On 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 anyone who reads our illustrious website is probably already aware, the definition of the term “indie” is a bit muddled and difficult to decipher. Does it refer to the style of the game, like hip-hop or rock with music, or does it refer to the conditions of the developer? Does it matter if they have a high-profile publisher with some major bankroll that can push their product to exceed normal limitations for a small company? All of these are good questions that, arguably, require different answers from situation to situation.
Possibly the most interesting of recent ones to crop up is that of Klei Entertainment’s indie darling Shank. Or maybe that should be former indie darling Shank. No, it has not been cancelled, but the status of its indie credibility is up in the air after a number of increasingly mainstream announcements. The question is, do these things change the nature of the game or are they simply fortunate circumstances in a post-Braid gaming scene?
First off, EA Partners signed on to publish Shank. At the time, this was announced along with the decision to publish Hothead Games’ Deathspank but even with the two-part news, it’s kind of a big deal. EA Partners isn’t some small division of Electronic Arts; these are the guys who sealed the deal to publish Epic Games’ Bulletstorm from the developer People Can Fly. Not impressive enough? Add Valve, id Software, Double Fine and the most recent addition of Insomniac Games to the list of developers that have seen publishing deals go down with EA Partners.
EA Partners has taken the stance of allowing developers to keep their own intellectual property and develop further on it in the future. In many ways, they have been dabbling in the business of laissez-faire economics. They keep their hands off of the development side and just try to market the game to as wide an audience as they can as best they can.
Overall, this seems to be really working out for them as they continue to pick up bigger and bigger developers. There were even some rumors floating around that Bungie might go the EA Partners route but, as we have seen, Big Daddy Activision’s pockets are awfully deep. So how is that a developer like Klei Entertainment—no offense to them, of course, as they might eventually read this—secures such a deal?
They do a damn good job, that’s how. You connect with the right people, pitch the right kind of game and have a little star power in your pocket. Though it may have only been recently revealed, Marianne Krawczyk, the dynamo writer behind God of War, has been onboard the Shank train since near the beginning. Some have confused the recent reveal with EA bringing in more talent to pump up sales when in reality Krawczyk and Klei Entertainment’s fledgling partnership goes back to 2008.
Jamie Cheng, CEO of Klei Entertainment, and Marianne Krawczyk met at Game Developers Conference in 2008 at the Speaker Party. According to Cheng, the two began talking about how they would love to work on an independent game where they could tell whatever kind of story that they could want to tell. When Klei was ready to begin development on a new title, Krawcyzk and they were reconnected and so they began to cement down what we know today as Shank.
And let’s be honest, keeping this somewhat startling information fairly close to the chest is a sound business decision on their part. An indie developer revealing that the writer for God of War will be working on their newest intellectual property reeks of overstatement and has a touch of vaporware to it. To phrase it another way, the big boys sitting in the penthouses may have considered Klei to be putting on airs, as it were, and biting off a bit more than they could chew. There’s probably room enough for another charming colloquialism but I’ll leave it at that. With a writer like Krawcyzk, and her professional history, expectations are naturally set high.
But to once and for all settle the rumors, it has been said numerous times in a number of places that Krawcyzk has been working with the team since very near to the beginning. So we have a few strikes against Shank’s indie credibility, what with the publishing deal with EA Partners, and now we come to find out that they have a big A-list writer with them who happens to be fresh off seeing her latest brainchild, God of War III, do extremely well on the market. It seems like all signs point to ditching the indie moniker entirely and becoming a mainstream game.
And so this brings us to the real question. As stated above, does it matter if a high-profile publisher signs on with an independent developer? The answer, at least in this specific instance, is… No. Just because Klei Entertainment has sketched out a deal with EA Partners doesn’t preclude Shank from continuing to be the indie darling that everyone knows and loves. Sift through all the muck and mire and you still have yourself a wonderful little gem of a game developed by an independent company with their own unclouded vision present in all aspects.
The way I see it, Klei just got lucky. They started a game with the right people and pushed it in the right direction long enough to interest someone who could fulfill the necessary monetary obligations of their operation. This way, Klei does not really have to worry about publishing, marketing and all those things that indie developers traditionally flub up in the process of getting their games to the masses.
Instead they can focus on what they do best: make games. If the creative direction, art, writing and overall vision isn’t compromised by the addition of a publishing deal, it’s merely a win-win for everyone involved including those that will later be playing the game. Braid would still be Braid, Flower would still be Flower and so on even if they were under the same conditions. It just so happens that more people would have known about them from the beginning.
Which is part of the issue as well. There’s a sense of “getting it” in the community that is disdainful of the general public. Anything at all attached to Big Brother is bombarded with suspicion until folks conclude that it must be so because everyone else is saying it is. Even if it could and should be considered indie, we’d rather wash our hands of it altogether. Well, I say, not this time. This time we should be thankful that someone decided to pick up an rock—a nice rock but still a rock—and help polish it into a jewel.