Indie Game Developers Say Industry Is "More Fertile" Than Ever

The role of the independent game developer is alive and well, with more opportunities than ever to get games in front of consumers.

A survey found that although independent developers make far less money than salaried employees, they felt the industry was more innovative than ever, calling 2010 “the year of the indie.”

Electronic Arts echoed those sentiments yesterday after it announced that it had acquired Firemint, a 60-employee game studio in Australia known for its blockbuster iPhone hit Flight Control.

EA Interactive’s EVP and GM Barry Cottle said the videogame industry will continue to see a flurry of smaller mobile and social acquisitions as larger studios see the value in picking up small, creative teams of developers. “We are always on the lookout.”

The survey’s results and EA’s perspective contradict what Nintendo said earlier this year during its keynote at GDC, the annual game developers conference. Nintendo’s President Satoru Iwata warned that there will be consequences to developing free or very low cost titles.

“The majority of people here are creating games for social and mobile. I fear our business is dividing, and that threatens the employment for those of us who make games for a living,” he said.

If Satoru was addressing the indie developers in the crowd, it’s true that they make less money. However, it’s also these developers who are the most optimistic–and represent potential acquisitions for more established game makers.

With the rise of open platforms, like social networks and mobile, developers can make original games on very small budgets that can reach millions of consumers through these channels. Likewise, new business models that allow consumers to play games for free have spurred adoption among those who were never willing to invest in an Xbox, Wii or PlayStation.

Game Developer magazine, which released results of its 10th annual salary survey, found that salaries of all types of developers increased over the year-ago period.

Developers working on console, emerging social and online titles saw a 7 percent salary increase in 2010 over 2009, reaching $80,817. Meanwhile, independent contractors earned an average of $55,493.

At the bottom of the ladder were self-identified “independents,” trailing with a $26,780 average. However, those indies also saw a nice salary boost, earning some $6,000 more compared to the year earlier.

Furthermore, the study said that while salaried game developers earned vastly greater average income, they had a bleaker outlook on the industry. Anecdotally, the survey’s respondents said that working in the traditional structure is “frustrating,” lamenting that larger studios are “trimming talent” and crunching harder.

Photo Credit: Roberta W.B.

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