Indie vs. Mainstream Games, Innovation and the Modern Gamer

edited October 2010 in Story Games
So, in that other thread, Rafu and I had the following exchange, and both of it found it interesting enough to try starting fresh thread with hopefully less heat and more light. I'm including my contribution as a quote in Rafu's reply to avoid heavy editing.
Posted By:Rafu
We are having this same conversation in Italy all the fucking time, but in the end I'm sorry it just shows how impoverished, how deprived of any real imagination the worldwide roleplaying geek community has grown to be. >_>

Where you say "a certain type of game", Jeff, I'd say "all kinds of game but the same old one", where the "same old one" is the reskinned AD&D2/Vampire derivative* which is synonymous with "mainstream" in the highly inbred subcultural niche of RPG gamers. [And notice how the so-called Old School is also a reaction against that "mainstream" (originally, at least).]
Our being inbred with long spoiled, entrenched trends is the only reason why "everything else there conceivably is" passes for a "genre" in role-playing. Such a train of thought is poisonous to new ideas, as it leads to quickly dismissing them as quirks of their own "genre" — definitely not conductive of good game design. It just leads to ghettos.

And that's why we shouldn't have a word for "whatever variety of mechanics or thematic content the majority of diehard rpg geeks is calling 'indie' these days". In fact, as I have often advised my fellow Italians, we should be openly adversing any such word and actively sabotaging its use. We'd rather force people into considering each individual game on its own merits alone.

(* = We have a word for that, thanks to Moreno: we call it parpuzio, which sounds appropriately silly. Which is not to say you can't have an indie parpuzio, of course: in fact, we've had a lot of those.)
Posted By: RafuPosted By: DannyKI don't know Rafu, your approach seems to be self-marginalizing.
Color me puzzled. I don't see how (youruse of "story games" in the following paragraph appears to me more self-marginalizing than my approach, actually), and I'd be sincerely interested in discussing this topic further.
Posted By: DannyKIt is alsoinsultingseems dismissive to guys like me who put in a lot of time in the slave-pits of AD&D and White Wolf before finding story games and like to play (and spend money on) both.
Like most people who are into this kind of discussions at all, I come from 20-something years of enjoying role-playing games (including of course a lot of the AD&D 2E/Vampire breed) and take no particular pleasure in insultingmyself.

Comments

  • I'd be interested in talking about these things from the perspective of someone who likes to run, play, and talk about games, as opposed to a designer or publisher. I'd also appreciate it if people posting to this thread could avoid absolutist statements and heavy snark, that's why I started a new thread in a calmer part of the forum.

    My initial thoughts: as a dedicated story gamer, I love indie RPG's, but I've also had all kinds of fun and memorable experiences with other systems and even licensed media tie-in's like Buffy. I find "indie" to be a really useful label when I'm looking for novelty and a break from the usual formulae of roleplaying games. But that doesn't mean I'm down on mainstream games, and I think it's counterproductive to put the two in opposition or to suggest that one needs to choose between them. (Of course, some people may just prefer indie games to the exclusion of all others. That's totally valid.)

    You get me? For the producer, there's competition, but for the guy buying games,it's just more options.
  • edited October 2010
    Posted By: RafuLike most people who are into this kind of discussions at all,
    I'd be interested to hear what this assertion is based on. I'm not saying it's false; how could I possibly, without knowing its basis? But I do suspect that the heat/light ratio in the prior thread comes down to supposition vs. supposition - never something that leads to very productive discussions. (Nor do identity politics.)
    Posted By: DannyKFor the producer, there's competition, but for the guy buying games,it's just more options.
    For the person playing games, though, options are perceived (at least) as being constrained by what the existing players s/he already knows are willing to play. That sets up competitive scenarios.
  • edited October 2010
    I appreciate your point of view, Danny, but for several years there has been a concerted push to make "indie" mean "creator-owned" (not "novel" or "a break from the usual", as the OGL experience shows), and as far as I can tell, it's been successful. Now, I personally agree with you, I think it would be great to have "indie" mean something fuzzier and more context-specific. But I didn't do the work over several years to really push my fave definition out into the community, defend it from buttheads like myself, write many essays based on it, talk about it at conventions, on panels, etc., so I have to conclude that the people that have done this work have succeeded in making it mean what they want it to mean, and if I don't like it, how come I didn't do the work, huh? They put effort behind their belief, organized, and I didn't, so as far as I'm concerned, they got over the finish line while I was dawdling around wondering what running shorts I should wear. It's a done deal. "Indie RPGs" means "creator-owned RPGs."
  • Posted By: JDCorley"Indie RPGs" means "creator-owned RPGs."
    Except, of course, when it doesn't.
  • Let me tell you all about my suppositions. I think you'll all agree they're superior.
  • Posted By: misubaLet me tell you all aboutmysuppositions. I think you'll all agree they're superior.
    As if.
  • JD: I'm not talking about definitions here. I'm talking about my preferences as a gamer, where I like to look at indie games for something new and unfamiliar, just like I used to surf the Independent Film Channel for movies when I got totally fed up with modern Hollywood. For my purposes, it doesn't matter if "indie" gets slapped on games because they're pitched at a certain demographic or because they're creator-owned. I don't care about definitions. This is not a definitional thread as far as I'm concerned.

