FuturLab’s James Marsden Asks Daily Reaction: How Can We Educate Gamers About the Importance of Indies?


After nearly a whole week of Ask DR specials, that saw Media Molecule and Randy Pitchford pitch us media some questions, we’re closing out the week with yet another awesome guest. As the guys behind Velocity Ultra and Velocity 2X, FuturLab are one of PlayStation’s biggest indie devs, so their Managing Director, James Marsden, had a question about the scene for us.

James Marsden:

How can we (developers, press, publishers) better educate gamers that indies are important for the future of the industry?

Seb: Great question, thanks James! This is actually something I think a lot about, as it’s really hard to answer, yet vitally important. I’ll start off with talking about the press, as that’s what I know best, and am a part of.

Yesterday, we covered the topic of how the media can be positive (thanks Randy), and whether we should actually be positive at all times, so I’ll try not to go over that too much again. All I will say, however, is that while we should educate gamers about the importance of indies, we should also openly talk about the problems with indies.

So let’s go over the reasons why the press generally doesn’t give that much coverage to indie games. First off is the obvious one – traffic. Most sites get a significant portion of their traffic from Google, and nobody is googling ‘tiny indie game #43’, what they’re googling is ‘Call of Duty’, so it makes a lot more sense for the sites to pump out a lot of CoD content.

Another reason is that it’s a lot easier to cover mainstream titles. I know CoD, I know how to write about CoD without having to research anything new, and any time there’s anything to cover CoD-related, 400 PR people will immediately tell me, and 4 million games sites will pick it up. A lot of indie content, on the other hand, requires a lot of work to find, probably won’t be covered elsewhere, and requires research to understand.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that a lot of the average site’s audience doesn’t care about most indie titles, and just wants to hear about the big games that they play regularly. So it makes sense for the average journalist to make traffic for his/her site in an easy way that makes most of his/her audience happy. But that’s not good.

There’s a duty (or should be one) to cover the titles that can’t necessarily afford huge marketing budgets and genuinely need the press’ help to survive. We need to give something back to the industry and ‘help the little guys’.

And then there’s the fact that, as James says, indie games are important. As press, we need to do our part to make the industry better, we need diversity, we need a large breadth of titles, we need titles not watered down by publisher’s desires or big team diffusion. Indies have the biggest chance of changing the industry, but they need our help.

Dan: Again, thank you for the question James. The one thing that I will say about the need for indie support is that the ability to educate gamers will rely more on how the scene is being utilized than simply a matter of teaching or publicizing. Within our industry there countless types of games being developed covering nearly all known styles and genres, but indie games have the ability to surpass the limitations that are usually placed on mass market titles.

This capacity to drive the industry forward will be what draws in gamers about the importance of the indie scene, but simply the premise of being able to, isn’t enough. As the market has been sold countless empty promises, consumers are moving toward products that they can become confident in, something I mentioned in yesterday’s Ask DR. What this means for the indie market, is that we are going to have a difficult time, currently, in seeing smaller titles launch with the same draw day one. It is going to require a product to have something that makes it stand out in the crowd that will have developers and the media talking about it.

When we (James and I) first met at GDC 2013 and I got to play Velocity Ultra on the Vita, I immediately knew this was going to be a major success and said so. The reason is that the game has a great deal of unique traits, but more importantly, it achieved what it set out to do with great execution and a low barrier of entry.

It is this concept of being able to push unique ideas, and being able to execute on them that will be the driving force to push the indie market. Some ideas are going to simply be creative and well executed, while others are going to be able to push the industry with their ability to go to places mass market titles won’t be able to. Although, simply being different obviously won’t be enough, as pushing a controversial idea only to market an item is a great way to have the industry turn on you.

The media in general loves anything new in this industry, as it generally gives us something to write and debate about, but it also leaves publications open to possibly backing a losing horse and misleading fans.

What all of this means is that, in general for an indie title to increase popularity to push the notoriety of the indie scene, it will require a product that everyone can justifiably back or talk about. It will be up to the developers to understand the gaps in the market and opportunities available to them for their titles to stand out against an industry flooded with multi-million dollar products.

After that, it will be up to the press to step away from churning out information about the same games every year and open the gates to discussion. The prevalence of opinion based content on the web is seeing a growth for the better or worse, as features like Daily Reaction or Podcasts give voices to more biased or controversial opinions. This change in geography in how the media is able to give out information is a perfect method for indie titles to take precedence as we are able to more easily able to talk about something interesting or unique there.

Publishers are slowly starting to see the importance and potential behind the indie scene, but with the developers now able to self publish their relevance is being diminished. Indie developers are going to be the next cycle of John Carmack or Sid Meier, as they are in a position to develop far outside the norm, while at the same time having to creatively get the most out limited resources. Current developers of AAA titles are incredibly talented, but the time and monetary investment needed to produce products through those channels is limiting. The more publishers experiment with smaller development, the more they will be able to see the true potential behind it and further push the industry forward. You can bet that even publishers that don’t create smaller titles watch the scene for ideas and concepts.

In closing, what is required is the ability to for everyone to stop being bogged down in what we know and start seeing the possibilities.

Do you think indies are important? How would you get everyone else to realize this? Let us know in the comments below, share your indie concepts with us at [email protected] and attack the press at Seb and Dan.