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  • Truly Independent Game Development: A Case For Making Games By Yourself

    [08.20.09]
    - Lindsay Grace

  • But even small indie companies share some of these attributes. A one person team, on the other hand, doesn't fight amongst itself and it doesn't require pay to keep it cohesive. It doesn't require buy in from all stakeholders. It needs energy and an idea. Unlike a tribe, a lone developer can at least scavenge and move on. The fewer mouths to feed, the less food it takes to stay alive.

    The independent developer is a champion of innovation. It is the Edison, Gandhi, etc. The independent drives the hordes toward a new space. It encourages people to go where they were afraid. It jumps in the water and exclaims, "Jump in! The water's fine!" Or, it warns -- in its last yelps before drowning. But, just as single explorer scouts have taken the risk for the larger masses, they have offered themselves for all the criticism.

    Regardless of the palatability of this rhetoric rich championing of solo development, there is a part of game culture that continues to romanticize the notion that a game was the conception of a single person. Marketers know that we like the sound of American McGee's Alice instead of EA Games and American McGee's Alice. We prefer Sid Meier's Civilization, to Firax's and Meier's Civilization. Just as cities are sometimes named after their founders, there is something intrinsically attractive in the idea of a product developed under the direction of a single person, even if we know Madden NFL never required the football coach to debug a troublesome null pointer. We like the idea of ones, even if we secretly know that nothing is ever done truly independently.


    As it goes, every lone gunslinger still buys their gun from someone. Even the most independent developer will be assisted by others, as every pioneer has to ask for a little help. People who develop games on their own, get help from others. They ask for feedback on their designs. They get coding help. They have been taught their skills. They are supplied assets or borrow resources from others. Jonathon Blow's Braid may have been conceived in its original implementation by one person, but it was popularized as a beautiful joint venture involving the art of David Hellman.


    Despite your own feelings about the advantages of truly independent development, it is in itself, clearly educational. Every time you go exploring you learn something. If your goal is education, nothing beats the breadth of education afforded by developing all the aspects of your game. A single developer certainly must trade depth of knowledge for breadth of knowledge, but if you are training to manage deep knowledge specialists or working toward the liberal arts education of game making, solo development is an exceptional trainer. Talk to the people who sail the open seas in a one person boat or go orienteering in the wilderness by themselves. They rarely say, "I don't know how to use a compass. We have someone do that that for us."

    I once received advice from an experienced tracker who routinely spends months in the wilderness. He listed a few items to take. Top on his list was a lighter. He said it was simple -- why bother rubbing two sticks when all the technology is there to use in a convenient package? It seems that if you are really curious about developing a game solo, you should look for a lighter. Find some technology that streamlines game building but affords you go-anywhere portability and a wide range of possibilities. Not only will it help you get through the wilderness, it will make life a lot easier on your own.

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