This past weekend, I flew to Minneapolis, Minnesota to take in the first annual Indie MMO Game Developers Conference (IMGDC). This having been the first event of its kind, I had no idea what I should expect from such a specific conference.
What I found was a small conference, but a very enthusiastic group of both organizers and attendees who gathered together to discuss their passion; making MMORPGs. Independent developers face challenges that are different from those faced by larger companies. Often, Indie developers are working in small teams of as few as one or two people. Compare this to the much larger-sized teams at companies like EA Mythic, Turbine or Sony Online Entertainment.
"You can't buy Indie passion."
Those were the words of Jonathon Stevens, the Executive Director of the IMGDC in a welcoming message that appeared in the conference's program. After speaking with and listening to these Indie developers, I have to agree with the statement. While I'm not saying that developers from big studios don't have passion, I am saying that there was something different about these Indie developers.
In case you are left wondering what qualifies a company as an Indie, Josh Williams, the CEO of Garage Games and Day One Keynote Speaker, described an Indie as a company (even if it's only one person) that is not working with a mainline publisher or the like, thus retaining full creative control over their own project.
He said that Indie games say to the mainline industry that "it doesn't have to be this way."
Often, players look to the Indie community to take the risks that companies spending multiple-millions of dollars on their products never could. Often, the smaller teams and smaller budgets can lead to game play elements that are innovative, fresh and new.
Confidently, Williams proclaimed to the gathered developers that, "We can effect continued change in the [MMORPG] industry."
That isn't to say that Indie developers don't struggle financially to accomplish their dreams. In order to retain control of their projects, many Indie developers use their personal savings, max out their credit cards, work multiple jobs and more in order to get their projects out to players.
In order to get their games out the door, Indie developers often work with remote teams (people working from their homes around the country and the world), outside art studios, independent game artist and the like.
Williams told us that forming a team is easier now than it has ever been in the past. "More and more," he said, "there are people who can get things done."
Describing the state of Indie games today, he said that, "If you have the stuff to get games done, you can." He followed that up by quickly adding that, "if you don't [have the stuff], you find out quicker."
Williams said that Indie developers first need to ask themselves the following questions:
The biggest problem that faces new Indie developers is that they have an idea that is simply too big. Indie developers, in order to be successful, need to "Think smaller". Their goal shouldn't be to make millions of dollars on their first title.
Over the next week, MMORPG.com will be featuring articles from inside the conference's seminars and round table discussions. Indie games do indeed form a sort of backbone for our industry and offer fun and interesting alternatives to "mainline" blockbuster titles.
Recently, the number of people who are growing frustrated with mainline games has seemed to increase. More and more often on our forums and other independent forums, members complain about "mainline" games like WoW, and what have become known as "WoW clones", stating that they lack innovation and creativity. To those people, I would strongly suggest looking at the ever-growing number of independent titles that are being released. While many of them may not have the shiny, top-of-the-line graphics, they are likely to provide you with a different kind of game play experience.
Beyond that, it is likely that some of the innovative ideas that we will see in today's Indie MMORPGs, will, once they are proven to be effective, become mainstays of the multi-million dollar games.
One thing I will say is that having listened to the thoughts, ideas and passions of a number of the people behind these games, I have become a believer in what Mr. Stevens describes quite accurately as, "Indie passion."