MomoCon 2015: The Escapist Podcast

The Escapist Podcast live panel, during MomoCon, focused on the current state of ‘indie’ and what it means to the industry.

The Editor-in-Chief at The Escapist, Josh Vanderwall, called out that anyone can make a game today. A sentiment that NerdEXP has seen echoed by game developers during interviews. With Unity free to develop on, other programing interfaces following suit and the wide breadth of tutorials available it does seem that more developers are able to go from creating locally to digital distributions with ease.

The term indie as used by many incorrectly to differentiate smaller downloadable titles from large expansive hundred-hour experiences. Josh Engen, freelance writer, recognizes this and calls out that indie is more of a feeling than a distinct definition at this point. This is why entries like Journey or Child of Light are still included in the conversation, despite their funding from larger publishers.

Janelle Bonanno, Editorial Director of Gaming for Escapist Magazine , acknowledges that the biggest hurdle for indie developers is PR and marketing. Many triple-A developers will spend as much on marketing as they do development and it becomes difficult for a smaller studio to compete when they aren’t on a level playing field. There is a reason that Grant Theft Auto V went on to being the largest selling media property of all time – it benefited from a constant stream of press and paid advertising.

With all the attention on indie games during the discussion, the panelists do admit that there is a premium that players pay for the indie experience if you compare hours to dollars. Ultimately, this counter-argument doesn’t hold up because players who purchase indie games are supporting the arts and unique experiences that aren’t offered by the normal treadmill of releases that triple-A studios create.

Is indie always the answer? Vanderwall admits no – gamers need large publishers and developers. These serve as tentpole release for the industry and draw attention to the video game space. Ideally, the large 100 hour campaigns and multiplayer centric adventures can co-exist with the more experimental storytelling and unique mechanics offered in indie games.

Whenever discussing indie games, the conversation will typically turn to Kickstarter. Bonanno calls out that Kickstarter has become a glorified pre-order system when it works. And when it doesn’t work, the developers who took money from donors should be obligated to deliver the product promised or return the funds immediately. Engen isn’t afraid to disagree and offers that man indie developers are overwhelmed with the project, don’t understand the complexity of coding and end up going out of business despite the best of intentions.

When a fan asks about higher profile developers receiving large pools of money instead of finding a publihser or putting up their own capital, Bonanno responds “Who is the problem, Double Fine or the people who still give them money?”

I had the opportunity to ask the panelists why it matters if a game is indie or not. Vanderwall said it doesn’t. Gamers should play great games regardless of their source but the problem is that so many gamers don’t give indie a chance simply because they are indie. The panel goes on to say that when looking for games, the player is most likely to find unique experiences and situations if they look towards indie developers as opposed to the triple-A space.

The Escapist aims to capture and celebrate the contemporary video gaming lifestyle and MomoCon provides a stage for necessary discussions about the industry to occur. For more debates on the gaming industry, insights from journalist and developer stories check out MomoCon coverage and attend next year.


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