Contrary to popular narratives of starving artists making it big through passion and perseverance, contemporary indie game development is a crap shoot. Digital distribution, accessible tools, and a surge of popular interest have resulted in an incredibly oversaturated market, cheap sales and bundles have made many players unwilling to buy indie games at full price, and digital platforms like Steam promote only the most popular titles while taking a 30% cut of every sale. Indie game development in this context is a precarious pursuit, and only a small proportion of developers find success or sustainability.
Cultural intermediaries are positioned in the nebulous space between producers, consumers, and industry powers-that-be, and use their knowledge, connections, and status to bestow visibility, legitimacy, and prestige on certain objects and creators. In spite of the internet’s supposed “disintermediation” of cultural production, the work of intermediation is more important than ever, but is often overlooked or seen as peripheral. Cultural intermediaries in indie game development include organizers and curators of indie community groups, co-working hubs, events, festivals, and showcases like the Indie MEGABOOTH, depicted here in a time lapse video from PAX Prime 2013. In an overcrowded ecosystem, intermediaries like the Indie MEGABOOTH promise to cut through the noise, acting as tastemakers for potential consumers. However, they also provide other, less visible forms of support.
This video illustrates that although “downstream” consumer-oriented intermediary activities may help indies find an audience, behind-the-scenes “upstream” intermediation is equally important. Spaces are allotted and furnished, booths are assembled, introductions are made, and impromptu meetings are held, all of which falls outside of what is considered the “real” work of game development, but is nevertheless crucial. To make this happen, cultural intermediaries do constant logistical and relational labour, coordinating the social and material infrastructure of their venues, maintaining networks of contacts, and mediating encounters between developers and influential industry actors like journalists, streamers, investors, publishers, and platforms. Far from peripheral, intermediaries are in fact constitutive of indie game production, distribution, and reception; they are the glue that holds things together and the grease that keeps things running smoothly. As such, to understand indie game development we must look beyond developers.
For more information about this research, visit IndieInterfaces.com