    What I am interested in: the phenomenology of gaming and how people go about choosing the games they buy, read, plan and run, and whether there's some value in being a "indie gamer" or "story gamer" as an approach to game choice.
  • Oh, that. There's no value whatsoever in being a indie gamer as an approach to game choice, because it means creator-owned and that doesn't tell you anything about the game.

    I choose the games I buy, read, plan and run based on the qualities of the game, like, do I want there to be a GM, are there laser guns in this game, do cars jump off things, do I want cars to jump off things, etc.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI choose the games I buy, read, plan and run based on the qualities of the game
    Yeah, me too.

    Too bad you used the word "indie" in the title, Danny, because... Well, I believe Jason here just demonstrated the problem pretty well (sorry, Jason, I really like your style of trolling, but now why don't you go back to the Thread of Death hence Danny just branched out on purpose? please).

    Since you also chose to emphasize the word "mainstream", anyway, are you familiar with this classic post/article/rant by Ron Edwards? Totally worth reading.
  • Posted By: misubaPosted By: RafuLike most people who are into this kind of discussions at all,
    I'd be interested to hear what this assertion is based on.
    I just pulled that off my ass, of course, so don't take that as a statistic. Sounds like a reasonable assumption that people quarreling over the meaning of "indie" in the context of role-playing games over an Internet forum dedicated to "niche", "alternative" role-playing games are probably long-time rpg enthusiast with a long history of playing, all of them, even with identity issues invested in their being role-playing gamers.
    If I appear to say mean things about a game or class of games, you can assume I know it thoroughly and first-hand. If I appear to say mean things about a given demographics, assume I am myself part of it, or I were not long ago, and I were for a long time. I will make the same assumptions about you all when you don't provide a disclaimer.
  • edited October 2010
    Posted By: RafuWell, I believe Jason here just demonstrated the problem pretty well (sorry, Jason, I really like your style of trolling, but now why don't you go back to the Thread of Death hence Danny just branched out on purpose? please).
    Nobody ever has to tell me to get lost twice! Done!

    Hey, let me know if you finally beat those "creator owned" bastards, maybe it was a job for a new generation.
  • As a player of games, now, not a maker of them, there are 4 things I look for and expect in "indie" games, vs "trad" ones:

    - Few pages per unit game. Ideally because there's not a lot of crap in the design and then additionally not a lot of crap in the text, but sometimes it's because the writer's being too terse. (I plead guilty as charged.) Also, correspondingly, they can be relatively pricey per page.

    - A carefully-considered permission/expectation system in play. This means few or ideally no conflicts of interest built into gameplay itself at the player level. Sometimes this means weirdo arrangements of responsibility, like co-GMing or whatever, but it doesn't have to.

    - An interesting, personal, passionate take on the game's subject matter. Sometimes this means weirdo subject matter, like teenage Mormon gunslingers or whatever, but it doesn't have to. Usually it just means a particular take, you know?

    - Self-awareness about its position in the history of rpg design. Usually this means an explicit list acknowledging the games this game is based on, but really any evident awareness of the diversity of possible and existing RPGs will do.

    Funnily enough, what this means is that I'll cut a "trad" game a lot more slack. I expect Jadeclaw to be full of crap and cruft, for instance, so when I spot in its GM chapter that it DOES have a carefully-considered permission/expectation system, it's just poorly described and under-supported, I get all happy and like the game.
  • It's not because it has a tiger with boobs?

    Jason, here's the thing: what you're looking for is a different category, a different circle on the Venn diagram. I'd love to have an array of relatively concrete terms so you can say stuff like, "I want a roleplaying game with character monogamy, immersive techniques, with conflict focused between protagonists, options for romance and rivalry, in an iron age Europe fantasy setting," efficiently. Something like, "Monoprotag, immersive, interprotag, rom/riv, iron age Europe." If we could agree on that many terms for a wide variety of things, that would be awesome. It would help you figure out what you want to play and it would help designers find dead spots where they can make new types of play.

