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The next generation of indies faces a tough fight

Indie developers are facing a "sea change" in the years ahead as new talent seeks to take their place among game-makers who have boot-strapped themselves to positions of success.

That's the view of Gone Home creator Steve Gaynor, speaking at DICE on Wednesday. Welcoming new developers and fresh ideas, he nonetheless warned that new indies could face a tougher time that his generation of creators, who have ridden "the first wave" of post-AAA dominance via opportunities presented by low cost development tools like Unity, powerful digital distribution agents such as Steam and hyper-connected social media.

"When the first wave came out all they had to worry about was AAA," he said. "They had this proposition of something different that didn't cost $60 that people were saying was really cool. But the thing that is happening now is that those guys are making their follow-ups and those games are being marketed and perceived differently than the first wave, which were surprises. Expectations are very high."

He pointed toward Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid, invited onto the stage at the PlayStation 4 unveiling event to talk about his new game The Witness, as well as larger budgets focused on titles with a development heritage of commercial success. Some established indies are borrowing marketing techniques from the world of AAA publishing, creating slick trailers or hosting media events.

New developers seeking to establish themselves among this elite are competing against both AAA and well-known names who have financial and repetitional muscle. "Now indies are much more in competition with each other," he said.

Although audience size for indie games, as demonstrated by the growth of Steam, is rising, he argued that the press bandwidth to publicize games is not likely to increase. As the media focuses on the new games from well-known talent, the room to talk about new games diminishes, he claimed.

But he said that developers with a track record of success could help in highlighting new talent. "Those of us who have fans who are excited about out next game have the power to funnel some of that attention and can be part of the solution to make sure that the most exciting new games are getting the attention they deserve."

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