Making it Big
Where will indie developers take the industry? In a world where we see
independent film makers score hits with indie movies, and recording
artists occasionally make it big on an indie label, the notion that the
next success story in massively multiplayer online games could come
from an indie studio doesn’t seem at all far fetched. In fact, it may
just be a matter of time.
When Ten Ton Hammer asked whether the “next big thing” might come from
an indie developer, the responses from both Richardsson and Harris were
a resounding yes.
“It will most definitely come from an indie studio…however you want to
define an indie,” predicts Richardsson. “The next disruption to the
gaming industry is yet to come and it will be a total surprise to all
“What I personally fear the most is that it isn’t going to be [created
by] CCP, of course, but the way to be prepared and able to react is to
constantly push the envelope…to pursue excellence in whatever form you
determine that applies to your game. Finally, be fearless about
change…[an act] which in some cases can be thought of as stubborn and
ignorant, but we prefer ‘fearless.’”
Harris is equally (and almost identically) enthusiastic when asked if
an indie could hit it big. “Most definitely,” he
In the eyes
of many gamers, Global Agenda's looking good.
says. “Since independent developers tend to take more risks one can
already see innovative features, new genres, and entirely new hybrid
game types emerging. Within our own title, Global Agenda, we are
working to combine the action combat of a shooter... plus the character
advancement of an RPG... plus the context of a massive persistent war
over limited resources involving hundreds of territories and tens of
thousands of player agents. The concept is different enough that some
argue about whether or not it should even be called an MMO because it
doesn't fit the standard mold. Others might call it niche, but
we think of it as rather grand.”
The Definition of Success
We asked both our developers how they defined success as an indie
studio. Richardsson had much to say about the success of CCP/White Wolf
and EVE Online:
“[Success is] when you have launched your game, you are attracting the
audience you were targeting, you keep on growing for long sustained
periods of time and you have (good) food on your table to feed your
family. This inherently means your company is profitable, and you
certainly don’t need hundreds of thousands of people playing to achieve
“I would personally add to that benchmarks like having financial room
to maneuver and grow effectively so you can withstand and react to
unforeseen circumstances (Iceland economy anyone?) and, in the end,
being respected by your players and peers.”
For Harris, whose game is still in development, the answer was simple:
“Success is a thriving community of players with passion for the game.”
From a Gamer's Perspective
We asked our community to weigh in with their thoughts on indie
developers, and they were as enthusiastic about the prospects of indie
MMOs as the developers themselves.
"One thing I like about indie in
general, not just MMOs, is that they can work on their own fresh ideas.
They do not need to cater to what the big suit at EA, or Blizzard
thinks would turn over the best dollar per man hour. They are more free
to be creative and try out things others may not have not done, due to
it not fitting the profit margin mold."
"Indies are more apt to
pursue their dreams, rather than to focus mainly on profits. That's how
"I love indie
developers; they have the freedom to make the game how
they want it without others hanging over them and trying to shape the
game in to something it's not meant to be."
"I think indie
MMO's are the next step for the industry. The potential
for changes in design and the increase in competition in the market can
only be good things in my mind. Engines such as Multiverse, BigWorld
and others allow for a content developer to do a lot of the end product
design and allow them to focus not on how the source code works but
instead how their game plays."
The Times They Are a-Changin'
Right now, it's fairly obvious where the masses gravitate in massively
multiplayer worlds--giants like World of
is a prime example of a game that successfully serves a very specific
Warcraft own the MMO gaming space. But in the wake of WoW's success
we've seen mega-studios with vast financial and marketing resources
fall flat. While developers generally play their subscriber numbers
close to the vest, it doesn't take a trained eye to see that much-hyped
supergames like Funcom's Age of Conan and Mythic's Warhammer Online
probably fell short of their goals, if not in initial sales, then
certainly in subscriber retention.
Has the age of the mega-funded triple-A MMOG passed? One need only look
Online, an indie game which has grown its subscriber base exponentially
over 300,000, to get a sense of what the future may hold. The
underdogs, with smaller budgets and smaller teams, have grander dreams,
and a sensible approach, whether by design or necessity, to bringing
those dreams to fruition.