Future of Indie Gaming
In August of 2006 I did a research project on the future of Independent Games. The full research project is available for download at the bottom, but here is an excerpt from it: 
The results of my survey were analyzed and I found three statistical areas of interest: Video gamers computer/internet habits, familiarity with video game engines, and game console type and usage statistics.
100% of my respondents answered that they owned a personal computer, 70% of these respondents stated that the Internet was the primary use for this computer. With the PC, and more specifically the Internet being the largest distribution network for indie games this would seem to make the outlook for these games positive. Only 15% of the respondents said that they do not play free games over the Internet, and all of those same respondents cited design/publishing as the primary use for their systems rather than gaming or the Internet. 60% of those surveyed purchase games to play on their PC, and 85% of those people have heard of the term “Indie Games”. These numbers strongly suggest that many gamers, core and casual alike, are playing and in turn buying independently developed games.
I included two survey questions regarding the familiarity of some fairly popular game engines. 60% of the respondents have heard of, or used the Torque Game Engine, for a system that is not bundled with any game that is very high. The Unreal Engine was even higher at 70%. This is most likely due to the fact that it ships with the updated version of the Unreal: Tournament 2004 game. This familiarity towards these engines helps to build a community around the products, as well as a huge documentation base for beginning users. That makes the learning curve for these particular software packages very small. Which in turn makes the barriers to entry for the video game design industry shrink. The more independent designers there are, the more independent games there will be.
The statistics for console and spending habits were particularly interesting to me. 60% of my respondents said that they spend under $20 a month on gaming. The average cost of a published game is $40, and the average time to pass a published game is 15 hours. This means a core gamer has more than a month of down time between games based on their average playtime according to my survey. 60% of the respondents also claimed to own two or less consoles. With the monthly expenditures as low as they are and the cost of games as high as they have been I believe the players are spending a lot of time playing free games. They are also being very selective about the cost and playability of their systems. Without features like downloadable game demos, cheaper titles, and great replay value a console will most likely not flourish in the future.
After evaluating the numbers established by my survey I feel that my hypothesis has been validated. Conversion rate is often used as the standard for determining the success of a game in the casual market (Carroll, 4). This calculation is a percentage of users who purchased a game after trying a demo. In today’s casual game market a 1% conversion rate is considered a success. This means that out of every 100 people that play your game if only one of those players pay the money to own it your team has done an adequate job. I predict the lesser cost of the independent games alone being able to raise that conversion rate to at least double in the coming years. If conversion rates were still considered the standard measurement of success, than a 100% increase would have to be considered a success in the industry. And that is a low end estimate of increase.
Many of the comments in my survey were about games reaching peaks, and having to go back to basics as far as what makes them enjoyable. This only adds to the fact that players are less willing to pay $40 for a game they are done with after only two weeks of play. I tend to believe a game for $10 that can be played and enjoyed over and over will win out. Even if the graphics and technology are inferior to the more expensive game I feel that the replay value alone is enough to push these games above their more expensive counter parts as far as units sold.
The new mediums in the works right now will only add to these numbers as well. With Microsoft’s announcement of XNA Game Studio Express people of all skill levels will have a way to get their games to the public. This will give gamers a choice as to what they want to buy. Before you were faced with a choice of a published game, or another published game, both costing a fairly large amount of money. But now you not only have the choice of an independent game but you get to try it before you buy it. The availability of the lower end game engines will also add to this flood of gaming choices. Players will now have a broader choice of which games to purchase and this will in turn eliminate poorly made games from sub-par publishers.
In conclusion I feel that the independent gaming industry will be able to grow their market share by about 150-300% in the next five years. These technologies will be the driving force of the next generation of video games. We saw the rush of the independent film industry a decade ago and it is now a major competitor in the over all film industry. My findings and research throughout this problem lead me to believe that the independent game industry will do the same if not more in its respective industry.
Research Paper