In October 2015, Steam inaugurated the GreenLight program to collect community input and help developers release games on their platform based on a rating system: gamers would decide whether a game was good enough to be released. It would be the perfect Darwinian solution to facilitate indie games discovery in a market of ever growing competition and riddled with poor quality products. Little they knew, a vast majority of the games released through GreenLight were getting rated by paid reviewers.
The number of games released in the years prior to the GreenLight program made Steam the most popular store for PC indie gaming. But it was also the platform with the worst games. Since GreenLight, a ton of games is been released every day. In 2018, Steam would surpass 8000 games released, most of them with no polish whatsoever. Some of are even still unfinished. In 2017, Steam changed the GreenLight policy, but games are still being released in absurd record numbers every day.
The Indie Apocalypse was a market forecast of the end the indie hype in game development since the competition wouldn’t stop growing in a more democratic market welcoming game engines with smoother learning curves and, consequentially, more and more game developers. Since 2015, the indies are migrating from Steam to other platforms like Itch.io. However, most of the new developers are still releasing their games on Steam, since its player base is still the biggest on the internet. So, why is the indie scene still alive and making even better games in the face of an oversaturated market? Why are many devs still releasing games on Steam when other platforms like Itch.io are way more indie friendly?
An Indie centered Market
Since the release of the Xbox 360, the indie section is common ground in all digital stores. For PCs, the indie market was always represented by Steam, GOG, and others. Around 2010, some indie-focused stores, like Desura and Itch.io became available, making it easier for indies to be found by their target audience. Platforms like Game Jolt and Itch.io are not only meant for selling games but they also work as a networking hub for developers to meet and start events like Game Jams and fairs. That kind of virtual environment started to simplify team organization to facilitate indie projects, making it possible for people from different continents to work together by affinity.
Sadly, not everything is as ideally beautiful. Most of the games in these stores don’t make a profit. Not only because these stores are less popular than Steam, but because most the of indie developers, in general, don’t know how to promote their games, and that started another problem…
The “Crash” of indie games
Most of the indie game developers can’t live only by making their games, that’s a fact. There’s a large portion of indie devs that make games as a hobby or only to participate in a game jam or just for learning purposes. In those cases, profit looks like a secondary goal. A large number of indie games available on digital stores are made by these people, and they share the same market with other indie devs trying to make a living off of games. Let’s look at some numbers to see the problem.
The total games released on Steam in 2015, the year of the Indie Apocalypse, was 2964. Now let’s compare that with a known console game sales. The Sony PlayStation has a library of 2606 games released in a timespan of 10 years. Impressive, right? Well, not quite. In 2018, more than 8000 games were released on Steam. The average profit of games is lowering every year on that store. The payment system is worsening too. Some professional indie developers started to migrate to other stores or platforms, like Sony PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch. This looks awful, right? A crash is coming! Well…no. Hell no!!!
Making games is not for the weak minded
Being an indie game developer is a tough job and it will always be. In an era of easily-made games, with a plethora of tools to make games with a certain quality in a few weeks, it’s normal that more people are trying to join this market. In the last month, Steam changed its revenue politics, making it easier for big studios to profit, but it kept the same rules for indie developers. The biggest share of games in Steam is made by indies, so this change only helps a few studios that make over US$10 million from their games.
It looks bad, right? Hell broke loose! Run to the mountains! It’s #IndieApocalypseNow! Well, no. Like I said before, the market is always changing and it always will be a place for indie developers, a bigger space than bigger studios could ever have. The next big thing for indies is the Epic Store: a market with only 12% cut over sold games. Probably, in the next years, better services will be opened. So relax indie developer, the end is not near.