The indie scene is booming. People are putting out titles that gather not only universal praise but also make lots of money. Games like World of Goo, Braid or Mount&Blade, they all went from indie projects to full blown succes stories on Steam (or similar services). So it’s safe to say that if you’re a developer wanting to make a name for yourself, releasing an interesting game now is really a good idea.
So how can we explain The Spirit Engine 2? Here is a wonderful game, a JRPG that pushes all the right buttons, that was designed, drawn and coded by only one guy (a herculean task, if you ask me) and everybody that played it, loved it. The problem is: it was released last year, it gathered little to no media exposure and Steam refused to sell it, which translated into just a few (last time I heard it was little over 50) copies sold.
This didn’t stop Mark Pay, the creator of the game, to have an upbeat look on the situation. I really admire this guy, not only because he did this wonderful game all by himself, but also because instead of bitching about the lack of commercial success, he is happy with every copy of the game that he sells and keeps offering support to the community on a daily basis.
So the least I could do (besides buying the game) was to ask Mark a few questions about the game, the indie scene and what drives him:
GMZzz: First of all, who are you?
Mark Pay: My name is Mark Pay. I’m a 26 year old software developer living in Kent, England.
GMZzz: What do you do, besides creating games all by yourself?
Mark Pay: Too much working and commuting, followed by a little writing and drawing when possible.
GMZzz: Why did you choose to do this alone? It seems like a huge task: design, graphics, programming for a game that is in no ways small. People usually team up for something like this…
Mark Pay: I was lucky enough to have Josh working with me on the soundtrack. I don’t think the odds of my finding anyone else reliable to work with over such a long time period were too good. Ultimately the only person you can rely on is yourself, and I’m not interested in being a project manager.
GMZzz: I know this didn’t sell a lot of copies, yet you seem pretty happy with the sales so far. What is your drive, if not money?
Mark Pay: It’s your goal as a creator to entertain and inspire, and if you’re making people happy, that’s mission accomplished. I don’t think the market can reliably support indie developers, and I hate the role of salesman. So I’m not planning to try anything commercial again in the near future. I’m grateful for every one of the sales that TSE-2 has had though. My customers have been wonderful, and the slight income helped me through a rough financial patch.
GMZzz: How come you aren’t on Steam, since a lot of other indie games have been released on that platform lately?
Mark Pay: Steam said no. I expect the game isn’t polished enough to meet their standards.
GMZzz: What are your thoughts of the indie industry? Any developers we should keep an eye on?
Mark Pay: Confession time – I don’t play many games, and practically no indie games. I keep an eye on the scene, but not a lot of its output appeals to me. It’s all very fluid anyway, so I’m more interested in individual games than the developers behind them.
I don’t see any reason to be excited about the commercial future of independent development. It seems like a pretty awful way to try and make a living, rather like the mainstream games industry.
GMZzz: What are your plans for the future? A new TSE game or something new?
Mark Pay: Now that I’m working full-time again, I don’t have much time for side-projects. Right now I’m writing out what I hope will become a graphic novel, and fiddling with a little WW2 tactics game. I really want to work fully on a TSE-3. Maybe the next time I find myself unemployed.
Someone, please fire this guy!