It's fitting, really, that IndieCade opted to set up shop in the Los Angeles Convention Center for this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. After all, there's a sense the organization is focused on lowering the barrier of entry. And what better way to demonstrate that at an industry-only show like this than to let interested parties drop by the booth, badge or no?
It's a compelling spectacle, too -- one that beckons nearly everyone who crosses its path to pop their head in for a moment to make sure everything's okay. Out front, five people in trench coats stand in a square in front of a giant wooden sculpture of a Space Invader. They try to snatch clothespins from each other's pockets, a strange spectacle orchestrated by a guy in a train conductor's cap. The whole thing is accidentally soundtracked by a well-dressed trio of classical musicians playing video game music on the other side of a black curtain, as part of a separate booth promoting a museum exhibit. Things are a bit more subdued inside. It's all couches and tables, with players crowded, both sitting and standing, around games on all manner of platforms.
This year marks IndieCade's sixth appearance at E3, launching during a time when the industry was suffering what it deemed a "creative crisis" of sorts. The organization sets the stage thusly on its site: "In 2005, at his annual 'State of the Industry Address,' E3 expo founder Doug Lowenstein gently admonished the game industry for its narrowness of vision." Arguably not all that much has changed since then, of course -- after two days spent attending press conferences from the industry's largest names, it's clear that game makers are as fixated as ever on milking every last drop from successful franchises.
The cracks are certainly starting to show. Platforms like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have helped open the door to two-, three-person development teams. The playing field is hardly level, of course -- spend a minute or two walking through the stark white Nintendo booth, and you'll realize just how quaint IndieCade's ragtag group of independent developers are. But as those on the leather couches of IndieCade's booth discussing the implications of Minecraft will happily tell you, it's perfectly possible to become a millionaire in this circuit. At the very least, one can actually avoid starving to death while working as an indie developer.
"A lot more developers are able to actually support themselves -- especially the mobile ones," IndieCade's founder and CEO, Stephanie Barish tells Engadget. "One guy's game did so well, he doesn't have to work anymore. And Spelltower did really well, so we have that here. It made -- not a ton of money, but enough so that he can begin work on his next game."
New York City-based developer Ramiro Corbetta is living the dream, having left work at a larger studio to develop his own titles. His self-described "minimalist sports game" Hokra is certainly a singular vision. He created the entire title single-handedly, save for the audio -- a task he handed off to a friend. And while the prospect of becoming, say, the next Braid, may compel a foolish few, Corbetta, like so many at the IndieCade booth, are in it for the sheer art of creating.
"A lot more developers are able to actually support themselves -- especially the mobile ones."
"I don't care about making money," he tells me, adding jokingly, that I shouldn't divulge this information to his wife.
His wife happens to be standing a few feet away, playing a round of Hokra with a few strangers seated on a couch in front of the TV. A woman on the far left fills her square full of boxes, winning the round. Cheers erupt, then high-fives from people Corbetta assures me he's never met. "You see people playing this for the first time high-fiving. That's what I'm in it for," he says.
IndieCade is in it for the love as well. The organization is holding its fifth festival in Culver City, Calif., in early October. Barish refers to the festival as a video game Sundance of sorts. "We wanted to be the place where the public can see these games. We've had support from the ESA (the body behind E3), as well. They want to help support diversity," she says.
"You see people playing this for the first time high-fiving. That's what I'm in it for."
It's a diversity that's certainly welcome amongst the countless sequels that govern the show floor. And a few seconds watching those smiling attendees playing the games in the IndieCade booth demonstrates something that's sometimes overlooked in the hustle and bustle of E3: a simple love of play.