    "Indie" can't possibly hold that many orthogonal meanings.

    If we want to develop such a jargon, then in my view, it would have to cover these orthogonal dimensions:

    • Techniques; such as character immersion, the presence and position of fortune in play, the number of characters you play, the types of things players do (play background characters, play protagonists, play GM, e.g.)
    • Genre/setting; I'm not sure "Iron Age Europe" is a genre; I mean, I guess that's kinda what Conan is. I'm thinking of Sláine. So, a fictional environment, a context. Like "Transhuman, intra-Solar-system" or "Pulpy Mars".
    • The presence and type of thematic content; such as politics or romance
    • Creative agendas it can fulfill; competitive/cooperative, moral decisionmaking, or strict representation.

    There are probably a few more. We'd need a bunch of words, but such a system would give you the information you need.

  • Posted By: JDCorleyOh, that. There's no value whatsoever in being a indie gamer as an approach to game choice, because it means creator-owned and that doesn't tell you anything about the game.
    Unfortunately it doesn't any more. Not really. For example, Mouse Guard has won 'Indie Game' awards. However it's based on an official license, therefore the creator does not technically own it. Same goes for the Dresden Files. Alas, words change their meaning over time. It's the same in the music industry. Originally, Indie music was defined in a similar fashion, as being produced and released by someone who wasn't one of the major companies. Now it has developed into a specific style of its own, and many major companies have Indie labels.

    But we're getting off topic I guess.

    (And aww, I like Jade Claw. But then, it does have a tiger with boobs!)

    -Ash
  • edited October 2010
    nevermind, snark.
  • edited October 2010
    Posted By: DannyKI'd be interested in talking about these things from the perspective of someone who likes to run, play, and talk about games, as opposed to a designer or publisher. I'd also appreciate it if people posting to this thread could avoid absolutist statements and heavy snark, that's why I started a new thread in a calmer part of the forum.

    My initial thoughts: as a dedicated story gamer, I love indie RPG's, but I've also had all kinds of fun and memorable experiences with other systems and even licensed media tie-in's like Buffy. I find "indie" to be a really useful label when I'm looking for novelty and a break from the usual formulae of roleplaying games. But that doesn't mean I'm down on mainstream games, and I think it's counterproductive to put the two in opposition or to suggest that one needs to choose between them. (Of course, some people may just prefer indie games to the exclusion of all others. That's totally valid.)

    You get me? For the producer, there's competition, but for the guy buying games,it's just more options.
    I totally get your point here, Danny, and my experience is the same. There many indie games I love and play, others not so much. There are many mainstream games I love and play, other not so much. And I agree: for me, as buyer, indie means more options, but I don't consider the ownership because it doesn't have to mean much when it comes to playing.

    Some games are really different from mainstream, as a GMless game and the like. Others play and feel very similar to mainstram RPGs, or maybe I was running mainstream games in an indie manner for many years. My Vampire players had no problem whatsoever playing Sorcerer, no shock, no adjustment of expectations. Or DitV. Or BW. Those games are games we love, and we n't think of them as very very different.

    Posted By: Rafu
    Too bad you used the word "indie" in the title, Danny, because... Well, I believe Jason here just demonstrated the problem pretty well (sorry, Jason, I really like your style of trolling, but now why don't you go back to the Thread of Death hence Danny just branched out on purpose? please).
    And what would that problem be? I'm honestly asking this. No sarcasm, and please, spare me the snark: having a dissenting opinion cannot be considered trolling.

    Since you also chose to emphasize the word "mainstream", anyway, are you familiar withthisclassic post/article/rant by Ron Edwards? Totally worth reading.
    Some interesting ideas over there, nothing to object to the Page 45 example. I consider that a great job of making yourself different from the competitors, create a unique brand and giving good customer service. I'm sure this kind of stores will do always very well. If I visit Nottingham, I'll surely visit Page 45.

    But some of the conclusions of Mr. Edwards are, to say the least, supported only by anecdotal evidence. I also have my own anecdotal evidence that says he is wrong.

    He says that a game about people willingly doing horrible nasty shit to get what they want (Sorcerer) is something a priori more interesting for non-gamers than a game about fantasy people having all kind of adventures (D&D) or people trying to cope with becoming a monster while living in a society of monsters (Vampire).

    Well, I have found this to be blatantly false. Also, he blatantly ignores things like the fact that TSR was selling 12.000 Red Mentzer Boxes[i] each month[/i], according to Gary Gygax (interviewed at that time). So no, D&D has no problem grabbing the mainstream attention.

    The problem, as usual, are the persons involved.

