Chicory publisher Tunic says indie games are getting absurdly expensive to make

Rebekah Saltsman loves making games. Enough that even though she and her husband Adam have a successful independent publishing business in Finji, they still want to set aside time and space for their own projects where they can. Even in spite of an increasingly complex, busy and extremely expensive industry.

For example, in 2019 they released the post-apocalyptic strategy game Overland on mobile, PC and console, while juggling the release of Wilmot’s Warehouse, various versions of the Night in the Woods platform and presumably setting the terms that would see them publish. Chicory: a colorful tale – announced at the start of the following year. And now, in 2021, with Chicory out the door, Tunic on the way in March, and I Was a Teenage Exocolonist and a project from The Glory Society in the works, Finji is quietly recruiting and getting to work on another internal project which we’ll see. … ultimately.

Balancing the two sides of his business can be difficult, Saltsman told IGN. Especially since while they love to post, all the time they spend posting with Finji isn’t time spent working on their own games. And it’s time consuming too, due to how handy Finji comes in with design mentoring and supporting his studio partners during development. So Finji is choosy about his plans, she said.

But it’s still these publishing projects that help Finji stay relevant and sustainable – which means no crisis and a good work-life balance for his team – between the games he creates himself.

“To be sustainable you have to be relevant,” says Saltsman. “At least that’s how we see it. And there are plenty of post elements that help modulate relevance year after year. A lot of indies launch a game and then disappear for three years, then come back and launch a game. And from the outside, from a public point of view, it does not matter because it is anyway difficult to develop. fan bases.

Five years ago I [could] make a game for a million dollars. And it was crazy then. [Now] I’m like ‘I can’t do this for less than four years [million]’.

“But from a business development or publishing standpoint, it’s actually really hard to go away for two years and then come back into the industry and be like, ‘Hey guys, I have a game. . “Because you missed all these little incremental changes that happened. And at one point the gaming industry turned around and is now heading in a different direction … it has completely changed three times. since your last launch, so posting means we’re never offline.

Saltsman’s efforts to stay in touch span both understanding genres, mechanisms, and ‘in’ ideas, but also recognizing other broader trends in the industry. For example, she says one of the biggest challenges facing the indie space right now, developers and publishers, is how very expensive everything has become.

“Our budgets are ridiculous now,” she said. “Five years ago I was like, ‘Oh, I can make a game for a million dollars.’ And it was crazy then. And [now] I’m like ‘I can’t do this for less than four years [million]’, which is crazy because it’s so much money, and then you do the math on how many units that is. “

Chicory: A Colorful Tale Official Screenshots

She says this is exacerbated by the fact that smaller games have an unspoken “cap” on how much they can charge, simply because their games are independent. They can charge $ 10 to $ 20, typically, but depending on how many rigs are taken, people on the other end only see 70% of that, not to mention all the other discounts involved. And if they spent millions doing it, it’s hard to recoup that and make a profit, even for the most successful independents – which are few and far between.

“The number of indies that hit 100,000 copies is still a very, very, very small fraction. So that’s what we’re up against. Things take forever to do. And it’s really, really. , really hard to cut the graphic corners or polish the corners. We don’t have 15 environmental artists to fill this beautiful and lush world. So how do we do it? “

Besides the increase in spending, Saltsman describes another continuing trend that she has observed over the years: the expansion and contraction of the industry in repeated cycles. As new material comes out and games with huge budgets are funded, but over time those budgets shrink as no one is trying to fill a platform store and more and more games. AAA were started to sell systems.

The number of indies that reached 100,000 copies is still a very, very, very small fraction.

She’s generally excited to see new funding for freelancers, especially at times like now, but says that even with recent efforts towards transparency, there are plenty of predatory indie publishing deals that demand copyright royalties. intellectual property, take large percentages of revenue, or otherwise fail. independent developers. Some small developers are happy to take these deals if it’s the only way to fund their game or sometimes even see it in the crowded indie space.

“When it comes to publishing in general, I think a lot of people see the money it could make and not the work it takes,” she says. “So my caveat to anyone who wants to be a publisher is this: a lot of shitty publishers have existed. And if you don’t do your homework, you’re going to be one of those crappy editors out there. You don’t want to be that person. So do your homework and do the right thing for the people who give you their life’s work… They’ve taken years to do it and you just can’t take it the hard way. You have to respect the profession. If people do it well and respect the creators, and the work that it took to do it, it’s the publishers who I think are going to continue to exist and do just fine.

Rebekah Valentine is a reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.

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