WHAT SKILLS ARE REQUIRED TO BE AN INDIE GAME MAKER
Indie game developers, as the name would suggest, by definition are a group of independent game developers that don’t have any strong affiliations with any other platforms, companies or publicity/administration teams and in most cases, are consisted of very few people within their own development team.
Indie game developers are usually longtime friends or small time but trustworthy collaborators that finally banded together in order to try and push out a product they had either envisioned or at least, talked about the general idea of it sometime in the past, only now having gotten to sit at the “round table” in order to discuss the development, realization, and hopefully, the finalization of their envisioned project.
PROWESS STRENGTHENED DUE TO NECESSITY
While there are some indie game developers that have previously worked for a large and/or famous development company and have left the company, conceding the popularity, stable income and quality referral potential with it in order to pursue their development dreams that the company’s policy might have infringed upon either for standardization, quality control or demographic nurturing, such cases of highly experienced indie developers with a substantial financial background are not the standard.
In most cases, indie developers are people that are the total opposite from the previously mentioned variant – they are people who have a vulnerable financial background, moderate experience with a few stable odd jobs here and there but feel like they have the skills and talent to create much more than what they’ve been tasked with so far.
As such, they’ve had it with the general mediocrity in their working environment and have decided to make a leap of faith, hoping that their skills, creativity, and ingenuity are enough to lead them to success in their endeavor with the production of their envisioned product, hoping that besides their inherent lack of funding and manpower, their dream product will manage to pull through.
THE BENEFITS OF FREEDOM OF THOUGHT
On the other case, what indie developers lack in financial background, manpower, and marketing/administration platforms to help them fund, properly develop, timely flush out and efficiently market the product, they have in their freedom of thought.
Regardless of the affiliations outside the base development group, all other parties are going to indubitably infringe on your absolute freedom in creation.
Funding platforms will desire security measures for increased chances for profit, manpower providing platforms will want to partake in the direction in which the game is being developed, administration and marketing platform will desire demographic targeting methods and the list goes on.
While operating individually, even though the band of indie developers will have to pull not only their weight but actively help out departments that are not their specialty (and vice versa), perhaps even work unpaid overtime and do the marketing and administration themselves, at the end of the day, any inhibitions that a generic development company faces when developing a game will be abolished for the small, but highly efficient and cohesive group of developers that work towards a common goal, having nothing less of a shared vision in their mindset and their desire to accomplish it.
WITH POWER COMES RESPONSIBILITY, AND FREEDOM IS ONE OF THE GREATEST
Before getting partnered with EA to get the proper funding, manpower and simply technical staff to eventually produce the legendary trilogy that is Dead Space, I remember Glen Schofield, the creator of the original Dead Space talking in an interview about how he and a bunch of his friends had this idea of making the scariest horror game of all times as an ongoing topic of discussion for a whole decade.
Even though they constantly talked about it at almost every personal life meeting they had, it was only during a ride in a subway that the supposedly outdated or at least slightly malfunctioning tram started screeching so horrifically that made every passenger onboard grasp from horror that inspired Glen Schofield to take out his phone, record “the horrid sound” (as he describes it) and simply say “I think we’ve got it”, leading to the start of the development of Dead Space 1 within weeks.
It was this simple moment of inspiration that turned the long-discussed ideas, concepts and abstract into something that was put on the table to be worked on and developed, to eventually produce the legendary trilogy of Dead Space games that we horror fans adore, some people even debating that Dead Space should be considered as a blueprint for modern horror games in their designing philosophy and general approach in development.
“During the development, I had to break, make and mend rules, all with the power of innovation to create the scariest game I can possibly create”; – Glen Schofield;
As previously mentioned, just as the coin has two sides, so has the working methodology of an indie game developer. What they lack in funding and manpower they thoroughly makeup with freedom of thought, creative direction and the dictation of how the development process proceeds.
Working pace, budget allocations and marketing approach is solely in the hands of the handful, and with clever management of all the available resources, a diamond can be found throughout the seemingly endless piles of stones.
While indubitably an indie game developer should have (at least) baseline knowledge of game development, programming/coding and general technical expertise to be able to cook the ingredients into an actual dish, whether the dish is going to be tasty or not depends on non-quantifiable factors, such as ingenuity, creativity and the ability to think outside the box.
If an indie studio’s product can’t compare with triple A+ product in the same genre simply due to lack of funding to polish the graphics or make high-end cutscenes, the indie dev can more than compensate with a quality narrative.
Impeccable and original storyline with convoluted, yet minimalistic writing are more than welcomed these days, and proper avoidance of unnecessary and premature exposition of the storyline can lead to intriguing and enticing characters with realistic personality depth.
If properly executed, the characters can or perhaps even should have both perks and quirks, which then can perhaps translate into how the game behaves in reality (of the fictional space in which the game operates).
Music and voice acting are important, but more expensive does not always mean better.
Proper use of budget for VA will leave an impact on the game but not drain the resources too much, while a general ambiental soundtrack with a few combat or immersion themes can make or break the game.*
*(Darkest Dungeon for an example, a rogue-like dark ambient horror game has only one VA in the whole game, the “Narrator” which is actually Wayne June, an employee of Audible who used to VA audiobooks, of whom the indie devs took note of due to the strength and depth of his voice and hired him full time to be the convoluted storyteller, peeling the exposition of the plot one line at a time, with a plethora of combat quotes that are repeatable during the combat sequence of the game; regardless, his VA is the thing for which the game is most notably famous for, and yet he’s but one person);
When addressing graphical fidelity, many modern gamers are bored of the hyper-realistic graphical appeal of videogames that lacks any context behind it, almost as if the quality of the graphical fidelity tries to hide the lack of actual context in some modern games.
This is probably as to why Fortnite with its cartoonish graphics was so successful.
Many different graphical approaches that are budget friendly are available, such as pixel art, 2d game art, or even animated/minimalistic graphics.
Creativity can allow you to create a perfect storyline or a fantasy setting, but ingenuity is what’s going to make the setting feel alive and shining.
When addressing the main topic of the article, if I had to summarize the skills and characteristics required to be a (successful) indie developers, I’d say that anything can be done with the slightest resources as long as the work is done with passion and the design approach is unorthodox.
As long as you think outside the box and are willing to put the time and effort into the construction and the development of your idea, you’ll manage to give the audience something impeccable beautiful.
With proper resource allocation, proper accent on things that are important to you about your product and that ultimately accord to the unhindered freedom in your designing philosophy, the product can not only be finalized, but it will be the best possible version of it as well, as it’s been proven time and time again.