The PC indie gaming bubble 'is popping'

The PC indie gaming bubble 'is popping'
Craig Chapple

By Craig Chapple

May 22nd 2014 at 11:32AM

Mid-tier devs could be forced out completely as swathes of developers release their games on Steam, says Jeff Vogel

The indie bubble on PC is bursting as the number of developers competing for attention increases exponentially, claims Spiderweb Software founder Jeff Vogel.

In a lengthy blog post on the issue, Vogel said that despite years of a rising and successful indie scene, the sheer number of small developers releasing games on services such as Steam was becoming unsustainable.

He cited a report from Gamasutra that claimed that 40 per cent more games had already been released on Steam in the first 20 weeks of 2014 than the entirety of last year.

Vogel also said blaming Valve was not the answer, as it had been forced into a position of opening the floodgates and gradually phasing out its curation of the platform after becoming the gatekeepers to success, and whether some indies lived or died professionally.

“Lots of other companies are trying to enter the space, and I’m not sure how many of them are aware that things are changing rapidly," he said.

"Strategies that were sold to them as the Way To Go are rapidly becoming less effective, while forgotten strategies from back in the day may deserve new consideration.

He added: “The easy money is off the street. If you want to make it in this business now, you have to earn it. It's a total bummer. Blaming Steam won't help.”

Vogel said the impact will be felt mostly by mid-tier developers with budgets of between $500,000 and $2m. He explained super low-budget developers may be able to make a return on their investments, as will high-end triple-A studios with lots of money to spend on both development and marketing.

“Suppose you're a mid-tier (sometimes called triple-A indie) developer, with $500K to $2 million budgets. You have a problem,” he stated.

“You need advertising to get sales, as word-of-mouth won't cover it. But you can't afford a big campaign. The only way you will turn a profit is if you get huge free marketing from Steam/iTunes placement and press articles. (Which is why going to big trade shows and cozying up to the press is so important).”

The Spiderweb founder also questioned the sustainability of bundle game selling. Vogel admitted he had been part of many such sales, including in the Humble Bundle, himself, but felt selling full games for pennies could lead some indies to stop making games.

“It just can't last. Bundles used to earn a tonne, but they don't anymore,” he said.

“If making pennies a copy selling your games in 12 packs is the main source of a developer's income, that developer is going to disappear. Also, all of the bundles and sales encourage users to expect to pay a price too low to keep us in business. It’s just the same race to the bottom as in the iTunes store, except this time we were warned, and we did it anyway.”