Indie game news, reviews, previews and everything else concerning indie game development.

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2D Boy Announces 1 Million World of Goo Downloads on App Store

Ron Carmel, one half of 2D Boy, has passed along word that indie darling World of Goo’s iOS version has hit a million downloads since originally arriving on the App Store in April of last year.


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World of Goo Now Available on Android, On Sale

We knew it was coming and, well, here it is! World of Goo is now officially available on Android as 2D Boy has finally decided to bless those of us who prefer Google’s flavor of phone and tablet operating system. There’s also a demo for those of you who want to try before you buy (given that Google’s 15 minute period is often too short to do anything).


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World of Goo Announced for Android

Not much information available just yet, but the guys over at 2D Boy (who’ve been having a busy day!) have announced that World of Goo is officially heading for Android. This means that for the millions of us who have opted for Google’s smartphone flavor will soon have access to one of the best indie games of all time.

According to the duo they’re simply working on some of the final kinks before submitting it.

My big question is whether it will also work with Android tablets or not. As somebody who currently owns an ASUS EeePad Transformer I’m constantly on the lookout for great games, but have found few that actually make the experience on Android palatable.

Finally, pricing on Android is always a point of contention for the platform. We saw last year with Angry Birds’ release where Rovio opted to ignore pricing altogether instead going for an ad supported method which reportedly brought them millions of dollars in revenue each month. I’m not saying the same will happen with World of Goo, but certainly these types of market dynamics can’t be ignored.

I guess we’ll see soon as 2D Boy is offering up fore info on “GooDroid” soon.

[UPDATE: 2D Boy confirmed GooDroid for both phones and tablets.]

[2D Boy]


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World of Goo’s Ron Carmel Wonders if XBLA is “Past Its Prime”

According to World of Goo developer Ron Carmel, the XBLA service needs a heavy overhaul to make it more appealing to developers and better known to users to thrive, otherwise it’s looking at continuing a trend of losing out at least to PSN, if not most of the digital arms race.

Ron states that “Having unlimited shelf space is, after all, one of the great benefits of digital distribution” and yet consoles’ digital stores, both the PSN and XBLA, fail to use this unending shelf space. In a sense, he makes the argument that 7 years ago when the service was launched such a curated selection was appropriate because there wasn’t a lot of good content out there, however, as the market matures there is less of a need for such a tightly controlled market.

He even goes so far as to poll around 200 indie developers (of which about half responded) on what platform they’ve developed on before and which they will develop on in the future with regards to XBLA and PSN. The result? 2011 was a turning point for XBLA and PSN where traditionally more developers would create games for Microsoft’s service, many are now switching to Sony’s…

And these aren’t run of the mill developers either. Ron cobbled together the Metacritic scores for these developers’ work and got an average of 78. That’s hugely impressive coming from a large group and should make Microsoft a bit worried about where the bulk of their developers might be heading.

Ultimately he boils down the results to largely having to do with Microsoft’s lack of ease in working with developers. Essentially they seem like a real pain in the ass.

0% rated Microsoft as “very easy” to go along with a generic “cell phone carriers” or companies who have in almost no capacity before worked with game developers. As a software company you’d expect Microsoft to perform better than that.

It really is a fascinating article and Ron really, really did his homework on the subject and provides a compelling argument as well as a list of ways to alleviate the current situation by doing such things as:

  • Creating a fair contract without the need for negotiation.
  • Stop requiring indie devs to publish through Microsoft. (XBLA requires a publisher)
  • Removing exclusivity requirements for independent developers

Among other things.

All in all, I largely agree with him. Microsoft has this nasty habit of controlling too much when there’s no need to be controlling. We’ve seen it already in the mainstream game space where developers aren’t allowed to give away DLC for free or when they refuse to allow Valve (who used to be their staunchest proponent) access to some interconnectivity a la Steam.

XBLA is merely the latest noted area where Microsoft is strangling itself. I’ll admit that XBLA in 2008-2009 was one of my go to hubs for indie games. Today it’s mostly the PC. Is that due to what Ron has been seeing? Quite possibly. It definitely seems like XBLA is pushing passed its prime…

What are your thoughts? Do you like XBLA the way it is? Do you agree with Ron’s analysis?

Check out the full, very interesting article via the link below.

