["The Backbone of the Indie Industry" is a new feature series where we talk about, discuss and interview the general support structure/people covering the indie developers.]
As we begin with part two of this series, I’d like to just point out there , while there are plenty of people out there who have done many things to help indie and small developers reach success, I’d argue that nobody has done as much as the guys behind DesuraNET, the owners of both the incredibly popular ModDB and the brand new IndieDB community websites. Hell, without ModDB, I’m not sure we’d have the kind of indie community we have today.
Anyway, I was lucky enough to be able to score an interview with Scott Reismanis, the founder, and Dave Traeger, the editor, for an extensive look into how things took off and what the future is for DesuraNET.
Can you explain who you are and what your primary duties are at DesuraNET, ModDB, or IndieDB?
Scott: I’m the founder and so the jack of all trades, doing everything that Dave (our editor), Mark (our programmer), Josh (our designer) and Greg (our server admin) don’t do. This usually means legal, accounting, project management and all the boring but important roles. I also dabble in the site code (something I enjoy doing) and chat with members of the community whenever I get the chance.
Dave: My job is to keep the sites running efficiently, maintain the new content that comes into the database, manage the community and answer any support emails we have and create any videos or media the site needs.
How did you get into the business of supporting custom mods through your website ModDB?
Scott: Back in 1998 / 2000 there were only a handful of FPS games to choose from (Quake, Doom, HL, UT etc) and that wasn’t enough for my mates and I who always enjoyed trying tons of games at lans. Mods fascinated us and provided tons of super innovative and crazy ideas to try out (many such ideas people now take for granted). Problem was, back then, Google also didn’t exist and so finding mods was a challenge. Hence the idea of ModDB (a database for mods was born) and I haven’t stopped working with mods since. It is kinda the same with indie games now, so we look forward to helping indie teams promote their work for many years to come.
Dave: Started out as a volunteer fresh out of university and just grew into more important roles over the years, I was mostly interested in this position as the content and community are diverse and it makes an interesting work life. Plus I get to play games for a living so that helped.
What do you see is your roll in supporting these types of mods? Do you simply provide an expansive community, or do you go above and beyond in helping them establish their own fanbase via promotion?
Dave: Well over the years we have put on many different hats as to what we think we should be offering our community, from being the team that reviews the mods and tells people what they should and should not play to a blog of modding news that is run by the staff. What we have settled on for now is just being the site that can offer teams a place to advertise their works with complete creative control being offered to them, everything we do now from Desura to the monthly Spotlight videos is to bring more presence to the work people do. After all who are we to tell people if a mod or indie game is good or not? If they put in effort they are rewarded.
Scott: What Dave said really. We have tried many things blogging, reviewing, interviewing, etc. but, in the end, we decided that experts like you do a better job of that, so instead we chose to focus our efforts on creating a site which puts the developers and community in charge of the content. This means that all teams have to do to get instant PR exposure to thousands of people is spend 15 minutes writing a news post on ModDB/IndieDB instead of sending out press releases blindly and praying they get coverage.
Recently, you launched a second site called IndieDB. Obviously this is something we are more focused on here at DIYGamer.com. Why did you decide branch off from ModDB and create an entirely new site strictly for indie games?
Dave: After our annual trip to GDC in San Francisco I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of creative independent developers who either fell into one of the two possible categories they either knew about ModDB and didn’t know that we also support indies or didn’t know about ModDB at all. While all three of our sites (ModDB, IndieDB and Desura) use the same database we felt it was important to create another website that Indies could call home just like how modders find ModDB. So we created a brand new site that filtered our database content to show only Indie related news and downloads.
Scott: It is hard to deny the success of indie games these days and the growth that is occurring, especially as former-modders are realizing they can make standalone games with tools like Unity and UDK. Plus for years indie developers have used ModDB so it just made sense to create their own dedicated site. My only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner.
Has IndieDB done well with respects to how old it is and it’s apparent niche focus?
