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Like other large media industries, the game industry has its share of independents, who choose to self-produce and distribute games. This is a hard route to take, and scraping together the money to support a team through months of production can be an arduous process. Some independent developers have other jobs, some do work for hire to support their original game development, some use credit cards and loans from friends and family. Like independent films and underground music, independent games are a long shot for their creators—more often than not they are never finished, or never find a distribution channel. But independence has its privileges as well—the ability to experiment with truly original concepts, the freedom to change ideas mid-stream, and the knowledge that you own your ideas and their implementation.
One independent studio, gameLab, eloquently sums up its philosophy on their homepage at www.gmlb.com: “gameLab is a new kind of game developer. Cinema has its independent filmmakers. The music industry has alternative and underground bands and DJs. And the gaming industry needs its independent voices. Our games break new ground by finding new audiences, inventing original forms of gameplay, and by exploring narrative content and visual and audio styles that aren’t normally found in games. What drives us? We’re doing our part to expand the boundaries of the gaming world and reshape the culture of games. If we don’t, who will?”
For most independent developers, the goal is to produce a game that will be picked up and distributed by a major publisher. If this happens, the developer will be able to negotiate a fairly good deal in terms of ownership and royalties, and the publisher will be taking much less risk in terms of advances. Unfortunately, most independently produced games do not get picked up and their developers must resort to trying to sell them directly via the Internet, or using them as a demo to get a publishing deal for a different game. But that’s no reason not to go the independent route if you have a truly original idea and the passion to produce it. The edges of industries are where innovation often thrives, and your game may turn out to be exactly what the game-playing public didn’t know it was looking for.
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