IndieCade East just wrapped up in New York City, but not before we had a chance to speak with IndieCade founder and CEO Stephanie Barish about the rise of indie games, why she started IndieCade, and the importance of indie games to the industry. You can read the interview between Stephanie Barish (SB) and myself (JP) below. Also, check out my story written from this interview for The Epoch Times.
JP: When you first started IndieCade, what was the idea behind it? What made you want to do this for indie games?
SB: When we first started IndieCade, it was six years ago, and nobody knew about independent games, at all. The digital download services had just started—there was Xbox Live Arcade, but that was pretty much it. There was no iPhone, no iPad, and people didn’t really even know there was an indie game scene.
It was really important for us to show the public there was more to games than what they were seeing in the mainstream, as well as to encourage the industry to pay attention to what was occurring on the cutting-edge of interactive media.
JP: The idea of showing the public there is something else other than the mainstream—what do you think it is that sets indies aside? Other than the budgets and small teams, of course.
SB: When we first did E3, they came up to us with all the little rating signs, you know, because they have to worry about all these games that are mature and that kids can’t see because of the content in the games maybe being not appropriate. Our games have never, ever had those kinds of issues.
Our first person shooters are things where you’re shooting good vibrations, and they’re using that mechanic for it. We had a game that people were really concerned about, because the description was like you were fighting and bodies were flying everywhere, but it actually very abstract and it was all done with boxes. So it was a game where there were boxes flying everywhere.
The content of our games is really varied, and there is something for everyone in it. The content, really, I think that for people who think they aren’t interested in games, they can come and see some really beautiful pieces of art that compel them. Or they can see something that has a social message, and they didn’t realize games could do that. Or that tells a story, or something that is just fun, or games are taking it off the screen and its something you didn’t expect—where people are running around like in Joust—we’ve always had those kinds of games.
It’s to really understand that play is a part of all different things, and that this is kind of the future creativity that people are seeing.
JP: Was there a certain game that made you want to do something for the indie scene?
SB: I was in the position where we were setting up a new media program at a university, and we were just seeing all these little nuggets of interesting stuff, and we were all excited about the future of interactive media and what people were doing. And we realized that nobody else around us was able to see any of that stuff.
When we first started there hadn’t been any of the games that ‘made it,’ yet. But on our first year of featuring games, we had games like Braid, Everyday Shooter… all before they were picked up. So we got to really be at the forefront.
JP: I know there are a lot of media that don’t really cover indie games because they say there’s no money in them, but it seems like that’s changing now. There are a lot of people talking now about how indie games are starting to change the industry, itself. I was wondering what your thoughts are about that?
SB: Indie games are changing the industry. Look at Journey, that’s a really good example of a game company, and we showed their first student game, Cloud. They premiered their first game at our second IndieCade. That’s a really good example of having your own vision, your own passion, and taking it and really having a great game, and getting exposure. It’s shaping the way that people are looking at games.
JP: I’ve heard people refer to games as ‘interactive storytelling,’ and I think that’s a really different concept, as opposed to what we’re seeing with AAA titles right now, which are more like, kind of venting, almost—the idea of someone trying to tell a story through a game.
SB: Now all indie games tell stories, but there are definitely a lot of independent developers, where what they’re trying to do for their games is tell a story. So they’re taking all these different approaches to telling narratives, or to social interaction, or to talking about interpersonal issues or social issues that they care about.
One year we had a trend where there were all these games about parenthood, about being a father, and all the struggles that went along with that—in really different formats—and every year we have different trends going on. This year, a trend we’re seeing a lot of is interaction between players. There are a lot of games where there are multi-screens, like Bloop, where everyone is playing at once.
It’s not just about storytelling. It’s also about connecting people.
JP: I’ve seen a lot of kids here—there are a lot of families, and it’s really nice. It’s different from what a lot of people might expect from a video game conference.
SB: I think that’s what we’re really interested in. The creators are not what you would expect. You go and you look, and there are women who create games—it’s not just these guys hiding in their closets creating independent games.
There is a diverse mixture of people who are interested in making it even more diverse. If you look at our Game Jam, which we’re running right now, you’ll see there are female teams. It’s a really diverse group of people. The people who play independent games range from kids, to older people, to older women—we have games that are interesting to everybody.
JP: Going by some of the specific sessions you have going on, you had mentioned—what was this one again (points to nearby table where groups of people are developing games)?
SB: We run a few things at our main festival that are standard, and one of them is our game workshop, which is about educating about game design, and includes game design workshops and things like that.
If you look at this table (points to nearby table where a session is being held) of people working in a team, these people may not have known each other. They came to the design workshop, they were divided into groups of 8 or 10, and they’re working together creating a board game right now—to really understand the principles of game design.
JP: I think it’s interesting. I’ve seen a lot of board games, and I’ve seen video games. I think it’s interesting that you’re breaking down the walls of what it is to play a game. Why do you think people play games? I just spoke to Jennifer from Tengami, and she said that a lot of people see video games as being played by young men, and not so much as a mature way of interacting with other people. What are your thoughts about that?
SB: I don’t think there is any one answer to that question—what are games for? Why are we playing games? I think everyone says that a kid’s work is play, but we all kind of leave it behind. People learn when they play, we feel good when we play, and there are reasons behind why we play.
Also, we live in a really interactive world now, and so it’s a way to connect with people, it’s a way to tell stories.
I think we’re just at the beginning, and independent developers are making a push towards what the future is of interactive media. That’s why this is so exciting.
The reasons for why we play are as diverse as the games themselves.
There is a range of games, and they apply to a great range of people. If you look at our selections, you’ll even find a book that won a technology award because of the use of a book and the artistry in it, or a board game that is now going to be published because it got this exposure. We have love games that people are playing. It kind of speaks to everybody.