    A very common mistake in game theory, from my POV, is saying at first "people interactions are key!" and then proceeding to completely ignore and forget that truthful proposition to put all the blame in the system, and design systems that are, in practice, 99% the same as regular RPGs, but with some outstanding GMing advice or some rules designed to enforce a certain kind of social contract. And they say "changing the rules of the game we will change the people playing it, and everything will be sweet and non-gamers will get how awesome RPGs can be!"

    Then you tell them about Poison'd and most regular non-gaming people are, to put it mildly, non-interested. Or It Was a Mutual Decision. Or Grey Ranks.

    Dead wrong. Even in Sorcerer you find a part in the GMing advice about how to deal with dickish players. Because Sorcerer rules can be equally used by a moron to disrupt the game experience. Indie games are no different from regular games, because at the end of the day all these games carry a big "Don't be a dick" warning written somewhere: some people will pay attention, some others won't.

    He says that the idea of mainstream must be revised so we acknowledge D&D gaming or Vampire gaming as fringe interest regarding non-gaming persons. Given the mainstream success of things like Twilight, he happens to be a very poor prophet. I guess that the interest for non-gamers has a lot to do with how you present the game, and how you make sure that the game delivers the experience you offered. In my current CoC group I have to girls that were completely uninterested in tabletop RPGs, and who became interested after sitting for a while looking at one of our sessions, while waiting for usto finish to go get dinner. They showed interest, I told them more about the game, they became regular spectators and then they joined. So far, so good. It is no the first time it happens, and it won't be the last.

    I know for sure they'd been equally interested with another mainstream game, or an indie game. People simply doesn't care about that. They like a game, or they don't.

    Finally, Mr. Edwards was saying in 2002 that D&D was something to be shitcanned. He also foresaw much storm and destruction that also didn't happen. And that isonly on the first page of the thread.

    I respect Mr. Edwards' work, and I own and play Sorcerer and Trollbabe, really enjoyed them and plan to keep on it. But I don't feel his POV on mainstream is relevant, as seems to me (like the rest of GNS / Big Model stuff) a lot of anecdotal evidence generalized into a theory that doesn't work and doesn't predict anything.
  • I get pretty much all my games from four sources, IPR, Pelgrane Press (I sort of help out), Chaosium (I collect Call of Cthulhu) and designers. I occasionally get stuff from eBay or at a convention that comes from other soures either because it has historical value (I collect RPGs) or because it has some particular interest (such as Smallville being a mainstream story game).

    I might well be able to get the same enjoyment from playing Exalted that I get from Dogs in the Vineyard but games like Dogs I'll take every time because I like the idea that you're closer to a single vision. Anyone can write a game! I'm a big fan of punk music too. Also, the game that you get is much closer to a craft item (and it some cases it actually is). I'm a fan of the Arts & Crafts movement, some of its ideals and what it produced. I also realised that whilst it had influence and contributed much to design, in the same way that indie games do (whatever your definition), it was only ever a very small part of the whole scene. So I guess I'm a punk or an elitist dilettante. Either way, I'll always be pissing somebody off.
  • I want to talk about what the title of this thread made me think about.

    Indie vs. Mainstream Games, Innovation and the Modern Gamer

    As someone who has PLENTY of projects not supported and a few projects supported by the traditional publishing systems i have this to say

    publishers are not quite adverse to the risks inherent in innovation. there are a number of really great innovative things coming out of Hasbro. in general most publishers are adverse to pushing categorical innovation, meaning if your project does not quite fit into easily expressed or established categories it's going to take a publisher who is really daring to follow up on it. Games like deus ex are great examples, for it's time it kind of defied standard video game genres and makes the marketing department pull out their hair.

    Of course once a categorical innovation is successful then there are plenty of publishers who will try it out. Story games are something of a categorical innovation, it's nice to see that some publishers are giving the category a try with projects like mouse guard and smallville.

    The kind of Innovation publishers tend to support is improvement inside a category that already exists "Revised Risk" is a fantastic example of innovation in an established category. Some people want a better mouse trap.

    I think it's fun to try categorical innovation. maybe your here because you also enjoy that.
  • Posted By: DestriarchPosted By: JDCorleyOh, that. There's no value whatsoever in being a indie gamer as an approach to game choice, because it means creator-owned and that doesn't tell you anything about the game.
    Unfortunately it doesn't any more. Not really. For example, Mouse Guard has won 'Indie Game' awards. However it's based on an official license, therefore the creator does not technically own it. Same goes for the Dresden Files. Alas, words change their meaning over time. It's the same in the music industry. Originally, Indie music was defined in a similar fashion, as being produced and released by someone who wasn't one of the major companies. Now it has developed into a specific style of its own, and many major companies have Indie labels.
    Licensing in principle just means a partnership. For example, Mouse Guard's content is owned by its two creators. If I turn to the title page, I see it specified: "Game content copyright 2008 Luke Crane. All rights reserved. Illustrations and comic content copyright 2008 David Petersen." This is not the same situation as some other licensed RPGs, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where the game is copyright Eden Studios (although the Unisystem mechanics are copyright by author C.J. Carella). Archaia Studios, which publishes the Mouse Guard comic and RPG, is owned by comic book and RPG author Mark Smylie - who created it to publish his own Artesia comic and RPG in 2002.

