There’s quite a few indie developers, up and coming studios composed of ten people, and game jams out there. That means there’s a substantial amount of indie games being made, all with the possibility of jump starting people’s careers. And while that might all be excellent, the truth is a little more grey, in certain aspects. While indie development can offer many open doors, it can also deprive developers of other, bigger doors. Perhaps, not everything is as it seems. After all, most indie developers have to face the inevitable question of whether or not to go to the big leagues when/if the opportunity arises.
In a smaller studio, the team works closer together. There’s a higher chance of one person being in charge of handing several aspects of development. It leads to greater skill learned, experience, leadership qualities, and creative liberty. While the Creative Director will approve or disapprove, you generally can come up with original ideas on your own, and pitch them. Chances are they will be heard in such a small setting.
Meanwhile, in a larger studio everyone is running a tight ship directed by their leaders who come up with the ideas. While staff can add their own spin to ideas at times, they essentially have to have larger meetings to make it happen. There’s more people, more variables to consider. Furthermore, the leaders will note this and see they have to come up with the bulk of the decisions so as to keep everyone united and focused on one vision for the game.
Money, Money, Money
It’s disappointing, but money isn’t exactly abundant in the indie scene. A lot of starters have enough to make the game happen, but not enough to pay the developers. This means they have to wait until game launch and hope there’s enough profits to go around after covering any legal fees and making back everything that was invested by founders. If the game doesn’t sell well, due to poor ratings, poor quality, time restraints, too many staff issues, or poor marketing, than that studio can’t afford to make another game. They have to adapt to survive, or admit failure and join other projects, individually once more.
In a large game studio, people sacrifice some creative freedom, but get paid a better salary. Better, assuming that as an indie developer, you are getting paid. If not, then there’s a clear advantage here, in favor of the large studios. More so, they work with larger project budgets, meaning they have more available resources. Games can look and feel better, new ideas can be experimented with, etc.
The Sad Truth About Career Building
Facing the facts, indie studios that make it tend to get bigger and bigger. That’s how large studios are formed. Indie developers that have worked indie for a few years, generally five or more, get taken more seriously when they apply to the larger studios, due to experience, connections formed through work, and sizable portfolios.
Apply they do- because it’s hard to survive from making indie games alone. Most indie studios have to adapt or die, remember? Very few see the light of success and turn into something more. This means that to most indie developers, regardless of how much they love indie game development, it’s a stepping stone to the big leagues. Those already working in large studios tend to stay there, and aim for higher positions once they have more seniority. Of course with the right approach, business model, and success, your indie studio might make it there as well.
While indie game development may not be the most glamorous, it is the most creative and liberating. The money isn’t much, but you get the satisfaction of knowing you made something for people to enjoy. You did something worth mentioning, celebrating, and adding to your ever-expanding portfolio. Larger studios don’t have much creative freedom by comparison, but they have the luxury of working with larger budgets, a larger group of talented people, and larger game goals overall. Whatever the case, both have their drawbacks, and their fortunes.
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