Good times ahead for independent games

Community gaming panel at SXSWi
The community gaming panel at SXSWi: future bright for indie game developers

Gaming is set to see the same breakthrough for independent game creators that The Blair Witch Project gave to indie film makers.

That was the consensus of the panel at the 'Games By the People, For the People' session on day one of South by South West Interactive in Austin, Texas.

There's currently a wealth of options for people to create their own games – whether it's creating an app in Flash, building for the iPhone or coding using Microsoft XNA – and this is fuelling a boom in independent game production, much as computers have given independent film makers the ability to create movies on a budget.

There's a huge democratisation of gaming going on, says Lee Uniacke, CRO at Kongregate, a site which features thousands of free Flash games. "Now there are millions of outlets for games. We had a text-based game called 'Don't Shit Your Pants'. It made people laugh. But the point is, with over 12,000 games, there are a lot of different ways of connecting."

Reality TV has helped people to understand that entertainment isn't all about massive production values, adds Uniacke.

Indie game developer Steve Demeter of created the hugely popular $5 iPhone game Trism. How did he do it?

"I got in when it was low-hanging fruit," admits Demeter, adding that just an idea isn't going to make it now. His advice on how to make a popular iPhone app? Most happen virally, he says – they have nothing to do with magazine reviews and are more about impulse buying than ever.

"Let's say someone shows me 80 iPhone apps, but they only have the time to show me five – I only buy one." So if you can demonstrate why a game is worth buying in 15 seconds, you're onto a winner, he explains.

Microsoft's Boyd Multerer draws a parallel between games and movies, talking of how in the eighties films were all about the blockbusters, and in the nineties came the independent films. "The games industry has been looking like the big blockbuster," he says, "and now we're going straight to tons of little games and skipping the middle bit."

But why bother? "It's fun," says Gareth Davis, Games Platform Manager at Facebook. "Making games is really, really fun. The coolest thing in the world is when someone plays your game."

"Why do people write books?" adds Multerer. "This is a way you communicate with people … now you are having an interactive experience with them. This is a new way of expressing yourself."

So, as the panel moderator bluntly put it, "should EA be crapping a brick?"

Multerer likens the current situation in games development to when Sex, Lies and Videotape hit the movie screens. "That was the first really big hit independent movie… but it did not kill the blockbuster. And the same thing is going to happen… independent games are not going to stop the big, smash hit, blockbuster games."

"I think it's an incredibly exciting time right now," adds Facebook's Gareth Davis. "I'm looking forward to the Blair Witch Project of gaming. It cost $30,000 to make and pulled in $200million at the box office, and EA's not going to be able to do that."

Global Editor-in-Chief

After watching War Games and Tron more times that is healthy, Paul (Twitter, Google+) took his first steps online via a BBC Micro and acoustic coupler back in 1985, and has been finding excuses to spend the day online ever since. This includes roles editing .net magazine, launching the Official Windows Magazine, and now as Global EiC of TechRadar.