    I understand that partnerships do bring into question the ownership, as do any deals. As such, games made in partnerships like Penny for My Thoughts, Thou Art But A Warrior, The Prince's Kingdom, Burning Empires, and Mouse Guard are different than games like Dogs in the Vineyard. However, there is still a vital difference from games where the author submits a manuscript to someone else who then owns it and makes both editorial and publishing decisions.
  • I'd like to suggest that debating the meaning of "indie" in this thread is off-topic, but then I have to acknowledge that there are meaningful contributions here that are not feasible anymore in that other thread, which has obviously expired its own lifespan. So, well... Everybody please be aware that we've got multiple simultaneous conversations going on here: read or skim the thread accordingly.

    And now, some answers (?) to Ramon/Imperator, who directly addressed my posts:
    Posted By: ImperatorAnd what would that problem be?
    The problem I was referring to is just the threadjacking into just another discussion about the meaning of the i-word. Despite this thread originating from my (totally political) statement that I don't want to use any word at all to designate a certain class of games (for definite ideological reasons)...

    But we'll get to that. Currently, we're discussing "mainstream", instead. Well, I found this other article very interesting. Care to have a read?
    I don't necessarily agree with all of Mr. Pettersson's opinions and conclusions, but I found the distinction of "popular mainstream" vs. "cultural mainstream" immensely useful. If you buy that definition, then we'll probably have an easier time talking as we also adopt it. This allows me to place my first big ideological disclaimer, here:

    I could care less about the "popular mainstream": it's simply not my concern, it's never been, it will never be. When debating "mainstream and RPGs" I only care about the "cultural mainstream", and how RPGs can, in the long figure, evolve to become a part of it.

    The above is my completely biased, non-negotiable personal opinion. That's where I'm going to speak from, if anybody is still interested in having such a talk with me. ^_^
  • edited October 2010
    Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanJason, here's the thing: what you're looking for is a different category, a different circle on the Venn diagram.
    Venn Diagrams are what immediately jumped into my mind. I see a couple big, partially-overlapping, circles (D&D/D20, WoD, GURPS) representing the major systems. A second tier would be smaller more marginal systems (any game with the word 'system' after it). As for me, I'm trying to feel out all those little dots that aren't inside or overlapping any of those large or medium circles... (The ones that aren't clearly derivative of a few major sources)
  • However it's based on an official license, therefore the creator does not technically own it.

    No, the issue is that he doesn't own it. He could license it and still own it. That's not the case, and while Luke deserves to win awards with Mouse Guard, it's not an indie publication simply because he didn't control the publishing of it. He could have licensed McDonald's and, if he controlled the game's publication, it would be independent.

    I'd bet that something's changed, though, which is why the boxed set is now happening.

  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanNo, the issue is that he doesn't own it. He could license it and still own it. That's not the case, and while Luke deserves to win awards with Mouse Guard, it's not an indie publication simply because he didn't control the publishing of it. He could have licensed McDonald's and, if he controlled the game's publication, it would be independent.I'd bet that something's changed, though, which is why the boxed set is now happening.
    I think this needs to be put in some perspective. There are a number of products that are published in cooperation among authors. For example, Better Mousetrap Games is a consortium run I believe by Clash Bowley - but a number of people publish under this company title, including Tim Kirk's games Hearts & Souls and High Valor along with a number of other authors. Another example is A Penny for My Thoughts, written by Paul Tevis but published by Evil Hat games.

    I think that while technically these have a separate publisher who has a say in the outcome, this is still a very different case than where the author submits a manuscript to a large company and then loses all rights and control - like with Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf, Green Ronin, or many other companies. I accept that while it is consistent in some sense to say that Hearts & Souls or A Penny for My Thoughts aren't indie - I think that is missing an important distinction.

    While I accept that the definition is consistent, I think that the line should be drawn such that A Penny for My Thoughts and Mouse Guard are considered indie - because it is more important to distinguish them from the freelance or staff author model than it is to distinguish them from self-published games.
Sign In or Register to comment.