Awesome post by Dan, even more so than usual!
Some indie history

Great article on indie games that brings a certain generational perspective to the table that is often missing from these discussions.

When I started making games in the mid 90's, it was on the tail end of the days where a small team with no financing could launch a PC game and make a living off the results. Even then that wasn't strictly true since even our first game was supported by Epic back when Epic was a ragtag collection of shareware developers.

The important part was that a small team could make a game and no one needed to give them permission.

Moving into the 2000's, publishers and consoles consolidated their power. Development costs increased. Small teams found themselves shut out. They didn't have the money, the size or the relationships to make games of the type that the business people desired. This was the era that helped cement the term 'breaking into the game industry' where the entry barriers were so high that you needed permission in order to make a living creating games.

If anyone is a game developer, you know that making games is not necessarily a choice. It is an act that boils up from within. To live in a bizarro situation where you cannot express yourself because someone holds the keys of expression is excruciating. I know amazing devs that have gone for years without releasing a game because of projects not getting greenlit or getting canceled for the most inane reasons imaginable. Ten thousand creative careers crushed in cubicles. Publisher and platform control of development destroyed developer freedom of expression.

For players, this is meaningless. They love games, not game developers. As the linked article states, indie doesn't mean much as a player facing term. However, for developers, watching someone shitcan your dreams can be one of the most formative and painful lessons of your career. When you feel in your heart of hearts that you are a game developer and then you find yourself instead living a day-to-day existence as either an exile, a sharecropper or a house slave, the cognitive dissonance is extreme.

So when new distribution channels like casual PC downloadable, Steam, flash portals, mobile, and social games opened up, a lot of developers got excited. This was a chance for them to again make games without a master.

I'm guessing there are a lot of newer developers that never went through this arc. Some of the current house slaves who started as young impressionable trainees from feeder schools likely never even contemplated an alternative to their current lives. Working for the man, getting your projects canceled, playing politics to advance, and releasing a sequel every three years is their definition of what it means to 'make games'.

Or there are the new indies that just assume everyone with access to Flash can reach a million players and that making money is what it is really about. "What's the big deal if I set up some publishing deals with a larger company? Sure, I'll sell my IP...I can make other IPs. And that 3 game publishing contract gives me stability! In this topsy turvy world of indie development, I need money more than independence. And solid business practices. And someone to take care of us. Like a publisher. Or a Zynga."

Game developers have a heritage now. We have a history worth knowing and understanding. There is a pattern of glory and of abuse. Your current career is a thread in a large weave. Do not be myopic. Do not be selfish. Consider where your decisions lead this industry in the next decade.

This currently is a great time for small teams to make great, financially successful games with very few gatekeepers. It is incredibly precious and is the core of my identity as a game developer. Every day I wake up with the knowledge that we lost that. It was gone and never coming back. The future was 400 person teams with zero room for personal creativity.

And then I look around and see the indie movement. Thousands of developers making the games that they want to make independent of anyone permission. It is a complete miracle that we got our freedom back. Cherish it. Never give it up again.

take care,
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