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From AAA to Indie: Fail or Fortune?

by Han Cilliers (Lola)  Posted Tuesday, August 05, 2014 11:54:00 AM

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Dan Adelman, Nintendo’s Head of Digital Content and Development announced yesterday that he was leaving Nintendo to work with Indie developers. Adelman is an industry leader when it comes to distribution of video games (founder of Nintendo of America’s digital distribution business), and his skills will help fill the gap with Indie marketing and distribution. Adelman was also one of the first people to "recognize the importance of independent developers and advocate on their behalf." His announcement led me to think about just how many developers have left AAA studios to join the Indie ranks. Why did they leave? Have their departure diluted the development pool or increased it? With the influx of Indie devs, did we also see an influx of exceptional new games? Leaving a successful AAA studio must come with a hefty price, and I wonder if the freedom gained outweighs the financial burdens.

Indie.jpg

Let's see if we can answer some of those questions from 10 professionals that left AAA for Indie.

1. Dan Adelman, Nintendo’s Head of Digital Content & Development

  • Left Nintendo on August 4 to work with Indie developers
  • Worked at Nintendo for nine years
  • Reason - "Wants to go full-blown indie himself"
  • Future plans - "Wants to take indie developers to the next level of success."

2. David Goldfarb - Payday 2 Game Director

  • Left Overkill Software in July this year to form his own indie studio in Stockholm
  • Worked at Overkill Software for two years
  • Reason - "the desire was never to make other people's games."
  • Future plans - Focused on role-playing games

3. Ocean Quigley, SimCity Creative Director

  • Left EA in July 2013 to form his own indie studio called, Jellygrade
  • Worked at Maxis for more than a decade
  • Reason - "recovering ex-AAA game developers."
  • Future plans - Life simulation game for mobile "a simulation about the dawn of life on earth; about lava, water, rock and the emergence of the first primordial creatures,"

4. Dan Moskowitz, SimCity Gameplay Lead

  • Left EA in July 2013 to join Quigley at Jellygrade
  • Worked at Maxis for 8 years

5. The Red Barrels Team

  • Philippe Morin (Assassin's Creed), David Chateauneuf (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) and Hugo Dallaire (Splinter Cell) formed Red Barrels
  • The trio are perhaps the first AAA devs to make an Indie success with Outlast.

6. Randy Smith, EA Developer

  • Laid off by EA, then formed his own indie studio called, Tiger Style
  • Reason - "I didn't have a job and I was trying to figure out to do next."
  • Future plans - Already released the very successful, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor

7. David Kalina, Developer for Ubisoft, Eidos and Midway

  • Laid off by Mindway, joined Tiger Style
  • Reason - "We were seduced by the gold rush, to some extent,"
  • Future plans - Already released the very successful, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor

8. Chris Roberts, Designer at Origin

  • Worked at Origin in the 80's and 90's on hits like Wing Commander and Ultima
  • Formed his own Indie studio, Cloud Imperium Games Corporation in 2011
  • Reason - "I can be more profitable than AAA games on a fifth of sales."
  • Future plans - Currently working on the highly anticipated Star Citizen

9. Robert Zubek, Principal Software Engineer at Zynga

  • Worked at Zynga on CityVille and FarmVille 2, also worked at EA/Maxis
  • Formed his own Indie studio, somasim
  • Reason - ""Hopes to bring classic simulation gaming into the mobile age."
  • Future plans - Already developed 1849, a city management game. Busy with new title

10. Damian Isla, AI and Gameplay Engineering Lead at Bungie

  • Left Bungie in 2008 to form his own Indie studio, Naimad Games. In 2009 he founded Moonshot Games.
  • He worked at Bungie for almost 7 years
  • Reason - "“captain of my own fate”
  • Future plans - Just released the highly anticipated Third Eye Crime.

It's surprising how many of the 10 worked at Electronic Arts. Be that as it may, we've not really seen something mind-blowing from any of them, I recon Star Citizen from Chris Roberts will be the first. The Red Barrels team did make a lot of waves with Outlast, but it was such a niche game that its success was soon forgotten after its release in September 2013. We've seen exceptional games from devs like Dan Pinchbeck with Dear Esther and the upcoming Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, but he was Indie to begin with. Other Indie hits like Super Meat Boy, Bastion, Natural Selection 2, Braid, Ether One were all developed by Indie devs. Maybe CliffyB and his Indie studio, Boss Key will be the first AAA dev gone Indie to make that exceptional game we've all been waiting for - that's if Star Citizen doesn't take that title first.

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd



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