SteamWorld Dig 2 Studio Discusses Stigmas Facing Indie Games In 2017

SteamWorld Dig 2
  • Playstation 4
  • Playstation Vita
  • Switch
  • Windows
  • Action-Adventure

SteamWorld Dig 2 is one of the best indie games on Nintendo Switch, but the leader of its development team at Image & Form Games has grown frustrated with the “indie” qualification. From pricing to discoverability, CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson spoke with Player.One about why that label can be destructive.

SteamWorld Dig 2 is selling quite well for just $20 across all platforms, but, for Image & Form, the idea of equating cost and value hasn’t always worked in its favor. “The perception of value can be annoying and downright unfair, or at least I think so: often you can define a studio as triple-A by the cost of its games rather than the quality of them,” Sigurgeirsson said.

From Sigurgeirsson’s perspective, these issues made it difficult to promote Image and Form’s  previous game, SteamWorld Heist:

When we released SteamWorld Heist at the same price, it was different. Time and again, I was discussing why we, this preposterous indie studio, had the gall to charge $20 for our game. It was as if every glowing review was a stroke of luck or an expression of pity. Heist came out in 2015 as the highest-rated new 3DS game that year, better even than Nintendo's own games - that all cost at least twice as much. And yet I was spending more time defending our 20 bucks than talking about the game. It felt so unfair…With SteamWorld Dig 2, we've finally earned the right to charge what's right.”

Before pricing becomes a factor, however, a game has to be seen to make money at all. The CEO thinks discoverability is becoming an issue, especially on growing platforms like Switch.

“I think we're already seeing quite a few decent games that are flying under the radar,” he lamented. “It's a pity really, because it not only means we're missing out on a good game experience - it's not unlikely that a first-time developer or publisher goes bust after a failed launch.” To make that problem less pervasive, Sigurgeirsson suggested “someone ‘big’ should devote a YouTube channel or gaming-site column to plugging good games that deserve more visibility.”

SteamWorld Dig 2 cave
Screenshots like these showcase the Nintendo-like polish of SteamWorld Dig 2. Photo: Image & Form Games

Sigurgeirsson acknowledged that creators also have an important role to play in surfacing great products, noting that the current indie scene could improve by focusing more on polish. “Smaller studios are unlikely to match the game scopes of larger studios, but they should certainly strive to turn their games into all they can be,” he advised. “Anything else is sloppy, and not indie at all. Being indie is about being able to realize your own idea and vision, not spending too little time on details.”

For Image & Form, the internal goal is to make sure all of its games have a “Nintendo” level of refinement before they’re released. As far as we’ve seen, that effort has paid off. While other games of the time were plagued by framerate drops and bizarre HD Rumble bugs, Dig 2’s biggest post-launch problem was that some users didn’t like its eShop icon. Gameplay-wise it was mostly stable at launch, and it remains that way today.

Yet, even though Image & Form has faced quite a few hardships to become a successful indie studio, Sigurgeirsson suggests the indie label no longer has a useful meaning. Because his company currently employs more than 20 people, the struggles typically experienced by a one-man indie team no longer apply. In that same token, there isn’t quite as much freedom now that success for each individual project has become all the more crucial.

“It may be time to stop talking about indies,” he mused, “the epithet may eventually hamper growth and convey the wrong image.”

SteamWorld Dig 2 is available now on Switch, PS4, PC, OS X, Linux and Vita. Read part one of our three-part feature here.

Do you think the stigmas of pricing and discoverability are still hurting indie games today? Should we stop using that label altogether? Tell us in the comments section!

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