Tackling the Indies with Adriaan de Jongh
When you're winning awards left and right for wacky innovative video games, closing the game studio you helped found would be the last thing on everyone's mind. But that was exactly what one man in the Netherlands did, and he proceeded to help his fellow developers by creating a free contract generator, a play-testing club, and an industry calendar.
Best known as the co-founder of Game Oven, I interviewed Adriaan de Jongh about his ambitions, the predicament of the indies, and his mission to make the video gaming industry a better place for developers.
How do you feel about the evolution of Game Oven throughout its existence?
With Game Oven, both Bojan (Game Oven's other co-founder) and I got to practice what we loved: I prototyped concepts for weird social games, and Bojan got to do some heavy lifting and structuring with his game engine. The studio “evolved” as we got better in those things. It was definitely satisfying for both of us throughout our time together to get to do these things.
What aspects of the game industry would you like to delve into, and what types of games are you currently working on?
Weird social games and inventing game mechanics are still my thing, so you can expect more of that. Right now, I'm working on another mobile dancing game, a serious game about our senses, and a game together with an amazing illustrator - all stuff I will announce later this year.
What impact would you like to make as a professional game developer?
I hope to show the game industry that inventing your own game mechanics is a thing you can just do, not by telling everybody about it, but by showing you my games!
Do efforts such as contract( ) and playdev.club serve to tackle the foundational problems behind independent game development, and how important are these issues in the games industry?
Making a living out of games as a solo developer is really hard for everybody around the world, and for many reasons: there is a lot of distracting paper work, you have to do all the work and networking and marketing yourself, and there is nobody around to talk some sense into you or your day-to-day struggles. The side projects I started this year all tap into those challenges, and are often a direct result from the stuff that I need personally. I hope that these things create a better ecosystem for game developers around me, and I try hard to tell people about the tools and ask them for feedback. But that is the difficult part: telling people about these tools. There are barely places to tell developers about these things!
How do you feel about events such as the Game Developers Conference (GDC) as avenues to inform developers about new tools?
I don't see what's wrong about tool announcements and developer conferences coming together; isn't that just super practical?
Is being weird/different a necessity as an independent game developer, or are they just games that you love to make and play?
Making a weird or unique game is not a necessity for game developers in general; it is for people who want to make a living out of it. Being able to sell your games is possible if your game has something that other games don't - what else would people pay for? Having said that, we didn't just make games because we thought we could sell them, but also because we loved making them. It's a balance.
Do you feel that balance is a deciding factor in independent game development, considering everyone's input matters in indie studios, whereas AAA studios have hundreds of employees that go unheard?
Even though there are more opportunities for people in smaller studios to have and express their opinion, in the end, just like in AAA studios, someone has to take responsibility and decide where the ship heads. People in smaller studios have an equally difficult time balancing everyone’s input as larger studios have. In fact, I would even say that this balancing is generally easier in larger studios, because roles and responsibilities are often narrowly defined, so people know they can only decide over the things within their reach.
What are the biggest issues you see preventing indie games from having the same exposure and popularity as AAA games?
AAA games are almost always high-production titles in well-defined genres. AAA studios have it easier when it comes to finding their audience. For indies, it's often unclear where that body of people is that wants to play their game. And even if it is clear, having the money and the people to approach that audience is a huge help to the exposure of your game.
Is it difficult because indie games can't compete with AAA games in their own genres, and have no choice but to fill in a niche market, or are the genres of AAA games just over-saturated?
I think AAA have been playing it safe for many years now, which is why I would say the genres that AAA games often fall under are somewhat saturated - studios keep making the same kind of games because it has proven to make money.
What do you think needs to be done to make it easier for indies to gather the money and people required to approach audiences?
I have no answer to that question; if I did, I would be rich as ****.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.