Mar 13, 2018 IN Game Dev Talks

Indie vs. AAA

Matej Jurcak
Community Manager

After reading about and talking to people who have either interfered with this industry or just danced around it somehow and being sort of a part of this industry myself (being a gamer for as long as I can remember), I am able to take a look at this topic from different angles. What seems to be the trend that people (experienced and renowned) are moving away from this industry and setting up new companies where they put themselves as CEOs? It does not seem to be the money. Let me share with you what I have found out so far.

What does Indie mean today and what it used to be?

The term Indie Game stands for an Independent Video Game. A Video Game which is often created without the financial support of a publisher and with full creative freedom for the developer. Typical for these video games is their gameplay originality, focus on innovation and interesting art design. A rise of the Indie industry happened in the middle of the 2000’s when the digital distribution was introduced and the necessity of publishing a game on a physical discs was eliminated. Being a full-time Indie game developer meant taking a great risk of leaving the stability of salary of day-job and pursuing something that you would really enjoy doing, something that you love or always dreamt about doing.

These conditions have not changed much since the Indie boom, however the new problem has arisen. The process of releasing a new indie game has never been easier and the market is fully soaking with the Indie games. Good news for the consumers is that they have a huge portfolio of Indie games to choose from, not so good news for the developers as their chances of making some sort of higher profit gets slimmer with every game released, because it is hard to sell the new game on such saturated market . Basically anyone talented (or not so talented) can become an Indie game developer, however it does not necessarily mean that they will become a successful Indie game developer. Even though it is hard to measure the success of an Indie game as the main aim is usually not making huge revenue.

Indie vs AAA

There has always been a debate: What job might be better? Working on a super popular AAA title (games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Fifa, which are super expensive to create) or a smaller title, working together with your friends or taking on this challenge by yourself.

From the point of gamers or the consumers, it is not exactly a necessity to segregate these people. Some people enjoy playing the AAA games, some of them look for the original content and ideas in the Indie Games. These two preferences are not mutually exclusive. There is an ongoing trend of successful developers in big companies producing successful AAA titles moving to smaller, a bit more quit their jobs and move to work on the Indie titles. Indie game developers are setting up their own companies. After doing a bit of research we can say that the common motivation of these individuals seem to be the fact that working in AAA game company usually means being part of a huge team and the outcome of a certain individual in this game is not easily distinguished. The higher a person moves in the chain of command, the more indirect impact on the game they have. Somewhere in the higher position of this ladder you are acting as a communication center between couple of teams and approving this and that and the motivation and drive of the talented and self-driven individuals is easily lost, as in fact, you are acting as a manager more than a developer.

This is most definitely not a hate article on the AAA business, however, not everyone wants to be just a cog in the well oiled machine working 24/7 all over the world. (Great studios have their departments set in different timezones - when people are off in one timezone, other teams are picking up their work in another timezone).

Working on Indie game where the team is usually made of 1 to 6 people gives the developers much more freedom in what they want to do and what they would like to avoid. One thing which you will be definitely avoiding is the communication chain and approvals/denials of ideas which might seem good to you, but in the overall - they might not bring as much revenue as the idea some other person came up with.

One very important difference between these two game industries is the final motivation - where AAA games are usually made to make revenue, Indie games are usually made to have fun and the revenue is not the main focus of these games. It is an appreciation of a certain community you claim your intended audience. At certain point in our lives, we are dragged towards the things we appreciate more than fat paycheck and we want to stick around these things/people more and more. It’s only natural. Of course, it’s not a walk in the park as this development still costs money and these developers still need to finance their own game - it is often a huge decision to go this way. Sacrifice in the form of “life” is the right term to use as these games still require hours and hours to be completed and the costs are not gonna cover themselves.

Where we at now?

With the tools accessible by basically anyone nowadays, and the amount of talent and the level of technology we can utilize almost for free, it is becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between certain so called AAA titles and so called Indie titles. We might be at the break of a new era where the new gen Indie games might be taking over the gaming market as consumers seem to be offered mostly the same content when it comes to AAA titles.

And here’s a question for you - would you rather be working on a game, star-spangled awesome receiving multiple awards where your individual mark would be almost invisible or would you prefer to work on a game with couple of friends and just going for the fun and smaller community appreciation?