The Road to E3 2011: Where da Indies At?

The Road to E3 2011: Where da Indies At?

It’s hard to believe, but E3 is just a few days away, and I’m sure everyone’s excited about it. Big-time game developers from all over the world are gathering in Los Angeles to showcase their latest and greatest, and hope for the best from game journalists everywhere.

That is, with one exception: the indies. Independent games have historically been absent from the biggest gaming expo in the nation, and with the indie renaissance starting last year and continuing well into this year, one has to wonder, will independent developers ever have a presence at the Electronic Entertainment Expo? I asked a few of the biggest and brightest indie studios their thoughts on why they weren’t a part of E3, and if they were actually fine with not being showcased at such a large venue.


Rami Ismail, Vlambeer Games (Super Crate Box): “E3 is honestly, by all means, a bit daunting. It’s this massive event of retail, AAA titles and exorbitant marketing budgets that just doesn’t match up with both indie needs and resources. We believe that the lack of indie presence at E3 is no big deal, exactly because that’s not why attendants seem to be there. We prefer to spend our resources on events that offer chances, such as (and definitely not limited to) GDC, PAX and IndieCADE.

Finally, indie is a social thing. If there are no indies, there are no hugs. That’s a big problem, too.”


Brendon Chung, Blendo Games (Flotilla, Atom Zombie Smasher): “Simply put, E3 is expensive! Besides that, E3 is generally geared toward triple-A blockbusters – I think that’s fine, and probably not a very conducive forum for a garage developer like me.”


Markus “Notch” Persson, Mojang (Minecraft): “Indie game development has been around for many, many years, but it used to have different names. Hobbyists, garage developers, indie game developers, it’s all the same. E3 has (almost) always been about big studios and big publishers flexing their muscles, showing off the coolest games and dropping the hottest news. That’s very different from the usual hobby/garage/indie developer mentality, and as such there’s never been any reason for E3 to approach indies, and no reason for indies to approach E3.

What’s changed is that there’s a much larger consumer and media focus on hobby game developers these days, and lots of people are able to make a living making a game thanks to the internet (specifically through social media, easy to use payment methods, and a long running cultural trend online of nostalgia about older games). Personally, I’m fine with E3 being for the behemoths. I kind of like it like that. It’s like the Oscar Awards. To continue the movie analogue, there still are plenty of film festivals out there where indie games really can shine.”


Edmund McMillen, Team Meat (Super Meat Boy): “Indies don’t usually get a lot of exposure at E3 really. Last year we had one single station where you could play SMB and we BEGGGED for it.

I’m not sure what MS is showing this year indie wise there, but I can tell you that Spelunky, Fez, The Witness and Retro City Rampage are all very amazing indie games scheduled for release sometime this year.. I hope at least a few get some lime light there.

But really E3 is about big budget titles and mainstream press, I’m not sure indie games are what people going to E3 are looking for. Maybe that will change with time?”


Phil Fish, Polytron Corporation (Fez): “We won’t be attending E3 in any capacity. It just doesn’t make much sense for an outfit our size. We’d be competing with far too big a media circus. Traditionally, E3 is where all the big boys pull out their big guns and spend millions on booths and such nonsense. There are more appropriate venues for independents, and those venues are growing in number. Also, E3 floorspace is crazy expensive.

I don’t mind [not being at E3]. It’s fine like that. Nintendo is going to announce a new console, and all sorts of super high profiles are going to be unveiled. We still have PAX, IndieCADE, GDC/IGF.”


Brian Provinciano, Vblank Entertainment (Retro City Rampage): “I don’t think that E3 gives any less love to indies than the largest developers, but rather, us indies don’t have the money to put ourselves in it. At a show like E3, there is a lot of noise from other games, especially the blockbusters and if you don’t have a huge hook to pull people in (which often in the case of E3 involves a lot of money), the money you spend might not be worth the investment. The ‘go big or go home’ mentality.

As smaller developers also, we often can’t take the time out to go to every show there is. Sometimes with schedules, every day counts when there isn’t a big team continuing to work while you’re pushing the game.

I do with Microsoft and/or Nintendo were able to promote the game there, however I understand in Nintendo’s case the 3DS is the priority right now and Retro City Rampage is a WiiWare title.”


So there you have it. Just from those responses, it seems like the independent games industry is perfectly content with not being a part of E3, as they clearly have better methods with which to get their games out to the people. The organic method of advertising seems to do pretty damned well for them, and hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Still, I would adore a bigger presence of indies at E3. Thankfully, IndieCADE will have their own booth on the E3 show floor, highlighting some seriously great-looking games, and we’ll be able to get you coverage of anticipated action RPG Bastion right from the Warner Bros booth. My loins positively quiver at the thought of that.