Scott Cacioppo, 22, plays video games.
What sets him apart from just about every other male 22-year-old on the planet is that he prefers indie titles to mainstream corporate ones. Furthermore, for Cacioppo, the industry is about more than games and profit, but about community. He envisions transforming the industry by connecting local gamers and game developers by means of an online networking hub—a sort of Facebook for gamers (see his meetup group).
“It’s so hard to find indie gamers themselves,” Cacioppo said. “I want to help games get more well-known and not get taken underfoot by these big companies. I want to bring [gamers and game developers] together and help them communicate with each other. Just connect them.”
A key challenge for many indie game developers is raising awareness for their products, and at the same time many gamers have difficulties finding all the indie games available on the web. Cacioppo said he feels aggregating information about the local gaming scene in one online space could connect like-minded die-hards to both friendships and business relationships with one another.
Cacioppo’s project is currently in the works. In need of help with web design and collecting content, he said he needs fellow indie gamers and developers to lend him starting support before he can launch the site.
“All I am is a bunch of heart,” he said. “I’ve got no money. I’m just heart.”
What makes an indie game
Indie games are video games created by individuals or small teams of individuals without the financial backing of corporate publishers. Their marketing schemes generally rely on digital distribution across the Internet or on word of mouth within gaming communities. Often, they are smaller and simpler in concept and design. Because corporate interests can’t impose creative limitations upon indie game developers, their products also tend to be more experimental, innovative and artistic.
On the gaming side, Cacioppo said the power and appeal of indie titles lie in their conceptual simplicity.
Many indie games are two-dimensional, strategic mind-bogglers of the arcade tradition. Others are characterized by complex coding and sophisticated graphic elements. A select few are considered works of new media art on account of their attention to aesthetics or conceptual craftsmanship. Indie games such as “Braid” and “Minecraft” have attained high critical standing and financial success.
“There’s a lot more soul in indie games,” Cacioppo said. “They come from individuals who are not trying to make money out of them, who make them because they love it.”
What the industry needs
Developers and fans of the indie gaming industry are incredibly dispersed. Because games are home-brewed by ordinary individuals, it’s often difficult to discover their sources. Even after indie games are posted online, they show up on random blogs, profiles and loosely organized computer gaming applications. Though indie game sites do exist, rarely are they devoted to bridging the space between gamers and developers.
Cacioppo said he plans to provide services for both. His aggregator site will include ratings and reviews, and provide opportunities for developers to preview their projects. Gamers can then get access to lists of indie game developers and leave feedback on their pages.
“From what I’m seeing, there are great games that exist out there and no one knows they exist,” Cacioppo said. “It’s sad that these games get like five hits. I’ve learned the worst thing that can happen is that you put years into something and it goes nowhere. I don’t want these indie game developers to feel that.”
Another service Cacioppo plans to provide is an interactive map for locating the who’s who of the Chicago area’s indie gaming industry. As is the case with many digital forms of communication, gaming doesn’t provide many opportunities for physical interpersonal relations. A map detailing the general locations of indie gamers and game developers could connect members of this disparate community.
Currently, there are several groups of developers in the area devoted to meeting up in physical spaces. Many such as International Game Developer’s Association Chicago use Meetup.com. Indie City Games is a Facebook-based group for video game producers. What Cacioppo wants to do differently than these groups is bring conversations about games between developers online while allowing gamers to participate also.
How indie affects the future of gaming
Cacioppo said there is potentially a huge market for indie to grow as a genre within gaming.
With the increasing popularity of indie games, some mainstream video game companies are providing indie developers with online space to sell their products. Valve’s Steam application, a gaming web browser, sells bundle packs of indie games for relatively low prices. By selling games for sometimes as little as $2 each, Steam sponsors many indie game developers.
Cacioppo said another part of the reason why many gamers stick with corporate titles is that they’re unaware indie games are “often cheaper, more original and made with more heart”.
Once indie becomes a household term, however, Cacioppo predicts parents as well as children will buy into the industry very quickly.
“Parents will willing to buy more games for kids because they’re cheaper,” he reasoned. “Also, there are lots of gamers out there with different interests and different wallets. Once kids start learning there are indie games out there, parents will learn the possibility of the $5 Christmas.”