Indie game developers' quandary
The topic of this post came to me after I happened upon a couple of videos on widely disparate subjects.
While making my way through The Rageaholic's Hugo-nominated vlog series, I came across this episode explaining why hopes that indie developers will pull the video game industry out of its current sales dive are woefully misplaced.
Caution: NSFW Language ahead
There are over 150 million gamers in the United States alone. AAA developers bank on creating blockbusters that sell millions of copies each. Since major games cost millions, or tens of millions, of dollars to make, the big developers' blockbuster-focused business model involves substantial risk. A major game that sells 400 thousand copies can be considered a failure.
To put the gulf between AAA and indie sales in context, let's look at Steam. The world's most popular PC game retail/distribution platform, Steam is to indie game developers what Amazon's KDP is for self-published authors.
How many copies does the average game sell on Steam?
Keep in mind, that figure includes AAA games from big developers that sell millions of copies. No matter how you slice it, indie developers aren't yet in a position to challenge the big boys for game industry dominance.
The case of indie publishing
The second video that inspired today's post comes to us courtesy of Mike Cernovich, who recently interviewed author James Altucher after the two authors had a chance meeting.
Both Altucher and Cernovich are highly successful indie authors. Watch from the 9:00 mark to the 10:00 mark as they discuss the benefits of self-publishing compared to signing with a traditional publisher.
James specifically mentions that books by independent authors receive higher average review ratings than books sold through traditional publishers. He also points out the significant fact, reported by Hugh Howey's Author Earnings site, that indie authors as a group now out-earn their traditionally published colleagues.
Indie vs. indie performance
Amazon and the Kindle have turned the publishing industry on its head. Within a few short years, big New York publishers have gone from controlling a majority of the eBook market to less than 25%. At the same time, indie authors have captured over 40% of eBook sales.
|Source: Author Earnings|
Then there's the fact that indie publishing doesn't have an ideological litmus test as a barrier to entry.
I'm not just speaking secondhand, here, since my self-publishing credentials are well established.
But if indie authors have managed to pick up failing trad publishers' slack, why haven't indie game developers enjoyed comparable success?
I'm less knowledgeable about video game publishing than novel publishing, but Razörfist's argument makes a lot of sense.
Print books are cheap to produce; eBooks even more so. As a consequence, anyone can self-publish a book at a level of quality rivaling any title released by the Big Five. But when state-of-the-art video game production costs routinely soar into the millions of dollars, coming up with the entry fee is a much taller order.
AAA game studios' over-reliance on blockbuster games shows no signs of abating any time soon. Sadly, neither does indie gaming's relative underperformance.
On the flip side, predicting that big New York publishers will keep hemorrhaging market share looks like a pretty safe bet. Consequently, indie authors can expect business to keep booming in the foreseeable future.