Dave: For the most part it has been quite effective in getting more Indie developers to use our services, every day we have a few new games being added which is around the same amount of new mods we get. However the teams still do not know how to use the site all that well. While we get new profiles and media quite often, the site lacks any news from the teams. Everyday it’s getting better and it might take some time before we see the same daily numbers we see on ModDB.
Scott: I’d hardly call indies a “niche” anymore. 2 years ago maybe but not now. IndieDB has a ton of growth yet to come, what we are doing well at is building a comprehensive database of games, videos, images and files (indie developers add your games!). The next step is to start connecting players and fans with the indie developers and helping them get feedback and customers they need to succeed. With mods this is easy because say you own game X, you go and search for mods for game X. With indie games this seems to be a real challenge, as without marketing budgets people usually only hear about and become interested in an indie game once it is already released. With time we are hopeful that people will start to browse DIYGamer, IndieDB and other indie themed sites to find out news about both released and upcoming titles.
Other indie game communities offer contests that developers can enter into to win cash or, in some cases, publishing deals. Does IndieDB have or plan to have anything like that in the future?
Dave: Like with ModDB our focus is more to bringing a much better set of tools and community features, and running a smoother site. After all we are a small team of 3 with only myself and sometimes Scott doing any sort of content related to the site it’s hard to devote any man-hours to anything else. If we were to do a comp it would be a big one that’s for sure.
Scott: Most of these competitions are about finding indie talent and publishing their game which is not something we do. Our focus is as a website that promotes indie games. We do run challenges from time to time and get on great with Unity, UDK and other sponsors so if an opportunity to coordinate a promotion like that presents itself, rest assured we will run something cool. Mind you we are working on a competition which will launch soon (no prizes just prestige) so keep an eye out for that.
How is Desura coming along? I know the service is currently in a private beta right now, but are there any plans to open it up anytime soon?
Dave: Yes, Scott is the guy to talk to about that.
Scott: It is getting very close actually so we are getting quite excited about opening it up and providing digital distribution for mods, indie games and commercial games. At the moment it is in total lockdown, and we still haven’t decided if we will limit access to it (i.e. invite only). We shall be making that decision before the end of the month and will begin to get more people on board then.
Does Desura plan to operate strictly within the ModDB and IndieDB niche? Namely, do you only plan on selling indie games and mods? Or is this a direct competitor to the other various digital distribution shops?
Scott: Our area of expertise is with mods and indies so we will launch with titles from these guys, however our plan is to expand with time and fill our catalog with great titles. Make a great game and rest assured we will want to talk with you about releasing it via Desura.
What’s the ultimate goal of Desura? Do you want to be the go to place for all indie/mod downloads/sales?
Scott: Unlike consoles the PC is an open platform and should be treated as such. Despite this we feel that digital distribution on the PC really doesn’t harness its true potential and is trying to behave like a “console”. Our aim is to provide a much more open experience for both our customers and the creators of games. This means being able to review games, 3rd party sites can plug into APIs, developers can post news, videos and images and can interact with their fans directly on the service should they so chose. All in all we want to run a service which brings players and developers closer together and enables them to create better games (by harnessing this feedback loop) which are then sold very successfully on Desura.
Finally, where would you like DesuraNET to be this time next year? Five years?
Dave: Personally I would like DesuraNET to reach out to a more diverse community of players rather than developers, while having a like minded community is great, the only feedback developers get is from other developers. Reaching out to people who just play games would be the best solution to help out the teams even more. I think Desura is our way in. Oh and if possible an office on a space station would be rad.
Scott: Sites like DIYGamer, TIGSource, IndieGames are doing a great job of covering the indie scene, however browsing a catalog of indie games, videos and images remains a challenge. ModDB already is the goto place for browsing a database of mods (both obscure and popular) so I’d like to see IndieDB become the goto place for browsing a database of indies (on all platforms, PC, console, mobile). More importantly though we want to run a leading digital distribution service in the form of Desura which provides a great store for gamers to find and play new titles. I’m just looking forward to the continued success of indie games and happy to grow with them.
Great stuff. I’d like to thank both Scott and Dave for taking their time to sit down and answer a bunch of my questions. Without guys like them we really wouldn’t have the kind of indie or modding community that exists today.