Indie dev thoughts on the Xbox acquisitions

2022-02-13

TL;DR

I’m not worried about the acquisitions. There’s a large enough player base that wants a large variety, so there’s room for all game developers, large and small. I’m a solo dev, and my indie income is diversified (freelance work, games in stores, Patreon), and I have no commitments (like team salaries). I don’t think my patrons are going away anytime soon either, and in fact, it’s slowly growing. My 1,000 true fans, so to speak: https://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/

75 billion dollars is the new 7.5 billion dollars (“Microsoft Buys Fallout Creator Bethesda for $7.5bn” 2020) (“Microsoft to Acquire Activision Blizzard to Bring the Joy and Community of Gaming to Everyone, across Every Device” 2022), and some indies are scared.

It’s easy to agree with Tanya X Short about publishers being less interested in indies, but then there’s the counter argument by Sarah Bond that indies will benefit as their games will be stumbled-upon by folks who would not normally purchase indie games (Baraniuk 2022).

Perhaps Ms Bond is biased, as she’s corporate vice president at Xbox’s Gaming Ecosystem Organisation, but players seem to agree (Klobrille 2022):

(A second peek shows that the above tweeter is also Xbox-affiliated. Hmmm… 🤔)

It’s worth noting that Tanya X Short follows the usual route of selling their games via the usual marketplaces, not via subscription services. The article also mentions Yura Zhdanovich, whose next game will be on Game Pass, but he is worried whether there will be enough support for indie developers in the future.

So, small studios are worried. But that’s just one part of the indie pie. There are also solo indies like myself who depend on patrons for our income.

As a former musician, I always look to the music industry for analogues. Xbox now has Metallica and Rihanna, but not everyone is a fan, and might prefer to discover new and independent artists online, or at the local open mic night.

Kevin Kelly’s “1,000 true fans” rings true for me here (Kelly 2008). You can make a living as an artist if you have a handful of hard-core, dedicated fans.

Are solo flyers OK, but small studios in danger?

History repeats itself. Industries rise and fall, and one has to adapt.

The market is getting bigger (Wallach 2020), so I do think there’s a place in the sun for each of us gamedevs, but the ways which we deliver experiences of play is also getting more varied, be it AR/VR, mobile, fantasy consoles, or even developing for new niche hardware like the Playdate. We just have to find our niche.

Growing gaming market

Who knows? Perhaps AAA will one day turn into a cesspit of generic, pay-to-win, lootbox-ridden grindfests, where games are launched incomplete and you have to buy £1,000 of IAP to get the full experience.

Will this happen? Likely, as all these acquired studios now report to the same board, and damned be the C-suite who don’t deliver the double-digit percentage points of growth this board will likely demand.

If that happens, players will come back home to good old gaming, and us indies will await them with open arms.

Bibliography

  1. “Microsoft Buys Fallout Creator Bethesda for $7.5bn.” 2020. BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/54233235 [accessed 13 Feb 2022].
  2. “Microsoft to Acquire Activision Blizzard to Bring the Joy and Community of Gaming to Everyone, across Every Device.” 2022. Stories. Available at: https://news.microsoft.com/2022/01/18/microsoft-to-acquire-activision-blizzard-to-bring-the-joy-and-community-of-gaming-to-everyone-across-every-device/ [accessed 13 Feb 2022].
  3. BARANIUK, Chris. 2022. “Microsoft’s Mega-Deal Worries Small Video Game Makers.” BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-60241535 [accessed 12 Feb 2022].
  4. KELLY, Kevin. 2008. “1,000 True Fans.” The Technium. Available at: https://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/ [accessed 5 Jul 2021].
  5. WALLACH, Omri. 2020. “50 Years of Gaming History, by Revenue Stream (1970-2020).” Visual Capitalist. Available at: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/50-years-gaming-history-revenue-stream/ [accessed 13 Feb 2022].
  6. KLOBRILLE. 2022. “Game Pass Really Made Me Appreciate Indie Games More than Ever before. I Discovered Some Real Gems These Last Couple of Years, and I Think the Honest Reality Is That I Likely Wouldn’t Have Checked Many of Them out without Being Included in the Service. Https://T.co/qYMZ3LIJBf” [Tweet]. @klobrille. Available at: https://twitter.com/klobrille/status/1489075096216027140 [accessed 13 Feb 2022].
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