We've been hearing a lot about IndieCity, a new portal and distribution platform for indie developers and indie games, but it's now open for sign ups, so we figured it was time to find out exactly what it was all about. We spoke to IndieCity's project lead, Chris Swan, about what his team have been up and - given the known difficulty of pulling something like this off - what a portal like this can actually offer independent development.
RPS: Can you tell us a bit about what the aim of IndieCity is?
Swan: The aim of IndieCity is to become the one stop shop for indie games. As developers we'd witnessed how hard it could be to get on some of the major portals and also how quickly indie games would slide off of the front page. As gamers we found that the indie gaming scene was very fragmented, which meant browsing a lot of sites to stay on top of the scene. So at its core, the goal of IndieCity is to solve these problems by having an open approval system coupled with a recommendation engine and filter. This means the games that are highly rated or sell more copies, get greater visibility. However, we do know that what makes an indie game 'good' is highly subjective, and the recommendation engine therefore gives each gamer a personalised homepage of titles that appeals to their interests.
RPS: What do indie devs get out of signing up?
Swan: Right now we're at the private beta phase and are trying to get as many developers' games onto the system ready for our soft launch in a few weeks' time, so the immediate benefit is being there for launch. If there are devs out there who are interested, they should sign up now here.
RPS: Can you tell us a bit more about the extended feature set of the site?
Swan: We offer a number of (hopefully) appealing features:
- No mainstream allowed. One of the few criteria for getting your game on IndieCity is that your game needs to be considered 'indie', which begs the question 'How are we going to achieve that when everyone's opinion of indie is different?' The answer is to turn it on its head and get the community approvers to say whether a game is mainstream or not. In the tests so far this created a suitable 'net' that erred on the side of caution. We don't aim to divide the games between indie and mainstream with a laser-like focus, we just want the obvious generic mainstream games to be kept out.
- High revenue share. We give an 85% rev share to devs if they integrate with our wrapper (offering leaderboards and achievements currently), 75% otherwise.
- The Underground, which is a sub-site where absolutely anything goes. So in this area you could release a very rough and ready prototype for a tiny sale price, and see if it looks like it'll sell well enough that it's worth polishing up. We're calling this the 'Pay to Finish' model and it was obviously demonstrated so well by Notch, but it also applies to beta-purchase approaches, such as the one used successfully by Mode 7. We originally created this area as we found a lot of devs who didn't want to be creating their own websites, building up SEO and trying to get the gamers' attention; they just wanted to focus on making games. If we're already creating a site where there will be lots of indie gamers it makes sense to allow devs to tap into this audience.
RPS: Do indies really need the help of a site like IndieCity?
Swan: We think so. As mentioned above it's pretty hard work being a dedicated indie gamer currently. Right now you're limited to either the cream of the indie crop on portals that you know and trust, or going round the web handing out credit cards details to unknown sites. So having a trustworthy one stop shop is something that we think could make a lot of people's lives easier. We also plan on having a blogging platform on the site to allow for anyone to start creating editorial. What we're hoping for here is that lots of people can start to become experts of various gaming niches, and by feeding the blogs into the recommendation engine the posts will again be pushed to the appropriate gamers who would be interested in reading them.
Another unique feature is our download client. Ok, so a download client is hardly anything new, but ours also ties into the recommendation engine and uses peer to peer sharing (if you enable it). This means that you can turn this setting on and leave the client running overnight, so that when you get up in the morning you'll have a new set of indie demos downloaded. On top of that you can enable another setting and any of the games that use our wrapper will be auto-installed as well, ready for you to simply click play. We're hoping that this will massively reduce the friction in finding and waiting to play new indie games, and has the bonus of reducing our hosting costs.
RPS: So what's the timeline for the near future of IndieCity?
Swan: Right now we have our lead developers in the site testing the game wrapper/page creation/upload process. Then in a few weeks' time we'll start letting in some of the lead indie gamers, using an invite system to control the bandwidth and rate of uptake.
RPS: Thanks for your time.