The Economics of Indie Games
Fieldrunners, an indie tower defense game, developed by Subatomic Studios for the iPhone and iPad.
CREDIT: Fieldrunners by Subatomic Studios
With Apple's App Store surpassing 10 billion downloads, mobile applications have never been more popular. Games top the list of downloaded mobile apps, and their popularity is giving indie game developers a break at selling their stuff.
Angry Birds, a singularly successful mobile game created by the Finnish company Rovio, enjoyed a plum run at the top of the U.S. download charts for more than six months. The company is holding talks about turning the game into an animated feature. Stuffed pig and bird plush toys based on the characters in the game are already on sale.
Rovio started small, founded by three college students at the Helsinki University of Technology in 2005. Ville Heijari, who holds the position of Rovio's bird whisperer, said they developed Angry Birds over eight months in 2009 on a budget of about $100,000 pocket change next to the millions invested in traditional console-based games such as Call of Duty that are expensive to build and buy.
Thanks to smartphones and app stores, small studios have a chance to compete directly with big game companies like Microsoft or Nintendo. You just build a great game and submit it, said Ash Monif, chief operating officer of Subatomic Studios.
Subatomic Studios first pitched its game, Fieldrunners, as a concept for the Xbox game arcade. But it found Microsoft's game concept approval process arduous. So it just made an app instead.
Low cost comes with low risk, and with low risk comes creativity, says Philip Tan, the U.S. executive director of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game lab. Console game developers investing million of dollars into their products can't afford to be really innovative, because they can't afford to have those products fail. But indie game developers have that luxury, Tan told InnovationNewsDaily.
Indie developers also succeed where big companies fail by targeting an audience larger than just hard-core gamers.
It was obvious that gamers were not the main group of people who use smartphones, said Heijari. So what we did we created the perfect casual game for anybody. You could just pick it up and play it even if you haven't played it before. We put in a very, very easy learning curve. That's where we succeeded really well.
There are murmurs about the Sony PSP II's launch in Japan later this month, and the indie game world will be looking for signs that Sony has picked up tips from the mobile game arena, where billions of simply illustrated, brightly colored, physics-based games have been bought for about a buck.