A while back, I watched Indie Game: The Movie and was struck by how much indie game development and indie book publishing had in common. I had the pleasure of interviewing the talented and inspiring indie game developer, Jonathan Blow. Below is the second in a three-part series that discusses the similarities between developing games and publishing books as an indie. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Piracy and DRM
DRM is a hot button issue in both the publishing and gaming world. According to Blow, PC games don’t have DRM, and because of that, 90 percent of PC games are pirated. Other platforms such as iPhone, however, automatically use DRM as part of their distribution service.
Just like in publishing, there are a lot of differing viewpoints on piracy and DRM among game developers.
“My particular [view] is it pretty much sucks and it does represent a potential of lost sales,” Blow said.
He said that if 90 percent are not paying now for games, but somehow DRM got their lost sales, they would have a huge amount of revenue.
“On the other hand, I don’t really know that I can do anything about piracy,” he said. “And I don’t believe in inconveniencing people who actually pay for the game, so I don’t want to put some intrusive DRM scheme that’s going to inconvenience people who actually paid money.”
If game developers could no longer make money from PC games because of piracy, Blow said they would simply stop developing for PC and move to platforms with less piracy.
“But that hasn’t totally happened,” he said. “Like I said, piracy is bad but you can still sell a decent number of copies.”
However, dropping DRM would mean users are no longer locked in to a particular platform. At least one indie author has spoken out against DRM for ebooks: Hugh Howey. He offers all his books DRM-free and has said he wants to make it as easy as possible for readers to find his work.
For indie authors, the biggest platform is Amazon. For indie game developers, big platforms include Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade and Steam. And the platforms help determine the success of the creators. If and when they promote a game or a book, they ensure sales and brand awareness.
But indie game developers have a lot more platforms and formats to worry about than indie authors. There are smartphones, tablets, Facebook games, PCs, and video game consoles to consider.
“All these things are different in terms of what the game can be like because the controls are different and the processor power is different for all these different places but then also what people expect to play on a game console like the X-Box 360 is different than what people expect to play on like, Facebook,” Blow said. “The kind of things that you would make depends on what platform you want to develop for.”
However, three major platforms are making it easier for game developers to self-publish: Microsoft’s Xbox One, Sony’s PS4, and Nintendo. Microsoft angered many developers when it initially announced indie developers would either need a publishing contract with Microsoft Game Studios or with a third-party partner to publish on their platform. But then Microsoft announced a new service, Independent Developers @ Xbox, which allowed developers to register for free dev kits and self-publish their games.
Sony made it easy for developers to self-publish by outlining four pillars for their platform. The company said that every developer is a publisher, with equal opportunity and business support, personal relationships with Sony’s game marketers, and able to get games out with no hurdles. For example, self-publishers have a single stage process for application, with a template and simple list of criteria, and they can get a response from Sony in one week. Also, on Sony, developers have complete control of their release date and access to feedback on their games.
Nintendo is allowing developers to sign up and get dev kits and tools for free. Additionally, Nintendo waives licensing fees, to make it more affordable to indie developers to create games.
Like with ebooks, indie game developers may run into the issue of discoverability. And some of the platforms are curated, which means certain kinds of content is not allowed. Self-published ebooks ran into a similar issue in October 2013, when it came to light that ebooks about rape, incest, and bestiality were for sale on retail sites. In response, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo removed many of the titles from their sites. And WH Smith in the U.K. shut down its entire website for a few days while it deleted the titles.
High quality games and books are the keys to a work’s success. For books, this means having strong covers and professional editing. Both game developers and authors also often use beta testers and readers to get feedback on a project before it’s released.
Blow said his last game, Braid, received unique critical acclaim, and so many people remember it as a high-quality game. “Because of that, it still sells pretty well today, […] years after it was released,” he said.
It also helps both developers and authors to be passionate about their games and books.
“I do my best work when I am doing the thing that I feel is most important for me to be doing in the whole world,” Blow said.