I was going to finally post my thoughts on last week's NPD numbers today, but the IAC acquisition of GarageGames being made public pushes me to another topic as Independent Games have been so near to my heart for so long.
There is no question that GarageGames was near the heart of the most recent Indie revolution. The release of Torque seemed to put game-making within the grasp of anyone who desired to do so, while the release of Think Tanks and Marble Blast showed that great games could be made using it.
However, since that initial push, there has been a lot of silence. Of course Torque has been made to help people create XBLA games and was more recently ported to Wii, but GarageGames has only partially succeeded in helping change the way games are made and played.
XBLA is not the future of Torque. The developer experience and game quality requirement puts XBLA beyond the reach of 99.9% of Torque users and would-be users.
So what is next for Torque?
What is not next is the PC downloadable sector. Honestly, I believe GarageGames misstepped in that regard. While they did a great job at helping people make games, they did a horrible job in helping people sell those games. Without a market on the PC, the more savvy developers moved on. Without a market on the PC, current mainstream developers weren't as enticed to quite their day jobs and follow their dream. GarageGames made it easier to make a game, but game developers knew they had to eat, and no market had been created to sell Indie downloadable games.
Consider this question, "where do you buy indie games?"
The 'umm' that probably starts your answer is really the biggest problem that has faced indie games, and it has only grown worse over time. (with apologies to Manifesto)
GarageGames did have a game store, but it was clearly not the key point of the GG site. It was an afterthought, and that made it irrelevant.
I remember at IndieGamesCon in 2005 eating dinner with Jeff Tunnell and Jay Moore and making an impassioned argument for creating a game store. Something like 'Out of the Garage.' My reasoning? There wasn't anywhere to get Indie games on the internet. Casual games were harnessing their market, but indies were still for sale from many spread out sites without any cohesion. That lack of cohesion meant no market, no market meant no money, no money meant the best indie developers moving onto greener pastures.
And move they did. Most of the biggest indie developers moved either to casual games or to console games. The quality of Indie games available on PC decreased, and today, I think we have a situation where, for the 99.9% of indies, there is little possibility of making a go of it.
Josh Williams, in the blog about the IAC purchase stated: "we've never had the resources at hand to fundamentally change the game and carve out new space that'd really help developers be successful."
I agree with the general idea, but disagree with one point. They did have the resources, and in-fact were one of the few companies that could have done something to create an indie games market. I think the GreatGamesExperiment is proof of the resources and ability when the desire is behind it. What GarageGames didn't do was fully appreciate the importance of selling games to their future. They wanted to create the technology and let the developers create the market. That didn't work. 5 Years later there is no Indie marketplace, in fact there is less of a downloadable Indie market than there was when they started.
I think in retrospect the approach would have been something like:
1 - create great technology
2 - create games on that technology
3 - create a great community driven website store to sell the games
4 - release the games on casual portals, and then later steam and gametap to maximize awareness and drive customers back to the game store
5 - publish other people's games on the game store and create great add-ons for the great games that you'd already made
6 - improve the technology
7 - make new games on that technology
8 - repeat 4-7 multiple times
(my assessment is that GG got off to a great start doing 1 and 2, skipped 3, started to do 4 and then changed directions , dabbled with 5, worked on 6, didn't deliver on 7 and was ready to try a different approach by 8)
The move with IAC is all about creating a market for Independent developers. In creating a web-based games console, GG is attacking the heart of the matter. Will it work? That's hard to say. Certainly every indie who is hoping to make a financial go of things should be paying close attention. Potentially GarageGames is doing just what it needs to in order to create a market for Indie developers to sell their wares and make a living on the dream.
Currently for indies wanting to live their dream of making the games they want to and being paid to do it there are few options.
1 - Consoles - (XBLA requires more funding than most indies have, WiiWare is untested waters, PSN requires a personal invitation)
2 - Casual Portals - (This may require changing the game to better fit a market that you aren't familiar with, plus, many indies don't consider themselves indie when they have to take direction [which is a bad approach, but it is a common sentiment])
3 - Create a market for your game from scratch
Those options are pretty bleak. I know of very few businessmen who would dare take on option 3 (and very few indies have succeeded at it). Option 1 requires some experience and typically a lot of financing, but it is certainly a good option for indies, it may be the best one currently available. Option 2 is a low-cost, low-experience option, but it may not allow for development on your own terms.
Getting back to the first question, what does the IAC acquisition of GG mean?
It means they will still help with option 1, and they are going to work on creating a here-to-fore non-existent option 4...
...which sounds just like what was said 5 years ago when GG was formed!
However, the big difference now is that GG may have the finances and experience to make it happen.
As I've watched the indie revolution of 5 years ago slip away into dreams of what might have been, I'm hopeful that this new approach will create the indie market that the last one missed.