Andy Schatz is a renowned game developer and the founder of Pocketwatch Games, makers of the upcoming Tooth and Tail.
His popular heist game, Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine, won the 2010 Seumas McNalley Grand Prize at the Independent Games Festival, an event he’s also hosted on five separate occasions.
He joined us on campus earlier this month as part of an ongoing Student Senate guest lecture series. His presentation, titled “I Forgot How To Indie,” focused on the changing landscape of independent games and the challenges developers face amidst the growing competition for players’ attentions. In particular, he emphasized the need for developers to create new and remarkable playing experiences, as well as the value of looking beyond the realm of games for creative inspiration.
We followed up with Andy by email to ask him some further questions about his insight on the meaning of “indie” and the future of the industry.
DigiPen Institute of Technology (DIT): One of the themes you touched on during your lecture was the idea that being “indie” doesn’t really matter anymore. What exactly do you mean by that?
Andy Schatz (AS): The word “indie” used to mean something to players. It was oppositional. It was unstable. It was punk. Now indie games — and the indie mindset — are everywhere, even in big studios. Indies won the war. Indies changed the game industry. But now the term indie can mean so many different things that it no longer has value to players. It communicates nothing. Flying the indie banner doesn’t give you street cred anymore.
DIT: If being “indie” is no longer a distinguishing factor for making a remarkable game, then what is? What do you think it takes for an independent game to have a chance at being — if not the next Minecraft — a financial and critical success in 2015?
AS: Every indie game succeeds for unique reasons. If I could predict what would make a hit indie game — well, yeah, nobody can do that. But that’s your answer right there. Do something fresh, or do something better than anybody has ever done it before. Those are the paths to success. Not guaranteed, but at least that’s a decent compass.
DIT: So making a great game that people will want to talk about is one thing, but people still have to find out about the game somehow. Do you have any advice for up-and-coming developers on how to get noticed?
AS: Again, this comes back to doing something that will make people talk. Sure, if you make something really, really good, people will talk. But you can also just make something truly new — and not in the “platformer-with-a-twist” sort of way.
DIT: You began making games independently much earlier than most of your peers in the industry. Did you ever anticipate that the market for independent games would become as big as it is today, or that so many game developers — young and old — would follow in your footsteps?
AS: I certainly never expected that we would win over the hearts and minds of the industry and the consumers as much as we have. I figured “indie” would be a niche thing and would always live in opposition to AAA. That hasn’t been the case, thankfully!
DIT: What are some of the most exciting changes or developments you see happening right now in the world of game development?
AS: The game industry is kind of holding its breath right now for the next big thing. VR is the next obvious thing on the horizon, but I’m not a believer in VR from a commercial viability perspective. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop with regards to PC game distribution. Valve is clearly the king right now, and as long as they continue to innovate they will stay there. But will new forms of distribution come along that will change the way games are paid for, and thus made? I’m not sure, but I would put money on a new distribution model arising in the next five years.
DIT: What can you tell us about Tooth and Tail, and when can we (hopefully) expect to play it?
AS: Tooth and Tail is a game about animal-cannibalism. The animals have gone to war to decide who will be the meat and who will get to eat. It’s an RTS with games played in 5-12 minutes, controller or mouse/keyboard, online or split screen, and with customizable factions. It’s the RTS I’ve always wanted to play. My Owl zeppelins will puke their mouse paratroopers upon your Skunk and Lizard defenders and I shall be victorious! It’s coming out (hopefully!) in 2016. You can find out more at www.toothandtailgame.com, follow us on twitter at @PocketwatchG, or on twitch at twitch.tv/pocketwatch.