You Are Nothing Special (But You Can Be)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by some extremely enthusiastic indie developer “the difference between indie games and mainstream games is indie games are made with passion.”  No.  It’s just not true.  Although I do not deny that indie developers are overflowing with so much passion that they cause all surrounding dust mites to hump like bunnies, it’s not a trait unique to them.  Simply put, if you work in the game industry, you probably have a passion for video games.

Yes, even crap like Duke Nukem Forever was made by a crew who have a love of video games. Who would take this job if they didn't have it?

Here’s a story for you.  There was this guy named Larry who did an internship at our office.  Larry was an accounting major at Stanford.  Larry was a really cool guy.  Funny, worked hard, and he was really smart.  Also, Larry thought accounting was fucking boring as hell and dreaded the tedium his job would no doubt bring him in the future.  I’m not the most talkative person, but I had to ask him why he would want to go to a prestigious school like Stanford on his own dime to study for a job he knows he would hate.  Larry was intelligent enough that his options were, in my opinion at least, limitless.  But Larry chose accounting because it’s a career that pays well and typically has a high degree of security.

Nobody who works in the game industry is like Larry.  There’s nobody going to school who has aspirations for a job in game production who dreads the concept of their chosen career path.  And that’s before we talk about the wages.  Although some people can make exceptionally good salaries in gaming, most jobs in the industry typically pay less than what comparative jobs in different industries make.

Indie game developers are a proud group of people, and they should be.  But when it comes time to describe what makes them unique, passion should be left off the table.  No matter what anyone believes, I promise you that almost every schmo working at Electronic Arts, Activision, or any other major gaming company has a true passion and love of video games.  They have to, because who would choose a career in an industry with below-average salaries, long hours, and job security that is often shaky at best?

So no, you are not special because of your passion.  Quit bringing it up every interview.  Mainstream writers need to quit using it as their all-encompassing adjective to describe the scene.  It’s simply not true.  Stop it.  Please.

But, indie developers have something amazing that does make them unique.  It’s precious enough that it should be the centerpiece of the entire indie development scene.  The thing people point to that sells newcomers on why indie gaming is so important.  Yet, for whatever reason, I rarely see developers talk about it.

Freedom.

You, the indie game developer, have it.  Those people at EA or Activision that are every bit as passionate as you do not.  You’re free to experiment.  You’re free to get weird.  You’re free to make mistakes.  You’re free to try something that has never been attempted before.  Why is this not the biggest crowing point on the scene?

Stuff like DLC Quest would never get made by a major studio.

When you make an indie game, you’re limited only by your imagination.  Well, that and any technical limitations, but my point still stands.  You can do anything you want with your game.  They can’t.  This is why you are special.  So take advantage of that, and brag about that, and be proud of that.  Go ahead, rub it in.  But above all else, use it.  One of my biggest disappoints since starting my site is how devoid of originality the indie scene at large seems to be.  I’m sure the lure of making an easy couple grand on yet another zombie TwickS or Minecraft clone is tempting, but it won’t get you any attention.  You could be the next big thing in gaming.  I mean, whose to say you don’t have it in you?  But the only way you can get there is by taking advantage of the one thing you have that they don’t.  Yea, you’re also free to play Follow the Leader if you so desire.  Just remember, there’s only one winner in that game and it already isn’t you.  They’ll still get all the attention.  All you’ll get is familiarity with the scent of the leader’s ass.

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