August 8, 2019

As we mentioned in our last newsletter, indie games have a big audience. According to SteamSpy, 24 million players own five or more paid indie games. In the next part of our dive into indie games, we speak to the creators behind titles that fall into this category, starting with an interview with indie game developer Greg Kasavin.

At developer Supergiant Games, he has written and designed critically acclaimed titles like Hades, a dungeon crawler in which you defy the god of death as you hack and slash your way out of the Underworld of Greek myth; Pyre, an action sports video game in which you lead a band of exiles to freedom through an ancient competition across purgatory; and Bastion, an action role-playing game set in an imaginative world, in which players must create and fight for civilization’s last refuge.

Founded in 2009 in San Francisco, Supergiant has established itself as a highly regarded independent video game developer. We speak to Kasavin about what draws people to indie games, the “indie” label, and why conventions like PAX are so important.

Twofivesix: Do you think the “indie” label matters?

Kasavin: I don’t think “indie” is that meaningful of a label anymore when it comes to games. Though, such terms can be useful as a shorthand, to broadly refer to a bunch of stuff. Still, if ‘indie’ ever had a sense of mystique to it, I think it’s now used just as often in a pejorative sense. I think “indie” does still represents some kind of aesthetic that’s expressed by a small subset of games made by independent studios.

But the term has also been so heavily co-opted and used to mean so many different things that it doesn’t mean a lot to me personally. I’ll show my age with this analogy, but I liken the term ‘indie games’ to the term ‘alternative music’ back in the ’90s. What started as [a rock subgenre] alternative music became synonymous with mainstream music; at some point, the term ceased to have any real meaning.

When it comes to us at Supergiant, when asked to describe who we are and what we’re about, I say we are a small independent studio; I never say we are an indie studio.

Twofivesix: What do you think draws people to indie games?

Kasavin: Big-budget $60 console games are created by hundreds or even thousands of people. It can be difficult for such a production to have a distinct point of view or to take significant creative risks.

Meanwhile, games created by smaller independent studios can go for something highly specific, and often you can feel that they are the product of a small group of people. So, they can have a certain uniqueness to them in this way, and in the best cases they are pioneering, daring, and totally one-of-a-kind. So, to put it simply, what draws people to such games is that they can be very interesting and good.

Twofivesix: How do conventions like PAX West contribute to the success of an indie title like yours? What are you hoping to accomplish there as an indie game developer?

Kasavin: PAX has been an important event for us for many years, ever since we debuted our first game, Bastion, at the event back in 2010. We can show up there and let hundreds of people get their hands on our games, and our merchandise for that matter, since we make that as well. Just as importantly, it’s a chance for our team to meet face-to-face with our players and hear from them directly about their experiences. We’re fortunate to have a lot of people out there who really value our games, and their support means a lot, always spurring us to keep doing our best.

Twofivesix: What was the purpose of the documentary series Hades: Developing Hell?

Greg Kasavin: The folks at Noclip [a company making crowdfunded video game documentaries] were interested in showing the process of what that’s like—as well as showing what life is like at a small studio like ours. The purpose is to show the nuts and bolts of working on games, and some of the day-to-day creative conflict and chemistry that goes into the making of games like ours. Viewers can expect a candid look at what game development is like for a studio in 2019. The audience is people interested in game development in general, or our studio and games in particular.

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