Interview

Swedish indie Mediocre on surviving and thriving amidst the so-called 'indie apocalypse'

Swedish indie Mediocre on surviving and thriving amidst the so-called 'indie apocalypse'

The term 'indie apocalypse' (sometimes 'indiepocalypse') is one that's being increasingly used to describe the declining fortunes of independent developers in the face of increased competition. 

Indies and press alike have weighed in on the issue, culminating in an entire track at Pocket Gamer Connects London 2016 being dedicated to the topic.

Is the end nigh, or is the slow death of the indie being greatly exaggerated?

Following discussions on upcoming game DIRAC and the future of virtual reality, PocketGamer.biz posed this very question to Henrik Johansson, Dennis Gustavsson, and Emil Bengtsson - aka Swedish indie studio Mediocre.

Setting your aims

“If you imagine that the goal of every indie developer is to be rich and famous, then it's a very bleak picture for indies,” says Bengtsson.

“But if you define the goals of an indie developer to make games and have distribution - be it paid or free - the picture looks just like it has for the past 20 years, maybe even better.”

However, while an indie's chances of success maybe as good (or even better) than previously, it's unarguable that a lot has changed in the development landscape - even within the relatively short life of the App Store.

“If you look at the App Store five years go, when we started, generally the quality of games was terrible,” recalls Johansson.

“There were a few good ones, but it's quite different now that all of these big studios have moved in.”

Back to reality

It was therefore probably easier for an indie game to stand out in 2010 as one of these “few good ones,” but, for Mediocre, the fact that it's tougher now does not prove the existence of an 'indie apocalypse'.

Mediocre first gained app store success with water physics game Sprinkle

Instead, Bengtsson argues that the early days of App Store were “like the internet in 1999, where anyone who could spell HTML could make money,” and that this current landscape is more like returning to reality after a honeymoon period.

Johansson does, however, concede that “it's a problem when there is a tiny segment at the top making money, whilst a vast ocean of undiscovered games are just never seen because there's no way of finding them.”

Previously, Mediocre has been candid about the importance of Apple and Google features for an independent studio of its size. But what of studios that fail to gain such traction?

There is actually quite a healthy middle-ground in mobile game development.
Dennis Gustavsson

Declaring it “a misconception” that revenues are non-existent beyond the big-hitters, Gustavsson says “there is actually quite a healthy middle-ground in mobile game development.”

Reluctant advertisers

However, anecdotally at least, the developers in this this so-called middle-ground are making their money from neither IAPs nor premium price-tags.

“The few people who I know in that middle segment - they don't really make enough from their games to survive off them, but they still make a considerable amount of money - almost all of them have ad-funded games,” reveals Johansson.

“I think most indie developers, including ourselves, don't want to make ad-funded games. But, if you want to be part of that segment, maybe that's something you need to consider [in today's market].”

Concluding, Johansson is quick to point out that Mediocre is not blasé about such issues: “we're concerned about these things too, of course.”

An uncertain, yet bright future

However, his overriding message is that indies in 2016 should be appreciative of all the opportunities available to them.

“How easy was it to be an indie developer in the '90s?” he questions. “That must have been pretty hard - we've got it good now.”

Bengtsson, meanwhile, is much more scornful of the entire concept of the 'indie apocalypse' and the note of “sensationalist hysteria” that comes with it.

Mediocre's most recent hit is noir traffic sim Does not Commute

“I think it's a strange discussion. It's the same as saying 'is there room for every garage band to make a living?' No, of course not,” he says.

“There are still a lot of garage bands, and some of them will turn out to be the next Pink Floyd while others will not. The ones who do not might still be happy with the experience.”

“Is there a future for indie games? Most definitely, there's no question of that. In what form and from whom? I guess we have to find out.”

You can follow Mediocre on Twitter @MediocreGames.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for PocketGamer.biz, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.

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