“The games that make money are the “celebrity” games…”


From a recent conversation with indie game developer and “games industry polymath” August Zinsser

Question: How do you feel about the prediction that indie games are merely a “flash in the pan” and that the games industry at large cannot sustain this many indie developers?

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Or, read the transcript:

I think there’s some truth to that, but I think it’s an oversimplification. It comes down to the price of art.The price of artistic media, I guess.

For me, it’s kind of like music. Way back in the day when music was, like, new, I guess, it didn’t really have any value because it was ahead of culture and modern economies and so forth. Now, I’m talking, you know, tribal music and drums and that kind of thing. And then once economies became sophisticated enough, you had things like, you know, the classical music era. And you had some composers there that could start to make a living off of that, but they were really like performers. But then, with the advent of recording, that was basically an explosion in the golden age of music. And you had the relatively small number of people who had enough talent and access to recording equipment to produce these records and the records became this thing of really high value. Really in the last 10 to 20 years, as the cost of producing those records went down, so many people could do it and it flooded the market and then music became this thing that most people can acquire people. And a subset, well, a subset of some people even believe it should be free. And, I guess I don’t know where I stand on whether music is intrinsically valuable or not, but the fact of the matter is the market says that because the cost of acquiring music is really, really low, the price, if you want to actually charge people for it, needs to be about the same. I mean, this is basic supply and demand. 

So, we’re at this point where we have all this regulation and artificial impact on the market to create value in selling a record. And, this comes into copyright laws and publisher contracts and exclusivity contracts. And, it’s just so saturated that even that industry is dwindling. So, as a musician today, it’s nearly impossible to make a living unless you’re essentially a celebrity. And even then you’re making your money from shows and appearances. You’re not usually making your money from record sales.

And that’s just the state of not only the music industry, but, I think, really, all art in general. And, you know, I feel for musicians, definitely. I’m a musician myself and, gee, it’d be great to make a living off of it. But, the reality is that’s just not how it is, and i can be upset about it or I can do something else and make money doing something else.

And, I’m afraid that the game industry is eventually going to get there and I see it moving towards there. It’s a little more complex in the games industry because it just requires so many more people to create a game. So, even just the barrier to entry of making a game is still much higher than recording yourself playing a song. So, what we end up having is essentially the games that make money are the “celebrity” games. These are highly recognizable franchises that people are just going to buy every year because they know the name and they feel the connection to pop culture, because other people know that same thing. Kind of the same reason why people like celebrities in the first place. Then, besides that, you’ve got the indie game industry which is trying to make art. And, I think the value of that art is eternally going down and, as such, means it becomes harder and harder to make a living doing that.


August Zinsser has been making games for over a decade working at times as an engineer, designer, tech artist and producer. As a “disenfranchised hardcore gamer” he spends several hours per week playing games, but hates getting “trolled by all these damn kids when they win.” So he spends most time playing solo & casual games with more depth than mindless clicking– oh and Starcraft.

When not yelling at punks to get off his lawn, he can be found playing board/card/video games with his wife, teaching his dog to parkour, making music, snowboarding, surfing, and doing dangerous things like weaving through LA traffic on a motorcycle.

Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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