring and helping to set milestones. So we’re pretty aware of the fact that you need all those things: the superstructure in order to finish a game, and how much longer it takes people to finish than they think it’s going to.”
The festival, which has had a presence at the titanic E3 video game trade show since IndieCade began, has also begun exploring the potential for expansion.
“We actually started off as doing a series of smaller showcases all over. That was kind of the way we started before we had the ability to have our own stand alone event, which we would of course keep because we love it. We’re following the model of film festivals and thinking a lot about how to take some of these amazing games and give them an even bigger visibility, with additional places to be able to bring them and show them.”
Bigger visibility will be what IndieCade’s getting at this year’s E3. The festival will be brining some of the early submissions to IndieCade proper to the trade show, and this time out the IndieCade booth will be right in the foyer of the LA Convention Center, making their booth far more visible than they were at last year’s show.
The October festival is shaping up quite nicely as well. Web celeb Felicia Day will host the IndieCade Red Carpet awards, and Barish revealed that the folks at Culver City’s Fourth Wall Studios (who we profiled) are helping her team look at the experience design of the festival. Given Fourth Wall’s skill with Alternate Reality Games, patrons should be in for a real treat this Fall when the streets of downtownCulver City are handed over to gamers once again.