An Interview With Indie Gamer Chick
By Jonathan Balofsky On 4 Feb, 2016 At 01:25 AM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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1. You are well known now as an indie game advocate. How did you start down this path, that is, what led to your interest in the indie gaming scene?

I needed a hobby, and my boyfriend and family said I should get into blogging. This was June, 2011, when the annual summer gaming release drought was kicking off. Originally, the plan was to talk about movies, but we were going through my Xbox 360 library and stumbled upon a couple Xbox Live Indie Games I had previously bought. I was like “oh yea, I forgot there was an indie section in the Xbox market.” We went through the recent releases and tried to look up reviews for them, only to find all the sites covering them gave overwhelmingly positive reviews to every single game, regardless of its quality. Brian said “There you go, that’s what you should blog about.” We bought a few dozen XBLIGs, and I opened Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011. By August, it was the most popular XBLIG site in the world.

2. You are quite the caustic critic when you need to be and frequently call others out, including me on occasion. Has this ever caused any major issues between you and developers? 

I don’t feel I “call people out.” I do challenge developers to challenge themselves. Indie devs will get  hundreds, or thousands, of people who tell them “good job, your game is perfect!” I say “good job, but here’s where you have room to grow.” That’s what developers want. The ones who only want praise and are too thin-skinned to accept feedback don’t last. But the stereotype of the thin-skinned, egotistical indie dev is greatly exaggerated. I’ve been doing IGC for almost five years and I can count on one hand the amount of developers who I would say were problematic. That’s after 550+ reviews. Most developers can be disappointed by my reviews, but almost all of them use them to get better. Game reviews are ultimately resources, whether you make games or buy them. The most common response a developer has to a negative review since the day I started is “I wish someone had brought this stuff up during development.”

 

3. There is some discussion that the industry in general is in a state of growing pains now, that change is happening. What direction do you see the video game industry and in particular indie games going in?

When I started IGC, only Microsoft was putting significant stock in the potential indies had as a revenue stream. They had created promotions like Summer of Arcade that featured indies such as Limbo or Braid in prominent roles, and they had opened XBLIG which allowed anyone of any skill level to make and publish games for a subscription fee and a 30% royalty on the games sold. Here we are, five years later, and indies are a major part of the console manufacturers’ business model. By supporting indies, they assure quality titles year-round, especially out of peak retail seasons, and that they have titles across more genres, assuring content for everyone. That’s not to mention that indies have changed the definition of what a budget-release is and the quality you can expect for a relatively inexpensive game. While this has lead to over-saturation, the really high-talent studios are gaining a foothold. In the near future, you’ll see more indie studios outright acquired to produce exclusive content for manufacturers, since the cost of acquisition will be much less than a studio that’s been around twenty years.

4. You have helped bring awareness of epilepsy and seizures to many in the gaming community, do you feel you have helped accomplish change for the better?

It’s amazing how far awareness for conditions like epilepsy as it relates to gaming have come in such a short amount of time. I’ve hardly been alone in advocacy for issues like epilepsy, but that I get so many developers approach me or Ian Hamilton asking about it and what they can do with their games to make it less risky (though risk will always exist no matter what) has been genuinely touching.

5. With regards to the last question, how does it feel to be held as an advocate for people with epilepsy and seizures?

It’s actually really flattering that I’ve been able to accomplish a lot with the issue. I’m really proud of it. It’s quite a legacy.

6. All 3 console makers have embraced the indie community in recent years, I’d like to know your thoughts on what the 3 console makers have done for the indies.

Well, they’ve made indies part of their business model. Saying you’re part of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate’s business model might not sound sexy or prestigious, but I can’t think of any better indicator that indies have made it. More over, the really great ones can go on to be so much more. Look at what Shovel Knight is for Nintendo now. They’ve included it in their Amiibo line. Microsoft bought the studio and IP to Minecraft for 2.5 *BILLION* dollars. That’s over half of what Disney paid for all ownership to everything Star Wars. The ceiling is so high on indies now that it stretches the boundaries of reality and crosses over into imagination. In today’s market place, the sky is the limit for indies.

7. You have made your views on Kickstarters well known and with the recent debacle of Ant Simulator, do you see crowd sourcing as becoming a major issue with indie devs?
I’m way in favor of crowd sourcing for indies. But there has to be merit to seeking funding. You have to have the talent and ability to pull it off. Making a game, especially a good game, takes patience and self-awareness. Your first games will seldom come out the way you envisioned them. So I don’t like to see too many first time developers seek funding. They should treat it as a hobby until they have the ability to make it something more. When used right, it’s a remarkable resource. When used wrong, it could set you up to be a pariah for life.


8. With regards again to crowd sourcing, how do you feel the process can be improved upon to actually get a positive outcome?

As unintuitive as this sounds, a campaign is about you, not your game. Developers using Kickstarter have to remember that. Games sell themselves. Make sure you put what makes your game unique, and then just leave it there for would-be backers to digest. You don’t have to oversell a game. A campaign is about your ability to deliver the game you’re pitching. Showing off your talent, your skills, your drive, your determination, and your resolve to finish what you promise. Developers using Kickstarter need to remember that and take the pitches more seriously. Less non-stop sarcasm, less wacky biographies that tell you nothing about their experience or talent, less wacky pictures of the staff. Have fun, but take it seriously. Treat it like a business. Because, if you’re asking strangers for money, you are a business whether you like it or not.

9. What are some of your favorite indie games? both in general and specifically for each console.

As it so happens, I have a list on my site. But for each console, it’s Axiom Verge for PS4 and Steam, Shovel Knight for Wii U, and although I couldn’t finish the game due to epilepsy concerns, Ori and the Blind Forest seemed like it was on track to be one of my favorite indies on Xbox One.

10. In your opinion what makes an indie game stand out?

I think it comes down to the amount of joy you have making your games transfers over to your work. So if you have fun making a game,
people will have fun playing it. Make the kind of games you want to play yourself. With stuff like Shovel Knight or Axiom Verge, you can immediately tell these are the games the developers dreamed of making since they were kids.

11. What do you see as the biggest game changer for the indie gaming scene?

In the not to distant future, indies will be targeted for acquisition by the console manufacturers, and all three manufacturers I’m told have big plans to put more money and resources towards landing top-tier indie devs exclusively on their platforms. We’re maybe months away from seeing an honest-to-God bidding war for the services of relatively modest indie studios. When that starts to happen, I hope the community at large takes a moment to smile and realize that they’ve arrived at the grown-ups table.

Thank you again for doing this interview.
Check out Indie Gamer Chick’s Leaderboard of Indie Games here and her editorial about epilepsy here.
Image courtesy of the book Going Indie.

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