Making games is the new "Starting a band"

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Individual indie game developers are often compared to garage bands, but that’s one metaphor that can be extended significantly further, according to Spiderweb Software’s Jeff Vogel. In a post on his website titled, “Writing Indie Games Is Like Being a Musician. In the Bad Way,” Vogel this week suggested independent game development is about to follow the garage band as the next great hobby for young creative people to toy around with for a while before getting on with their proper lives.

“Not everyone gives up, though,” Vogel acknowledged. “A tiny handful of bands, through a combination of skill, connections, and luck, become actual successes and make careers out of it. Other musicians make a living as freelancers or working in a business environment (studio musicians, corporate gigs, etc). Others, the damned souls, trapped between a lack of talent and an inability to quit, live long (looooong) lives as failed musicians.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, according to Vogel. He sees it as a natural outcome when you have far more people who want to pursue a career in a certain field than there are paying gigs for them all to find. And in the last few years, that has become the case in game development.

“This is the new normal. So, if you are one of the doomed souls who is determined to make a living in this business, you must figure out how to deal with it”

“There’s no need anymore to predict the endgame for the video game glut,” Vogel said. “It’s happened. We’re living it. Bands haven’t gone away. There’s still a billion of them. People making lots of video games won’t go away. There’ll always be a billion of them, offering their hot take of the procedurally generated Roguelike 2-D platformer (now in VR!!!!!).

“This is why ‘Indiepocalypse’ is such a useless term. Other fields have exactly the same situation, but nobody talks about the Musicianpocalypse or the Actorpocalypse or the Writerpocalypse. It’s just part of life.

“This is the new normal. So, if you are one of the doomed souls who is determined to make a living in this business, you must figure out how to deal with it.”

Vogel then downplayed any notion that the overabundance of games being released is somehow a fixable problem. There’s no point in expecting curation on game stores to solve problems for a number of reasons, Vogel said. Storefronts like Steam and iTunes have no incentive to avoid games being lost in the shuffle because they’re still making money off the ones that aren’t. And even if they wanted to curate the catalog, Vogel said at least half the stuff (on Steam, at least) is good enough that it deserves to be there, and that’s still way too much competition for most people.

He also expressed skepticism that a formal education in game development would solve the problem for aspiring creators, partly because any artistic pursuit has a certain amount of uncertainty and unpredictability baked into it, and partly because developers so commonly burn out early on in their careers, degree or no.

“Want a degree in video games? Fine,” Vogel said. “But you may want to approach it like getting a college degree in, say, playing the trombone. You might be one of the ones who makes it, but you’d damned well better have a solid Plan B.”

And as difficult as the situation may be now, Vogel said it’s only going to get harder as talented people in other parts of the world begin to get more access to the tools and training necessary for game development. Downward price pressure will continue, Vogel said, especially when creators in the third world can do a whole let better selling their games for $1 a copy than people with a cost of living common to traditional development hubs.

That said, Vogel added it’s still possible for someone to make it as an indie developer, even if he didn’t put it in the most encouraging terms.

“There will always be ways to get rich,” Vogel said. “All you have to do is be brilliant, spot the right opportunity at the right time, have at least a little luck, and then make an amazing product.”

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