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  • The Rise of Indie Game Development

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    Posted on: 27/10/2014

    Thirty years ago, the pioneers of a new frontier in home entertainment witnessed the demise of their fledgling industry in the video game crash of 1983. The mood at the time would certainly have been despairing, but they paved the way for the current experts in the field today. Salient lessons for new growth industries were learnt, and we're now familiar with the story of how a plucky Italian plumber saved the day.

    Thank you, Mario!

    Several decades in, the video game industry is approaching middle-age. Older, wiser and having muscled into the entertainment market, the likes of Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Sony and Blizzard are in their prime. However, as we continue to prove with our hard-earned gold coins that a big-name developer backed by a monolithic publisher is the formula for commercial success, a revolution in the video game industry is playing out an exponentially growing crescendo, clamouring to be heard.

    You might still think they are sitting on the fringes, but the indie game developer’s 2014 calendar includes festivals, summits, exposmore festivals, conferences, and jams around the world dedicated to nurturing independent game development. ACMI is a proud supporter of Australia’s indie scene and hosted Parallels: The Freeplay 2014 Showcase on the 18th of October. While independent game development is not a recent phenomenon, it seems that a critical mass has been reached.

    But how did this come to pass? Was it...

    • Advances in technology and digital delivery, and new content mediums?
    • Lowered barriers of entry into the tools of video game development?
    • New revenue opportunties?
    • An anti-establishment fist shaken in the general direction of the mainstream industry and its commercial norms?
    • Or simply another turn of the Postmodern wheel - a new reaction against tired tropes, clones and monoculture?
    • Maybe all of the above!

    All of this combined with the Global Financial Crisis forcing many Aussies working for foreign studios into unemployment was the impetus needed to start the indie game revolution right here in Australia. Our thriving and internationally praised industry may not have reached the heights it has if it weren't for some motivating adversity.

    Several films have already been made about independent games, but upcoming 2015 doco GameLoading: Rise of the Indies by Melbourne’s StudioBento (comprising film professionals Anna Brady and Lester Francois) looks very promising. The documentary is about "the subculture of indie game developers and we have taken a wide snapshot of the community", says StudioBento, with filming taking place in both hemispheres, the East and the West. A trailer has been released along with many videos on their YouTube channel, and if you are a Backer from their first or second Kickstarter campaign, you have access to more content.


    The documentary's online revenue source and planned online distribution through Steam is a model both pragmatic and neatly thematic with the film's protagonists. Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing websites have been vital fuel for many indie games, and platforms like Steam and iOS have revolutionised content delivery. While this process is not quite so new anymore, Anna and Lester noted that established filmmakers and grants bodies weren't willing to jump on board in the initial stages of the project. Lester revealed: "early in production we spoke to a few established filmmakers and grants bodies but they all could not get their head around this new distribution paradigm. Things are slowly changing but not fast enough for us." 
    Ultimately, their decision to go ahead of the curve has paid off with two successful Kickstarter campaigns and many in the indie games community eagerly awaiting the film's premiere in 2015.

    The duo took an intimate approach to interviewing and recording the adventures of many indie game developers at events around the world, witnessing first-hand the determination and personal toil. We asked Lester to describe something surprising they discovered while filming: "these developers take their craft VERY seriously and are passionate about what they do. This was intoxicating to be around and is one reason we love the game developer community."

    Significant challenges remain for the indie scene, however. The industry is notoriously competitive, but new career paradigms are emerging. A young developer's professional path from indie studio to a mainstream company runs parallel with other developers seeking initial employment with a large studio to gain the experience to run their own studio down the track.

    Recently, the ethical and moral issues raised by all sides of the #gamergate debacle was a reminder to game developers independent or otherwise that they do not exist in a cultural vacuum. As the fight rages online, Anna and Lester released a short video from footage filmed earlier this year, highlighting the problems facing women in the industry.


    Self-professed followers of emerging sub-cultures and ardent indie gamers themselves, the pair are positive about the future of independent development and hope they can play a part in more pervasive understanding and acceptance of gaming in general, like the mediums of art and entertainment that have come before.

    "We have over 100 years of film history and we have all seen the making-of documentaries about films," says Lester. "I grew up fixated with these when I was a kid and watching the making of Star Wars got me into filmmaking when I was ten. People get the cliches of filmmaking because of this. Right now this is not the case with games because it’s such a new medium but that is changing. We are seeing new documentaries about game development, websites dedicated to the craft and podcasts talking to developers. What was once a mystery industry is opening up and game development is becoming a lot more accessible. I do hope to see more in-depth films about the craft and industry well beyond GameLoading's release."

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    GameLoading: Rise of the Indies is out in 2015. Although their Kickstarter campaigns have ended, you can still support them here.

    - Justin Ong, ACMI Web Team

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