Indie Game Development
In the earlier years of video game history, professional game design studios were the only names that can accomplish success in the video game market. Independent or Indie Game Design Studios didn’t have a place in this market. However, with more and more successful indie game titles being released through the years, indie game design studios earned themselves a big slice from the pie.
Typically established by video lovers computer science students or self-learner game designers, these studios aim to make a big hit without the support of major publishers. While usually, it takes a design team of 500+ can take multiple years to make a video game that is published by major companies, indie game design studios try to the same thing with a small group of friends and in much shorter times like a few months because of the budget limitations. Still, some of these indie titles manage to make millions of dollars. It is impossible to ignore the achievement.
One of the best examples of this kind of success stories would be “Journey” from Thatgamecompany and “Minecraft” from Mojang Studios.
Journey and Thatgamecompany
Another impressive example of the indie game design success would be the famous game named “Journey”.
Two Students of USC’s Interactive Media Program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago, felt like players needed to experience more emotion while playing video games. This idea made them establish their indie game design studio “Thatgamecompany” in 2006. The goal of this studio was invoking the player’s emotion primarily, differently from the games the market is used to.
That idea led Thatgamecompany to the release of two games that made players feel different than other games, “Flow” and “Flower”. Although both games praised by many players, the gaming industry didn’t really take notice of this small indie game design studio until Thatgamecompany released “Journey”.
“Journey” is a game that the player controls a cloaked character who travels through a desert. The players have no knowledge about the destination of their journey or direction to go. They are completely free to explore the game’s world as they want. But, one of the more unique aspects that makes the game special is that during their journey players can encounter other random players as cloaked figures without any way to know their identity or communication other than simple chirping.
It is such a touching experience that Journey critical acclaimed and became the fastest selling digital game on the PS3 game console. Suddenly, Journey made indie game design accepted as more innovative than bigger companies by introduced such unprecedented features. Also, the game’s score nominated for a Grammy which was a huge step for only for indie games but the whole video game business.
Minecraft and Mojang Studios
If somehow you don’t know about Minecraft, it is a survival game with crafting and mining focus where players can explore a procedurally generated, practically infinitely large world made out of cubes. The concept of limitless exploration and visual simplicity attracted many people to the game since its initial release. And made the game one of the biggest game titles.
Minecraft was initially designed and released by only one person. The creator of the game, Markus “Notch” Persson, was a man who was interested in indie game design since his childhood. The Swedish game designer created many flash games and another indie game named “Wurm Online” before Minecraft. Then Persson created a clone project based on a mining game Infiniminer in 2009. After some improvements, he published the game commercially on a website he created. Just in a month, he had enough revenue from the game to allow him to quit his day job. A year later he met with Gabe Newell, co-founder of Valve, one of the biggest the game companies. Newell offered him a job in Valve. However, Persson turned down the offer and established his indie game design studio Mojang Specifications with his friend Jakob “JahKob” Porsér.
With the increasing player numbers of Minecraft, in a short time, Mojang made hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. They remade the game for multiple platforms. And multiplied the revenue. By the year 2013, the indie game design company Mojang reached $330 million in total revenue.
In the following year, Persson announced that he is tired and wants to sell Mojang. Many of the biggest video game companies offered to buy the indie game design company. Ultimately, Persson sold the company for US$2.5 billion to Microsoft which was mostly a result of their previous partnerships about the Xbox version of Minecraft. In late 2018, it was estimated that Minecraft sold over 154 million copies in total, this made it the second best-selling video game of all time (The first one is Tetris).
Today, Mojang is considered as a shining example of the potential that indie game design studios have to success in the video game market. Its success inspired many other developers to join the business.