Why indie games may have a difficult future

The rise of independent games and the community surrounding them has been the most heartening story in gaming over the past few years. Small studios – sometimes just a couple of friends, as in the case of Super Meat Boy – have produced a handful of truly exemplary games, games that will be played for decades: Braid, Limbo, Journey, and so on.

These are success stories worth celebrating, and the rich creative ground tilled by these games will undoutedly produce more masterpieces. But it’s important to remember that developing an indie game is like starting any small business: the vast majority will not make a lot of money. The median 25 percent of games made by independent and hobbyist developers for iOS make between $1,000 and $10,000.

Neil Sorens, the Creative Director at Zen Studios, offers up some more important cautions to the overwhelming optimism surrounding the scene:

They may be in for a rude awakening once they launch a product, however, as income inequality for the App Store is incredibly high, and the customer base is wildly different from that of consoles in their gaming and buying habits. Less than half of developers who launch a product on the App Store recover their costs, and of course some fail even to get their product out.

The increased amount of product (from developers who lack expertise on the mobile market) with no corresponding increase in consumer dollars will result in lean times for all but the 1% (more like 0.01%).

Indie developers, like generations of artists before them, may come to realize that making money from pursuing their passion is the exception and not the norm. That’s why it is so important that we continue to set up the same network of subsidies for independent game creators that other artists enjoy. Insulating artists from the pressures of the marketplace is a very good way to ensure the continued boom in creativity in the field, at least until we get Games Basel.