[2D Boy]


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Steam Helps You Get Your Midweek Hump On

Two Midweek Madness sales are going on right now through Steam, with both focused on indie games. Each bundle contains five games for the price of one, and their sale has less than 48 hours remaining.

One of the bundles is aptly titled the Indie 2D Bundle and have some of the best 2D games all rolled into one from Gaijin Games, Nicalis, Over the Top Games, Ronimo Games, and 2D BOY. This bundle is $9.95, which makes each game less than $2!

The 2D titles are the following:

  • Swords & Soldiers HD (RTS)
  • World of Goo (puzzle)
  • BIT.TRIP.RUNNER (action platform)
  • Nightsky (action-puzzle)
  • Nyxquest: Kindred Spirits (platform)

The Indie Strategy Bundle also works out to being less than $2 a game, with hits from 11 Bit Studios, Hidden Path Entertainment, Puppygames, Cadenza Interactive and Coffee Stain.

The five strategy titles are the following:

  • Anomaly: Warzone Earth
  • Defense Grid: The Awakening
  • Revenge of the Titans
  • Sanctum
  • Sol Survivor

$20 for ten games!? I hate to sound like an old fart, but that was unheard of in the olden-timey cartridge/retail only generation. Thank Asura for indie bundles!

Source: IndieGames


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World of Goo Landing on iPad Very Soon

WogPad01

Everybody’s favorite WiiWare/PC goo-friendly indie game, World of Goo, is set to make it’s iPad dbut in a manner of days, if Apple plays nice. That’s right the 2009 VGA winner is headed to the iPad.

While this might seem to herald the coming of a possible iPhone/iPod Touch version, Kyle Gabler insists that for now this is an iPad exclusive. Basically, the guys over at 2D Boy want to ensure that your World of Goo experience is the gooiest it can possibly be, meaning they don’t want to release a sub-optimal game just for the sake of cashing in on a large market.

Anyway, no price was revealed, unfortunately, but I would assume that it will be near or around a typical iPad game.

We’ll have more information as the game nears release.

[2D Boy]


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The Backbone of the Indie Industry: 2D Boy/Indie Fund’s Ron Carmel [Interview]

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["The Backbone of the Indie Industry" is a feature series where we talk about, discuss and interview the general support structure/people covering the indie developers.]

Typically, you wouldn’t expect a developer interview to fall under our Backbone series, but Ron Carmel isn’t just making games these days. Since March, he–along with six other notable devs–have been busy setting up and carrying out their Indie Fund business/investment, hoping to support up-and-coming indie developers who have the idea and the drive, but lack the finances.

Ron was at IndieCade earlier this month as a panel speaker and after all the hustle and bustle of the event was nice enough to answer my questions on the fund, as well as provide some other musings on different indie happenings and items.

Though the mic was on the fritz during the Indie Funding Models panel you took part in, I believe during your update on the business that you mentioned there are currently three games receiving funding. Is that correct?

Ron Carmel: Yes, we are currently funding three games.

During the discussion, you mentioned that the fund is entirely experimental, and you wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if it didn’t work out down the road. Have you been encouraged by the submissions? If things go as hoped, could we see a methodical indie factory of sorts? And is that ultimately the best case scenario in the long term?

Wow, did I say that? I actually would be a bit surprised if it didn’t work out. I think our investment strategy is sound. We pick small games with small teams that can live cheaply and in return we give the developer much better terms than they could get from a publisher. We can offer these terms because for lower cost games our break even risk is much reduced.

Ultimately, our goal is to help developers get and stay independent. In the short terms that means actually funding them with our own money, but longer term it means sharing our process, legal documents, financial data, and experience with the rest of the game development community as a way to encourage others to start their own Indie Funds. It would be nice if one day all promising indie games could get funding on friendly terms from other indies, instead of going to publishers.

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Should we expect an accepted submission announcement anytime soon from the Indie Fund team?

That’s up to the developers. We’re ready to announce whenever they are and we leave it up to them to figure out the proper timing. It’s my guess that there will be an announcement by the time GDC rolls around, but don’t hold me to that, it’s just a guess.

Some indie devs/teams are more open with the development of their game than others. Do you see the updates you receive on the selected developer teams and games’ progress as something that should be shared with everyone? And could there potentially be public alpha/beta builds for selected games that make sense for that development route?

