Listening

I’ve long railed against the concept of “the indie bubble” or “the indiepocalypse” or whatever name you would wish to choose to call the idea that there were good times and now there are rough times in videogames.

I’ve railed against it because it’s a fiction – it’s a tale of a time that only vaguely existed for a handful of people and even then, you kinda need to ignore just about everything happening in videogames.

There never was a time where you could just put your game on XBLA or Steam and the money would come in for anything *waves hands* vaguely good or something. Regular readers will, of course, know by now that this is something I’ve gone over repeatedly just about every single time this comes up.

Needless to say, I’m quite bored of reiterating that stuff over and over from different angles. Molyneux save me, I just bored myself in a handful of paragraphs so sorry about that.

I realise though that whilst I’ve tried my hardest to consign this nonsense to the bin where it belongs, I haven’t really taken much time out to explain why it bothers me so much.

So. Right.

I try to be a good listener when it comes to wot happens to people in games. I will freely admit that I can be as obnoxiously knee-jerky as the next person (who was really obnoxiously knee-jerky), I am frequently wrong too and as I go on I try and temper the knee jerk and be less wrong. I hope everyone who reads my words understands this and takes appropriate measures of salt.

Just, well, the tales of indiegeddon, no matter which name they masquerade under, have one thing in common – nobody is listening, just telling. There’s a belief that things happened and are happening certain ways and little evidence can course correct it. I think we all have our blind spots so y’know, I’m not claiming any sort of special innocence in that regard here but a belief is still just that without something to evidence that belief.

When it comes to indie bubbles or indiegeddon, the numbers don’t really back much up at all really. Plenty of people didn’t make money then, plenty of different people are making money now.

It’s also who isn’t being listened to. When it comes to getting by in games, listening to the people who didn’t find success, who have been locked out of the system, is vital so that we can work to improve our lot. It’s vital in going some way to making videogames a less shit place. It’s vital so we don’t keep repeating the same things over and over again. It’s vital because we end up with stronger works.

What all these tales of indie bubbles and apocalypse have in common is telling people where they are. You know, whether they are there or not. It’s not just that these theories omit crucial information, it’s that they’re telling folk what their lot is and will be. They tell the folks who didn’t somehow live the indie dream between whatever year and whenever the so called rot set in that their lived in experiences are simply wrong.

Tales of goldrushes and bubbles can be a balm for some folks. Maybe it might make you feel better knowing that now, unlike however many years ago, things are hard and the chances are you will fail yet this has always been the case. I know folks who near went bankrupt despite having “known” titles on XBLA, skint folks who had their work on Steam during the allegedly making hay times, I know folk who sold their house (just like people used to sell their houses to keep the lights on) to no great or useful success.

Which brings me round to why I am so militant in repeatedly holding no truck with indie bubble/apocalypse witterings. (Finally! – Ed)

I want to learn from these folk, not write off their experience. I want to see where and how things are fucking up and I want games to be a place where we can talk about these things without assuming that the lack of success is because it’s difficult now or that they were anomalies during boom times. It matters, yeah? It matters that things are not that simple, this is folk’s lives we’re talking about. We might not have it right one time but it doesn’t mean we have to keep making the same mistakes for other people.

Though they masquerade as some sort of reflection on the state of the industry, discussions along the lines of indie bubbles really obscure reflection. They cover our tracks, rewrite our stories and make it harder for us to learn where things are going awry. They damn us to the belief that things aren’t constantly in flux in games, that years go by without substantial changes to how people need to deal with selling or promoting their videogame. In reality, we’re lucky to see a few months out without a major shift.

“Where we are now in games” is rarely where we were even two months ago. It’s partially why I find generic “finish your game” advice to be a bit worrying as a lot of people end up throwing years into projects without the foresight to know where we might be in four years. To be honest, I don’t know where we’re going to be in four years or if we’re even still going to be here on this planet so I’m absolutely not claiming this is an easy task by any means.

I am, however, claiming we need to break a lot of absolutist beliefs in what selling videogames entails and that means oh so very much more than ‘things are crowded and hard’ because this is the natural state of any entertainment media or art. This is bottom rung stuff. Always.

The thing about videogames we’ve tried to paper over as long as I can remember videogames being a thing is that those that make off with the money are the anomalies, not the failures. As long as I’ve known videogames to be a thing this has been the case and at no point in recent memory has this really been noticeably any different.

It seems prudent to me that we discuss trying to exist in videogames from the baseline that things are often fucked up difficult in this space, that at any one time there’s going to be shifts and lurches of where the money goes. This stands in stark contrast to golden age thinking which despite best efforts can often boil down to ‘we had ours but…’ even when not intended.

We’re seeing The Rise Of Indie but we’re not seeing the lost jobs, the studio closures and so much surrounding that made certain times feel like boom times to some people. I mean, let’s be fair, no-one wants to feel we’re stepping on corpses to climb a ladder but this is videogames and that is A Thing here. We’re skipping over so much key information that helps us understand where we are and replacing it with fairy stories.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for fairy stories. I’m just not the biggest fan of the ones that play havoc with folk’s livelihoods.

And that, I guess, is why I continually shout at these tales that circulate so frequently. I want as many folk as possible to succeed in games and that means stacking the deck in their favour where we can. That’s a long and hard road, definitely. Hopefully a worthwhile one though, yeah?

Hopefully, anyway.