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Rami Ismail on what indies & AAA can teach each other

Rami, at IGF 2018

Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail (Nuclear Throne, Ridiculous Fishing) is one of the nicest people in the industry. When he’s not hammering away at the code-forge, he’s travelling the world, meeting new people and advocating diversity in games. Recently, he swung by Barcelona to moderate talks at industry conference Gamelab. While he was there, he found the time to give a few interviews, including a particularly interesting (and lengthy) one to Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat’s games division, wherein he detailed the problems faced by both sides of the industry today.

What Ismail describes over the course of the interview is a push for the middle-ground for both independent and massive corporate studios. AAA studios are fracturing and having to adapt to a narrowing market where audiences tend to pick a smaller number of games to play and invest larger amounts of time in them, hence the growth of ‘games as a service’. In order to keep income steady, larger studios need to maintain existing games, as well as look for opportunities for the future, and are increasingly taking notes from smaller games to take inspiration from – see Fortnite’s relation to Plunkbat.

Vlambeer's Nuclear Throne

On the indie side of things, there’s an explosion in the number of people making games, but very few are seeing any kind of major success. Ismail feels that many indie developers have ‘professionalised’ out of necessity, and are looking at development as a serious, costed business investment rather than just pouring years and endless passion into a project that may never see any returns. This increased competitive streak has led to what he feels is a narrowing in the variety of games being made.

Over the course of the interview, he paints a picture of an industry gradually coming to terms with tectonic shifts in how games are sold, marketed and distributed, and while indie developers are more able to react quickly and effectively to these shifts, it’s still an exceedingly risky line of work unless you can find a publisher to shoulder the burden of development costs, and absorb the loss just in case the wind is blowing the wrong way on launch week.

“We’re good at narrative, visual-novel style titles. We honed them, the same way shooters were honed by triple-A back in the day. It’s quite fascinating to see for me, honestly, this focusing of indie. Obviously, the beautiful thing is that anybody can make a game, but you’re definitely starting to feel the effect of the market on what gets made. What you see ends up falling in about three or four genres.” – Rami Ismail

In closing, Ismail also mentions that now that the other half of Vlambeer (Jan Willem Nijman) is done working on the excellent Minit, the duo are back working together and have a few projects in the works already. He says that whatever they’re going to make, it’s probably going to be smaller in scope than Nuclear Throne. Whatever they’ve got planned, I’m eager to see it, and already bracing myself for the excessive screen-shake effects.

You can read the full text of the interview on VentureBeat here.

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