In the past decade PC gaming has been revolutionized by the distribution of software via online marketplaces. With the massive success of digital distributors such as Steam, the access most gamers have been given to PC gaming and its community has not only skyrocketed sales of digitally-downloadable games but also fostered a very comfortable niche for independent development. With the rapidly evolving tools that have been engineered to cheaply and effectively design and develop your own software, mixed with the massive community that supports the distribution of freeware and self published software, it has become almost too easy to develop your own games. It has become infinitely simpler to not only design, create and distribute your own software but also to fund it, with website such as Kickstarter, Go Fund Me, and Patreon making it so that potential products are not only financially feasible for the developers but also more-heavily influenced by its prospective buyers.
While trying to avoid sounding too cynical about this, I do not PERSONALLY believe that ease of distribution is necessarily a positive thing. With the anyone-can-paint attitude of websites like Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight making way for money hungry, insipid market-schemes intended not as a realization of an under-funded indie developers design, but as a slap-dashed product, purposefully squeezed-out just to saturate a marketplace with low-effort, thrown-together software. And the biggest issue is that this kind of crooked practice makes money; developers are rewarded for releasing poorly-designed products as easily as if they had released something well-made, with shit-show spectacles gaining massive viewerships off of negative press and bad attention.
With recent controversy over Unity’s policy on the fair use of sold assets and Steam’s recent issue of shovelware worming its way onto the marketplace via Greenlight, the lower-end indie-dev crowd has taken a massive hit and the still evolving industry has been given flack for poor moderation. That said, the strides that have been made to allow for indie development to be respected on a similar level to massively funded triple-A titles have been amazing, with projects such the recent Undertale gaining previously unheard of critical acclaim off of little to no funding. Another issue though is that it seems that the respective indie development crowd has slowly crept apart into sects.
My previous mention of a supposed “lower end” of the industry is referring to a sort of online community lower-class; the unwashed, unproven dev-teams that are given little to work with. These are the potential up-by-the-bootstrap’ers who have to gain respect through their product and that alone. This analog of course implies that there must also be an upper-class; to me these are the developers who can justify their asking for a million or so dollars on Kickstarter because they have domain over a cornered market, the developers that can afford to stick out their neck a bit further because they have control over a license, project or person that consumers can’t get elsewhere. Projects that I’d put under this category include games such as Yooka-Laylee, Mighty Number 9., and Shenmue 3, these are all projects who’s major selling points are All-star dev-teams, and the promise of revitalizing a once beloved intellectual-property.
Of course, this kind of project can be either a very good or a very bad thing; with Kickstarter, developers are given more freedom of expression without running the risk of potential bankruptcy, something that is starting to become more and more exclusive to such projects. The other side of this coin however makes way for some corruption, with the price brackets of funded projects being influenced so heavily by consumer hype, which is often expressed through the checkbooks of the fans.
For a dev-team on Kickstarter to ask for 2 Million through crowds funding takes guts, but for a team to receive 6 Million from eager fans and still seek additional money through a secondary campaign so to “fully realize the developers visions of the product” has the developers with your guts in a baggy while they jeer and ask for more guts. For a project like Shenmue 3, a “Slacker Backer Campaign” is an ill-disguised attempt to lean on it’s already invested fanbase, artificially raising the stakes by threatening that what we’ve given them isn’t good enough and that it is on us if the product comes out as sub-standard. This cloak and dagger bullshit is indicative of a much larger issue within the indie-development community and the games industry in general, the act of purposefully withholding content from a game so as to sell it back to the consumers later on. This can come in the form of a developer intentionally extorting funds from fans via kickstarter while masquerading as the hapless over-achiever, or as has been seen in the triple-A games market; blatantly withholding chunks of content from a finished product so to sell it back to consumers as DLC.
In conclusion, it should be noted that there is no right or wrong way to develop a game, however there definitely is a moral responsibility that a developer owes to their fans. The right of the consumer entails them to the ability to know what they’re paying for without having to worry that they will eventually get screwed-over for their choice in doing so. It is wretched that consumers have had to be satisfied with “Good Enough” content, making it so that we’ve slowly gotten used to developers lying to us just to sweeten sales, and it’s an issue that’s obviously not just limited to indie development. Companies in both the independent and triple-A industry have made it so that it is now acceptable to release poorly-made or downright broken content as long as they are still capable of leading us along by our purse-strings. Because of this the games industry has taken a heavy blow in recent years, with companies like Konami practically fleeing the current market. As disheartening as this all is though, we still have the power to fix it. We the consumers have the power to not accept sub-standard content and not allow for developers to make easy money off of deceitful marketing techniques. We the consumers must fight back against all of the blatantly crooked bullshit that we’re expected to put up with, because we don’t have to. We can fix this.