Video game production has become something of a dream job, embodying all that is good in creative production. Jobs in the industry have become highly desirable, with universities crafting programs dedicated to teaching game design even as a range of countries, regions and municipalities have crafted deals to attract production to their regions. In part, this owes to the continued growth in video game popularity and expansion of video game audiences.
The structure of the mainstream industry is well-documented. Game developers produce games. They, in turn, need distributors which get games to the major hardware manufacturers and to retailers. Hardware manufacture is dominated by a small number of companies which also, not coincidentally, tend to own the major distribution companies. Games are made to be profitable. These companies tend to be situated in the regions where video games are most popular: North America, Western Europe, and Japan. Labor practices on the development side of the industry are also well-documented. Numerous examples demonstrate that in spite of increasingly diverse audiences, employment is heavily gendered. Workers, though well-compensated, are routinely over-worked, particularly as games near completion.
Independent games, then, exist in response and resistance to this mainstream system and the labor practices of software development. Often such independent development is still geared towards the very platforms that dominate the mainstream industry. There are, of course, counter examples. Development of games for mobile devices offers one, as does Valve's distribution platform Steam. Both cases, however, are still tied to the mainstream industry. There is even the example of Zebo to suggest what alternative console development might look like. Beyond these, what even a rudimentary understanding of the mainstream industry suggests for us is that there are a number of ways and a number of reasons around which independence could be gained worth examining.
If independent games are to truly escape the shadow of mainstream production, it might not hurt to broaden our scope. We should ask ourselves what would game development look like if it was independent of the geographic centers of the mainstream industry? How might hardware production also resist dominant practices? What might games look like if they were independent of the profit motive or mainstream audience expectation? And does this mean that beyond independent games, we must address independent gaming?