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Your Artsy Game Probably Sucks

A topic by elGabe created Oct 25, 2017 Views: 393 Replies: 11
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OK. I'm not talking about you (necessarily). It's just a thought that I've had for a while: A lot of indie developers make these games that are super fancy and "elegant" because that's what they think indie is supposed to be about. The term "art game" or the phrase "it's not a game, it's an experience" makes me wonder if these developers realize that some people's negative reaction might just be because the game is not fun, or engaging. I'm not suggesting that every game should be fun, or just a rogue-like top-down shooter, but I disagree with the mentality of "if it's not 'artsy', it's not worth it". I believe that some games should be considered art, like Gone Home. But I also believe that some game should just be fun, like the newly released High Hell and there's space for both of these types, it just depends on what kind of game you want to make. This got started as an argument I had with a colleague about how art games try to be smart and how often that gets in the way of an enjoyable experience, so I would love to hear your opinion on this: Are indie game supposed to shoot for the moon in terms of narrative and "artsyness", or are they supposed to be entertaining and just fun?

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An indie game isn't "supposed" to be anything. Some people think of indie games as more artsy simply because indie games can be artsy. Big studios don't have the luxury of appealing to only a smaller niche audience like art games will do. They have to make back the absurd amount of money they spent making the game.

When you make an "art game," you're making a game that will only appeal to a small niche audience, which means most people will not like it. Indie games that are produced cheaply can get away with that. For example, I think "Gone Home" is a terribly overrated game, boring and reliant on cliches instead of real story telling, and lots of people agree with me. But that's ok because Gone Home didn't spend a huge amount of money on production, so it doesn't have to appeal to everyone.

I don't think any reasonable person thinks that indie games have to be art games, but they can be. They can also be point and click adventures and lots of other types of games that big studios won't touch because they won't make millions of dollars a year on them. Indies can make them because they don't have to make millions of dollars a year.

I agree with your point about the "Business" of big studios and the risks small studios can make. It can be very easy to forgot the the biggest Studios are often owned by (Third-Grade Finance Warning) Shareholders, and that to them a atmospheric game may not be something they want to show Shareholders who want to make money. Which tragically can lead to Sequel 2: Sequel: Reloaded. 

It's why I love indies. You can make things and not (generally unless our ramen budget is threatened) and not worry about the risk. Big Studios. You have 3+ million shareholders curious about the quarterly results. 

Do you think Gone Home could've done anything to be more valuable in your sight? ( I haven't played it by the way, just generally curious)

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Don't want to get off topic with a deep discuss of Gone Home, but in a nutshell, it's a walking simulator so there is no game to play. That can be fine, but if you're not providing any gameplay, you better have a damn interesting story. Gone Home does not. It's also way overpriced for its length. So I suppose to answer your question, things it could do to be better is either have some actual game to play, or have an interesting story, or both.

Ah thanks! I've always been curious about peoples thought. If you don't mind answering a more personal question: (and a broad one at that) what's a good price to length ratio? It's very subjective, but that has been debate I've heard a couple times about walking simulators or short artsy games.

The price for length really depends very much on the genre of game. The best way to determine this when making a game is to look up popular games that are similar and see what they are selling for and how long they are.

For adventure games (what I usually play and make), the going rate at the moment seems to be about $2-$3 per hour of gameplay. For RPG's however, that may have a longer play time but only because of repetitive battles (grinding) taking up a lot of the time, the cost per hour is going to be much less than that.

It also highly depends on the quality of the game as well. It also depends on how well-known the studio is. A well-respected studio known for quality games can charge more and still get enough sales. It also gets cheaper per hour the longer the game is, too. If you make an adventure game that's 50 hours long, that doesn't mean you can charge $100 for it because no one is going to pay $100 for an adventure game.

There are a lot of factors that come into this, but as I started off saying, the best way to find out a price for your game is to look for similar games of similar lengths that are doing well, and see what they're priced at.

That's very solid response. Thanks for going in-depth into the subject, you worded it very eloquently!

An indie game isn't "supposed" to be anything 

Couldn't agree more. That's the beauty of it, total freedom to do what you think a certain audience would enjoy.


Very interesting points. I believe its about striking a balance between "Artsy" and Fun. Sometimes the scale tips one way and sometimes the other, a creator just has to be aware of what they want to create and how they want to measure on that scale. I think being upfront about what it is - is important - no one likes to be feel like their being lied to! 

And I can't honestly say - but there is a line between (to me personally) An artful colorful aethstical whimsical wonder game and im angsty and if i use the word aethistic enough i can create a social identity. 

But I think has more artsy games because of its more relaxed nature - which for pure artsy value is great because it prompts learning. 

There has been SO many great games and experiences and things I've been inspired from by using this site. The world is not always easily divided into extremes or duality's, and I think conversations like these can spark arguments and fire, but that is often needless as both sides should understand that is not A. or B.  

And Artsy games could learn a lot from borrowing from the gameplay driven nature of Gameplay driven games and vice-versa.

It's a curious debate, but it can be easily overcomplciated.

Sorry if this makes literally 0% sense I'm about to go to bed but I wanted to give me 2 centos.

tl;dr: Indie games need to understand how they want to balance their game between Art and Gameplay, and not overthink which balance is "better" because Day needs Night, The Ocean needs Land, and Art needs TOPDOWNROGUELIKEBOMBSHOOTERS. 

That is all. Thx.

Really good point there, I didn't think about the overlapping of the two sides and how it doesn't have to be one or the other. Thanks!

You're welcome!

The tension of both opposites creates a third option, and we can

"Embrace tranquility. " - Zenyatta 

The purest games often have powerful elements from both sides.

Let's split it into "good games" and "business side".

To be honest, today making games for a living is a bad decision. Where are at the stage that making games is not a very good business if you want to make money.

A stupid little game like Flappy bird made in two weeks can make more money than your 5 years development serious and deep game.

It's like being in a jungle in the Vietnam war with a 3rd side of Demons from doom.

So... I won't talk about the business side, because IMO you should not rely on gamedeving as your main income.

Now... about "good games". You can't tell a person what is fun for him. Because what you enjoy is subjective to every person, it's also subjective to your mood, time of the day and many factors for the same person.

However, you can, to some degree, try to think of several quality measurements of a game.

You can tell when a painting was made by an artist that knows what he is doing, instead by an artist that by chance might made something you like.

Like, you might like this weird painting of a person, but the weird anatomy of the character, the wrong perspective and shadows were not because the artist has chosen to do so. It was because he didn't know exactly how to create the painting he had in mind, so he created something by chance and lack of skill.

Anyway, my point is, I think many indie games are not "good"(IMO) because the world they exist inside is nonsensical or lacks internal logic.

Things like, injecting politics, pop culture, an incoherent world and basically things that are made by chance and has no internal logic.

Another great example is stupid names, or joke games. If you name your RPG game in a fantasy world "Pixel game with swords and too much HP" then it's not going to engage the players. Because the stupid name ruins the experience.

So basically, I think many indie games are an incoherent mess of elements from different worlds that don't make sense on their own merit.

Your game should have some sort of internal logic.

For instance Roger Rabbit had cartoons living in the real world, but it had internal logic. Because there was a cartoon world, they didn't break the fourth wall.

So many "Artsy" games just don't have a world to exist inside, they rely on things from the real world, but they don't have their own believable world to exist inside.