The slow death of $60 single player gaming


Yeah, the “fun per hour” measurement is terrible because it’s doubly (Dolby?) subjective. You’re making a judgment call not only on the game’s quality, but how much your gaming dollar means to you. There is no way in hell to make it work as any kind of realistic purchasing factor.


Do Limbo/Inside count as indies? The Witness? I know those are both from last year. Monster Slayers? Hellblade? Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes?


Limbo is ancient (one of the original indie mega-hits in the wake of Braid), but yeah, Inside would count (disregarding the retail release). The Witness is another game with a somewhat tenuous claim to the “indie” title, given its budget and heavy marketing on Sony’s part (see also: No Man’s Sky). I’ve literally never seen anyone outside of Qt3 talk about Monster Slayers, but yeah, it’s indie. Hellblade combines the budget issue of The Witness with the aforementioned “supposedly ‘independent’ studio has spent most of its existence working with publishers” issue of Nex Machina. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is over two years old now, but yeah, it’s indie as hell.

“Indie” itself is a nebulous term that can be twisted to describe a lot of stuff it probably shouldn’t (again, Valve), but generally speaking, it’s defined by low budgets, small dev teams, and lack of publisher support (outside of last generation’s “you can’t get onto Xbox LIVE Arcade without a publisher letting you use one of their allotted release slots” shenanigans).


Yeah, I think I end up buying a half-dozen games for every one that blows me away and demands my attention. There’s no sure thing out there, but I try to play the odds.


Dead Cells would be the cleanest candidate. Tiny team with no real pedigree (I think just a decade of Flash games). No kickstarter or other marketing. Just a great 2d platforming with lovely pixel art animations. Half a million copies sold on Steam.

But a few recent successes shouldn’t detract from your main point. It’s indeed a brutal world for indie game developers, Soma’s idea of it being a reliably profitable endeavor is just ridiculous.


Yep, Dead Cells is a great example of a successful indie game in 2017. Unfortunately, that also includes the part where it came out, got talked about for a week, and then disappeared again, to remain dormant until it appears in a major bundle.


I would use Stardew Valley, but I guess that was a 2016 title. It sure did suck up my 2017 though!


Again, the people mentioning indies are missing the point. Just because you can name a handful of indies that were successful does not mean that the indies that weren’t successful had bad games. There are good games in there that are hidden away because of a lack of money for real marketing efforts. Not to mention that building hype today is massively reliant on Twitch and Youtube influencers who are constantly getting spammed to look at all types of games (good and bad) and making sure that yours gets even looked at by an influencer is extremely difficult. Then having to fight the battle of steam’s discoverability and gaining a following, and if you make one mis-step and don’t get noticed your whole company risks dying.

it is not a good climate out there right now, for indies or major studios.


Except it hasn’t come out, what with being an early access title and all. (If it had I would own it right now.)


True enough! That just speaks to the strange nature of early access “releases,” though - again, Darkest Dungeon was released at the beginning of 2016, but it was a mega-hit for an entire year before that because of its early-access period.


We’re definitely not talking quality right now, just sales. If we were talking quality, you could probably come up with a pile of stuff. The real question is who is getting enough sales without pairing up with a major publisher? Not too many.

I think in general there is simply an overabundance of quality games right now. The market is due for contraction and not because of quality problems, but rather from the group of buyers being stretched too thin.


I think this is a scenario similar to an old comedian who wondered what the world would be like if we all became what we wanted to do when we were in elementary school – a world full of cowboys, ballerinas, and firemen.

Now that there’s only a minimal barrier to entry (and some government subsidies I’m seeing in the credits), there’s all kind of folks that are now “game developers,” what they always wanted to be. Some are weak, but enough are good enough to make a decently reviewed product. Except there are a dozen other games coming out the same week as any particular decent game, and a dozen the week after that . . .


If it is such a brutal world, then why are we seeing so many games you won’t heard of 5-10 years ago? I didn’t list indie “hits” like Gone Home or Sunless Sea because I thought they were kind of crap, but AFAIK they sold well. The fact that there is an explosion of titles not fitting the tradition US$60 a pop shows the consumers are better for it, and that developers find it worthwhile to develop for them.

Yes, that may be the case. There is only so many hours in a day, and not enough time to play games. But indie games tend not to be made obsolete by graphics, they will have longer tail. And you don’t have to be a mega hit to make a profit. So there are reasons to think indie games will continued to be funded.

At the end of the day, it is an open question on what would happen next to the funding model of game development. But I still stand by my point. There has never been a better time to be a PC gamer, because there are so many choices, and you pay whatever you feel comfortable: from F2P with microtransactions to US$60 for 10 hours gameplay. Choice. The whole US$60 price point is up for negotiation as well, it isn’t some market determined stable equilibrium. Again that is a good thing. Choice.


And yet it’s the only one that ultimately matters.


The one that doesn’t actually exist?


None of this really exists, man…


2013 and the beginning of 2015 respectively.

If the “thriving indie game industry” is this reliant on games released years ago, it’s in even worse trouble than I thought.


I can’t name them all doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I can’t name them all because I’m not a full time video game reviewer.

Do we visit the same forum? They come and go but it is choke full of indie game threads. There is even a thread talking about nothing but obscure indie games. Open your eyes maaaaaaaaan.

And this is just one slice of the game community.


I feel for developers who have a hard time succeeding in the market, but this may be the natural state of equilibrium – that the number of people who want to make games is much higher than the market can support as a full-time job. This isn’t anybody’s fault, but people making games should go into it with their eyes open. As with other creative pursuits (music, acting, writing, art, etc.), a few will hit it big but the majority will make some beer money but have to treat it as a hobby.

Looking at the market as a player rather than at the economics, I couldn’t be happier. I can’t even come close to keeping up with all the games coming out that I would like to play. Just took a quick scan through my purchase history and wishlist, and there’s a ton of good stuff.

Recent games indie games I’ve bought:

Battle Brothers
Leap of Fate
Monster Slayers
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Kentucky Route Zero
Steamworld Heist

Likely to buy in the future:
Dead Cells
Hollow Knight
Wonder Boy: Dragon’s Trap
Has-Been Heroes
Monster’s Den Godfall
Shadow Tactics
Solar Settlers
Halcyon 6
Nex Machina
Heat Signature
Battle Chasers: Nightwar


The most recent “new” game I bought was Battle Brothers, and it was a disappointment despite strong word of mouth. So I will be avoiding new games yet again for the foreseeable future because this keeps happening!

Also, I think a lot of people convince themselves a game is good in order to justify their spending $60.