That’s really up to the developers, and I think whether it’s a good idea or not depends a lot on the nature of the game itself. With a game like Crayon Physics, for example, releasing early didn’t turn out so well because it’s a game that’s easy to clone, and many people cloned it. For a game like Overgrowth, where the success of the game is about good execution rather than a good idea, I think releasing early and often is a great way to build up a fan base.

Taking the focus off of Indie Fund a bit…Lately it’s been a very loud discussion on the net, games like LIMBO and Minecraft exploding in sales, a much heavier interest in less expensive (not $50-$60) titles from smaller teams. What’s your take on the supposed “indie boom” we currently find ourselves in?

I personally have a hard time getting into AAA games. Red Dead, Arkham Asylum, and other critically acclaimed games are very impressive, but they don’t hold my attention. Indie games tend to have much greater diversity and the larger range of experiences I have playing them is very compelling to me. I care about the quality of the experience and whether a game is worth my time. I don’t care if it costs the equivalent of $2 an hour or $5 an hour.

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You were one of, if not the first developers to stick your neck out and try the pay-what-you-want sale for World of Goo. The trend has caught on and continued steadily over the past year, with several devs offering up there games for the buyer’s choosing and seeing good to phenomenal results. Based on your experiences with the model, is it something you’d encourage others to try? And is there a line with the model and when in the game’s lifespan would you draw it at?

Pay what you want is just one kind of flexible pricing model. I think it’s as far from being an ideal pricing model as the dominant fixed price model. I think better questions to ask would be “what kind of flexible pricing model makes sense at this point in the game’s life cycle?” and “What kind of flexible pricing model would work well with this game?”. There is so much room for experimentation in this area and I really want to see where it goes. Pay what you want was successful for us because it was novel and got a lot of press. As a pricing strategy, assuming everyone were using it, i doubt it would be more effective than the fixed price model. We need something a little more subtle and sophisticated.

You’ve been a solid indie representative for years, you seem to have tons on your plate with the process of the IndieFund, have you found the amount of time you’d like for developing your next project(s)? And is there anything you can share with us about the unannounced project 2D Boy is working on or any other endeavours you may be pursuing yourself?

Indie Fund took a few months of full time work to get going, but at this point it only takes up about a day a week, maybe less, so yes, it’s easy to find the time to invest in other projects. Kyle and I are working on separate projects right now. He’s teamed up with two friends and developing Little Inferno as part of Tomorrow Corporation, and I’m in the prototyping stage of an entirely different game that I’m not ready to talk about yet because it’s too early to tell if it will turn into an actual game or if it will end up in the pile of dead prototypes in my back yard.

Thanks to Ron for taking the time to share. Looking forward to both what he and Indie Fund produce over the coming months and beyond.


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How Long Should an Indie Game Be?

Limbo001

Over the past few weeks a number of developers have chimed in on the issue of game length and how it is perceived by themselves, as developers, and how it is perceived by gamers, as the customers. Now, with myself being a writer, I’ve often found myself in the middle of these two. I’m neither developing the game, nor am I paying for the game (on some occasions). I am merely judging the games based on a number of factors, of which time/money invested is surely a factor. So with that in mind, I’d like to offer my own opinions on the subject.

Before I begin, however, allow me to first establish just what the issue is. Apparently, after the release of Limbo, a number of reviewers went on to claim that the game was simply too short (our own Mike Rose touched on this subject in our review) based on how much the game cost. As if the entirety of the game’s cost is based solely on how long you’re playing it.

In this regard I’m pretty much in agreement with Ron Carmel’s — of 2D Boy — take on the matter. How in the world can you ever sum up a game and boldly claim it is “too short” when you’re not taking into consideration the experiences to be had while playing that game. In what capacity is the game “too short?” Is there simply not enough levels? Did you want to experience more of the game? Did you enjoy the game at all?

These are all questions that can help a person understand whether or not the length of the game is really an issue or not. When I play a game, for fun, I’m not sitting there worried that the game will end soon and I won’t have achieved a maximum amount of “fun” per dollar I’ve spent. I’m simply experiencing the game. At the end of that experience (whether I beat the game or not), it’s pretty safe to judge whether or not the game was worth the price I paid. But am I judging it on the time of game I played, or am I judging it on the type of experience I had?

