It has been a hard year for indies. The first session I attended at Casual Connect Asia 2016 was in fact titled “Is the Indiepocalypse Coming?” And yet, when Casual Connect Asia came around, indies in the region and beyond, even those with little resources to spare, were drawn to her like alates to a flame.
I heard the story of an Indonesian indie who really wanted to go to the conference but couldn’t afford to. His solution — offer to take photographs, apparently with a borrowed camera, of Sentosa Island for a travel agency in exchange for a round-trip ticket to Singapore. It worked.
Where does this urge to join Casual Connect come from? A long-time Casual Connect volunteer, Assaji Tjahjadi, told me simply, “I just have to be here.” For the CEO of Filipino start-up Monstronauts, Allen Tan, “Casual Connect is the place to be to let the world know that you exist.”
When Casual Connect asked me to moderate for the design and development hall, I said yes with little hesitation. I still remember the buzz I felt walking around the Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect Asia last year. I thought I could use some of that.
In the intervening months, the rapid churning of the industry left many casualties. Our once reliable source of livelihood — the FGL marketplace for browser games — died out. The surviving publishers are reluctant to put money upfront.
Yet, as I had been expecting, the excitement was palpable on the conference floor. The now legendary game Color Switch was there in the Indie Prize Showcase. Thinkgaming.com estimates its monthly gross at 400,000 USD. Not bad for a game made by one guy. Dungeon Souls — originally developed by another solo dev, Filipino college student Mike Reñevo — was in Indie Prize as well. Steamspy.com lists its number of owners at more than 42,000 with a price tag of 9.99 USD a pop.
The big picture is no less astounding. According to the Newzoo Global Games Market Report, global game revenues for 2016 are projected at almost a hundred billion dollars with about half of that coming from Asia.
But more than the figures, I would say the positive energy was the result of concentrating hundreds of passionate creators in one place. There was a collective defiance of the odds, a collective love of a magnificent art form. And there was this intoxication of sorts from the mutual recognition among peers.
John Maynard Keynes once lamented that Isaac Newton was the last of the magicians, of the Babylonians and Sumerians. I don’t think so. They are reborn in every game dev who by way of inspiration and grit transmute symbols, pixels and waveforms into pulsating worlds.
I bumped into an unpretentious guy in the hallway. We showed each other our games. It turned out that he was the Indonesian Global Game Jam champion Mirza Muhamad. The game he made in his spare time bowled me over with its wit and elegant game design. And he told me an interesting story. He started as an Excel programmer for Nokia earning quite a fat sum for a job he could often do in half the expected time. He left it all to become an indie, became bankrupt and now he has found his place in one of the most successful game dev companies in Indonesia.
Mirza’s story is perhaps emblematic of what the Hero’s Journey should be for game devs in these trying times: specialize, consolidate, then make games an order of magnitude better than what came before. How these games will exactly look I am not sure yet. But as Ivan Loo in the Indiepocalypse panel said, “the demand is so great there is room for all sorts of games.”
A final takeaway from Ian Gregory of the same panel left me with hope — out of the current disaster will rise opportunities never seen before.
This kind of reminds me of the alates with which we began. The particular alates common in this part of the world at this time of the year are actually winged termites on the last stages of life. Soon their wings will fall off and one by one they’ll die. But that is not all. As they congregate in the light they actually mate. The fertilized insects will bury themselves in the ground from which new colonies will rise.
We are at the end of a cycle and at the beginning of something new. And Casual Connect is that bright spot which allowed us to share ideas, stories and dreams for the future. May all these keep our imaginations fertile as we transcend the old ways to rise to the challenge of the new.
Cover photo by Keiji Santia
Khail Santia of Moocho Brain and The Bamboard Game Project
To (mis)appropriate the words of Chef Albert Roux, as a gamemaker, the first thing you must understand is you are a distributor of joy. So I do my best. Making games is the ultimate metagame for me; but more than that, I do think it can transform the world for the better.