We often talk about the ‘indie community’ – the brotherhood of developers who’ve chosen to stand together against the corporate mothership of the mainstream industry. But how together are they? I mean, we see them all hanging out at festivals, and occasionally bundling all their games together – but do they really do enough to support each other?
Ste and John Pickford aren’t sure. The veteran UK indie coders, currently responsible for the ace Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint, today launched a sort of campaign; they are calling for developers to promote each other’s games, and to get the ball of altruism rolling, they have launched a new section of their own site entitled Games We Like. Here, the duo have listed some of their favourite current independently produced titles, including the likes of Lap Uranus, Sand Slides and Quarrel. They stress that this isn’t about marketing cross-promotions – it’s about just flagging up other people’s games that you’ve really liked, so that your fan base can discover them, too.
“The dev community is a very friendly place, and game developers are always ready to help each other out with technical advice and support via informal networks, forums, Facebook groups and the like,” said Ste Pickford in their press release. “But one area where small, self-publishing indies really struggle is promoting their games, so we thought we’d try and kick off an initiative where indies also help each other out with visibility as well.”
“Our idea is to encourage every indie game developer out there to pick a few of their own personal ‘Games We Like’, and promote them within their products and on their websites,” said John Pickford. “None of us are really in competition, and we’ve each carved out a small audience. Why not connect those audiences?”
Importantly, the brothers have stressed that they don’t think the concept should be strictly reciprocal: developers should be willing to recommend the games of others, without expecting the same treatment in return. It’s cross-promotion, but with the emphasis every much on the latter word, rather than the former.
So how has the initiative gone down with developers? “The response has been really, really positive,” Ste told us this evening. “It’s surprised us actually, as I thought there would be a bit more criticism, but loads of devs on twitter, facebook and message boards have been telling us they think it’s a great idea, and that they’re going to do it themselves too, which is great.”
According to Ste, the brothers checked with all the developers they featured to make sure there were no objections – they’ve also acknowledged that their list is highly subjective and idiosyncratic. “We’d really like to emphasise the personal nature of the list we’ve chosen,” says Ste. “The only criticism we had was a complaint on Twitter that it just seemed to be games by people we like. That was the whole point! We tried hard to make that clear, that it’s not an objective list of great games, but rather games by people we like that we’d like to see do well. What we’d love to see is every other dev picking similar personal selection of games to promote, rather than everyone picking the already popular, well reviewed, famous games out there.”
It’s an idea that the Pickfords have clearly been mulling over for some time, and something that they say has been attempted before, but has often become bogged down in logistics. “I think the inspiration was just frustration with various discussions about cross-promoting indie games leading to nothing,” says Ste. “Game developers tend to be good at analysing problems, and engineering solutions, so every discussion about getting some promo going ended up focusing on problems and rules, and programmers talking about writing APIs and back-end database systems to drive it. We just didn’t want to wait, or over-complicate things, so we thought we’d just pick some games and put up a website, then list them in our app, in a totally, easy, low tech way. We could always replace it with an automated API at a later date, but the promotion is needed now, not when the system is perfect.”
It seems sort of crazy that indie devs aren’t habitually doing this anyway – and indeed, lots DO mention other titles in their blogs. This kind of semi-promotional activity is possibly more common in the states, where there’s a more intricately organised community, based around festivals like IndieCade and SXSW, and very indie orientated educational establishments like The University of Southern California and The New York Game Center. But there’s no reason the rest of us can’t big each other’s work up.
Eventually, if the idea takes off, it would be handy to have all of these recommendations stored on one site, or whizzed out on a shared Twitter feed – but then, of course, you’ll just end up with that whole logistical problem again.
For now, hats off to the Pickfords – and make sure you play all the games they like; the list may be subjective and idiosyncratic, but it’s also bloody good.