This all boils down to the final question: are there games out there that are simply too short? Yes. Absolutely, 100% there are games that are too short. However, I’d like to emphasize that a game that is “too short” isn’t all that common. Limbo, for example, is not too short. The game provided me with a wonderful experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. As such, length was not an issue. However, there are games out there whose story is not fully fleshed out where the game will come to an abrupt end. In these cases, I’d say that were the game longer (which naturally assumes the story would be longer as well) then it would certainly be a better game because of it.

At the end of it all though, I try not to worry about game length at all. If there is a game out there that looks interesting to me, I’ll bite. It’s similar to how I don’t really care how long a movie is. A movie ticket costs me $11.75 either way, but I’m certainly not trying to maximize my dollar potential by only seeing 3+ hour movies. I see the movie I want to based on whether it seems interesting to me.

If you’re curious about this subject some more, here is a fine list of links to some of the best indie developers out there and their thoughts on the game length “problem.”

There’s a wealth of opinions here from some very knowledgeable people. If you’re looking for a specific answer, you’ll probably find one here.


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On One’s Own: The Developer-Publisher Problem

shankOn One’s Own is a column about, you guessed it, independent gaming. The wayward wanderings of DIYGamer’s James Bishop might lead to probing art, gameplay, design, reception or a number of other aspects related to independent games. But you can rest assured that all things indie will be carefully considered on a weekly basis.

As discussed before, a major problem with coming up with a definition for “indie game” really comes down to the single fact that larger non-independent publishers will occasionally pick up what some might have previously considered an indie game. Is Shank any less of an indie title now that EA Partners has teamed up to publish and promote it? Games like this continue to be indie titles, arguably, but have a major push in the public relations department.

But how does this relationship actually work? Is it really beneficial to both parties? It’s an excellent question that your average gamer might not even ponder about twice. In a way, it is comparable to how most goods tend to be made overseas and then packaged wherever they are going to be sold. For example, the shoes on my feet were made in Vietnam. The box, however, was made in the good ole United States of America. I have absolutely no idea how that all actually works, but I’m sure someone in Vietnam is getting the short end of the stick on that deal. (I paid forty bucks for these!)

Of course, the particulars are all different. I wouldn’t necessarily compare independent developers directly to sweatshop workers, exactly, but the situation is analogous. Your average indie developer signs a deal with the metaphorical devil in the shape of a publisher in order to fund and promote their game. This isn’t always the way that these kinds of games come to the attention of the general public but it certainly constitutes the majority.

icon_game_callofdutyThis is not just an issue for indie games either as the entire industry battles with this sort of thing regularly. The recent hubbub at Infinity Ward stemmed partially from the fact that Activision publishes the games they develop. Per their agreement, it seems, the Call of Duty franchise essentially became an Activision franchise. All developers, mainstream or indie, need funding to either continue to work on their games, start work on a new games or promote their games in general. Which is typically how indie games become affiliated with larger publishers.

As briefly mentioned above, Shank from developer Klei Entertainment recently entered into a publishing agreement with EA Partners. And though this column is mostly about the negative aspects of the developer-publisher relationship, Jamie Cheng, Klei Entertainment founder, had nothing but good things to say about the partnership with Electronic Arts. Speaking with 1Up, he was quoted as saying, “We had a clear vision of what we wanted to do with the game, so we had an opportunity to partner up with [EA] and have their marketing muscle.” Perhaps his tune will change in the future but he certainly seems to be happy to be letting someone else do that pesky marketing.

And it is not just Klei Entertainment that holds this opinion. Other developers seem to share this same kind of hands-off approach to marketing with Jamie. If a super-giant publisher wants to promote it, that’s on them to do all the dirty work. Instead of a much smaller company funneling every last dime into a marketing budget, larger firms like Electronic Arts can step in and do that for them. That way the developers can focus on what truly matters to them: the game.

Which is partially the major disconnect between publishers and developers. The developer wants to create an interesting, fun game while the publisher wants to get as many people to buy said game as humanly, and sometimes inhumanly, possible. In a recent panel at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, a number of student and independent developers sat down with the stated goal of helping explain how to make a successful game like they had previously. It included members of the development team for Portal, The Misadventures of P. B. Winterbottom and flOw. Noticeably, it seems not one spoke of publishing agreements during their brief panel.

flow_ps3_heroPicking up student games, or most indie games for that matter, and getting them out there is a no-brainer for publishers. In terms of monetary investment, would you rather spend five years or more developing a game and a total of two years promoting it… or just promote a game for two years that already has a niche audience but certainly has the potential to grow beyond being only niche? Keep in mind that the game that has been in development for five years might not pan out or meet the expectations set for it.

