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Why do indie game developers go it alone?

Why do indie game developers go it alone?


This week on the Vergecast miniseries Solo Acts, we chat with Birth developer Madison Karrh about the economics of indie game development.

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An illustration of a typewriter covered in vines, the word “BIRTH” appears on a page inserted in the typewriter.
Illustration: Madison Karrh

The game development landscape has changed a lot in the last 10 years. The medium-size development studios are few and far between. Instead, you have a lot of behemoth AAA developers who make headlines with big games and big crunch times, and the indies — often solo developers working on contract for larger companies with the hope that their game can break away from the rest and become a big enough hit that they don’t go broke.

It’s a challenging and extraordinarily complex world, and to better understand it, Ashley Esqueda spoke with Madison Karrh. Madison is an indie developer, and her game Birth is available right now on Steam. Birth is a puzzle game about building a friend to combat loneliness. Every element of the game was created by Karrh, from the art to the story to the mechanics.

But the path from ideation to publication is challenging. There’s finding a studio, getting your (relatively meager) advance, and then furiously creating a game with the hope it will do well enough that you might get any kind of profit at the end. And all while, many other developers join enormous teams and enjoy similarly enormous paychecks.

In this episode of Solo Acts, Karrh and Esqueda explore the challenges and economics of indie game development, and we learn exactly why someone would turn down the paycheck to build something uniquely special.

This episode is the third in a five-part series for The Vergecast called Solo Acts. Each Monday, we’ll be focusing on someone who chooses to go it alone in creating cool things on the internet. Episodes will air on Mondays, in addition to our usual Wednesday and Friday shows.