What would be Chinese indie games like in the future?

Author: ayame
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What is an indie game?

Although this concept is not quite specific at this time, I believe we should make it clear before deeper discussion. We'll quote the definition from Is Every Indie Game Independent? Towards the Concept of Independent Game published in Game Studies.

Independent games have 3 forms of independence at the core:

  1. financial independence
  2. creative independence
  3. publishing independence

When we talk about independent games, we should distinguish whether we use this word in a broad or narrow sense. Generally speaking, we use it more broadly than we might think

Even though we can easily mix up all these factors, the following characteristics are not equal across independent games: digital distribution, experimental nature, small budget and low price, retro style and small size.

Why do we even have independent games?

Oh, it's just like what we say - the huge increase cost of triple-A games, easy tools for game development, digital distribution opportunities like Steam and App Stores... and so forth.


People who are into indie games might increasingly see the word indiepocalypse nowadays, because the days that a one-person team made an amazing game and became rich and famous will never come back. In short, from Daniel Cook:

Low market barriers mean new developers just keep flooding in. And the nature of digital distribution means games never truly expire. So the back catalog of great games grows larger and larger. This is no longer a low supply market. The market will become Standardization, competition, winner takes all, escalating costs, bloat, risk avoidance...

You can survive only by

Hobbyist, hire yourself out and extinction(?).

Since we are talking about the future here, let's see what Daniel thinks about it.

A good point is that grassroots game development will continue to thrive and there will be new markets like VR.
Bad things? All we've seen in the traditional market.

After all, what remains unchanged is change, right?

So, what about China?

Gao Ming just finished his translation of Writing Indie Games Is Like Being a Musician. In the Bad Way., which is also a talk on indiepocalypse.

Here what I want to quote is Gao's thought on the Chinese indie games market.

One more thing, Chinese indie games market is quite special - it's large, it's late, and players here are very supportive to our local games. So we should be now in the phase of "Indie Bubble" mentioned in this article. In a short period, working with Chinese indie games market is profitable.

I definately agree with him.

In fact, compared with what Liu described in this article two years ago, we have more qualified international independent game studios now. A couple of weeks ago, when I was asked to recommend some Chinese indie game studios for some students majoring in game design, I suddenly realised that the number has increased a lot. By which I mean the real indie ones. More specific numbers and teams can be found here at indienova.

In this article, the data we collected is from 2016, when there were more than 140 Chinese made games on Steam, in which more than 100 were indies.

In total, more than 430 games uploaded (at least) their information in indienova, in which 285 are public (here includes all platforms).

Talking about the outside environment, we can see the same trend:

Indie game communities like indienova, CiGA and IndieAce are booming, along with varieties of Game Jam. More and more cities have joined the Global Game Jam, and have begun to host their own game jams. The biggest online game jam, Ludum Dare, is having more and more Chinese participants, who also take more glory too. For example, Gao Ming won the fourth place in the 37th LD.

Game education is growing up too. On one hand, more students choose to study abroad; on the other hand, game design related university courses in China arose including CUC BFA and so on. They also focus on collaborating with overseas schools.

Game Stores show interest in indie games. The App Store set up indie game prefecture in 2017. Sony's Chinese Star Plan is trying to help Chinese studios. So are Chinese local game companies such as Ali, Tencent and NetEase.
Players' paying habits are quite different nowadays, while broadcasting on platforms like Twitch makes some games quite popular.


However this does not necessarily mean that China is the eden of indies. In fact, Chinese indie games are faced with tons of problems due to the complexity of the Chinese game market.

First of all, there are some indie studios that are not so indie. Just as Matrix pointed out, Chinese indie games are often PR methods used by small teams with promotional disadvantages. We cannot deny any kind of developers' right to survive, nor do we want to judge the overuse of this ambitious word. But we definitely need to remember that cheap deeds could harm the whole industry in the end.

Secondly, we have seen many failures since indie games started in China. Viewed as part of the overall history of the game industry, we know that it's doomed to happen but these cases are too crucial to developers themselves.

I’d like to quute RainCast, a Chinese developer from Seattle.

The longer I stayed here, the harder I found it is to be an indie. I know too many indies with unsuccessful games and low incomes... A few ones who have remarkable ideas or thirst for success do have made successful commercial games. Even fewers end up with legendary ones... I found that normally success developers do have good education and work background, while the unsuccessful ones just start as indies and don't have too long expectation.

More specifically, I believe that if you are going to make a living by this former commercial game experience, a background of education through profession would be very beneficial.

There is already tons of experience shared on the internet too.

Games have gone too far. It combines the strengths of other arts media, and changed from pixels to realistic to stylish, from fun to deeper emotion to serious games and gamification in such a short period. Indie games, however, give us more possibilities.

We are delightful to see China is not lagging behind too far this time. We have the most players, we've formed our own game culture, we've finished basic technology accumulation. And now it's time to make our voices heard.

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