The choice is fairly obvious. In a world where iPhone games developed by a single person can make a profit of $250,000 in just two months with little to no promotion, cutting a deal with a student showcase winner or other game festival entrants is akin to planting a money tree or two. A small investment is likely to bring in large profits. Investing in games festival winners is about as sure a thing as it gets in game publishing.

It is not always love and sunshine in this relationship, though. There are the horror stories about publishers dictating design to developers, the obscene amounts of money that publishers make off the creative assets they manage and, of course, the ever-present worry of groupthink in the community at large. Don’t just take my word for it, though.

Timothy Ryan’s blog on Gamasutra includes an entry talking about just this sort of thing. Specifically, he looks at the way in which publishers can either be far too hands-off or become too involved in the minutiae of development. He focuses in on publishing producers and the role they play in development. Is it really so hard to imagine this happening in an indie developer situation? The answer: Not at all. In fact, it probably happens often.

pixeljunk500As for the obscene amounts of money that publishers make, we need look no further than the president of Q-Games, Dylan Cuthbert. Speaking with Develop back in January of this year, he made a pathetic appeal (derived from pathos, people) in what may seem like an effort to demonize publishers who bankroll smaller developers. He notes that he could make the entire PixelJunk series over again just on bonuses that some executives at these publisher make on top of their salary.

The groupthink worry is best summed up, albeit unintentionally, in an article by Jim Sterling about art games and innovation. Though he criticizes indie games and innovation in general, the nugget of his argument seems to be that innovation and indie games are not innately good or bad. They can be one or the other, sometimes both, but it all comes down to the effort put in the end product. This too stems from the complicated publisher-developer relationship. Though Sterling seems to be hit-or-miss for me, this one is definitely worth a read and really speaks for itself.

Hope is not lost, however. It is not as if this problem has existed within a vacuum and gone unnoticed by those with the power to change it. A number of developers have actually gotten together to form the Indie Fund. In theory, it will function in much the same way as a larger publisher would by bankrolling initiatives but skipping the whole signing in blood part.

CritterCrunchNathan Vella, president of Capybara Games, spoke with Ars Technica on the subject saying, “The end goal of a publisher is to hit sales targets, make a return on investment, and generate profit for their shareholders… In literally every way possible, this can, and normally does, conflict with the end goal of developers. Especially indie developers. Sure, we all want a return on investment, but we want that ROI to come off the back of a project we are passionate about and a final product we love. Developers want to make games that, on a small scale or big scale, push the medium forward. There’s a really big conflict there.”

2D Boy’s Ron Carmel added, “Developers often don’t get publishers and vice versa. Neither is evil, but both are too caught up in their own needs to really see things from the other’s point of view.” Sure, some households might agree that Bobby Kotick is evil or EA is where developers go to die, but it is ultimately a two-way street. Maybe the Indie Fund is the first step toward building more of these streets and stimulation for more introspection on the subject within publishers and developers alike.


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Big Name Indie Devs Launch Indie Fund

Indie_FundWhile the indie game development community has been spoiled with success stories over the past few years with small and even one-man teams creating both successful and popular games, the truth is that the vast majority of indie titles rarely earn a profit or get the notoriety they deserve. Now a handful of the more successful developers are teaming up to create a new funding source for their peers.

The Indie Fund is simple in name and simple in message: “to help indie developers get financially independent and stay financially independent.” The backers of the fund include the two man team of 2D Boy, makers of World of Goo and Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid.

The first game projects to receive funding from Indie Fund will be announced soon, More info about the venture will be announced next week at the GDC.

Here’s the full list of founders:

  • Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, 2D BOY (World of Goo)
  • Jonathan Blow, Number None (Braid)
  • Kellee Santiago, thatgamecompany (flOwer)
  • Nathan Vella, Capy (Critter Crunch)
  • Matthew Wegner, Flashbang Studios (Off-Road Velociraptor Safari)
  • Aaron Isaksen, AppAbove Games (Armadillo Gold Rush)