The Future of Indie Games
Lucky for me that in this case I don't care what people think- I'd rather say it now and be called foolish later than stay quiet and see even one person suffer when they don't respond to a changing environment fast enough.
So here is the scoop.
Rising production costs have been ongoing and will continue on into the future. The newest item entering our market space is agents. Agents represent your products, getting you better deals with the portals (and taking a cut for themselves).
The agents are going to be aided by two facts early on. One, they can actually make you more money than they cost. Two, CERTAIN portals require the use of approved agents to get your games on their site.
Ok, the cutting edge background is set here's the way things are going to come down:
As the number of games rise the need for agents will increase. Other portals will begin adopting agent-only policies. Eventually game makers will be forced to have an agent, and as the agent will require that only they may make the deals, even portals that do NOT require agents will end up dealing mostly with them.
As the number of agents grows the individual power of agents decreases. Eventually, since game developers are going to be forced to use them, agents will end up taking more than they are able to negotiate. The "confused" masses will say things like "Well, without the agent I would have gotten nothing." - And they are right of course.
This percent loss is going to come out of developer pockets. As rising production value = rising cost, the 'break even' point on indie games is going to get harder and harder to maintain. Eventually, most indie developers will be forced out of development; being unable to either get the capital needed to produce a competitive indie game and turn a profit when they are now getting LESS than 20% of a sale. Further, certain clauses in portal contracts are bound to exacerbate this bad percentage.
Probably on top of that some larger portals are bound to be acquired by other portals. Thus reducing competitiveness and further empowering those larger portals to give worse deals to indie developers.
When will this happen? It could be a year, it could be a decade. I don't know, but this is my current leading theory on the method that will cause the collapse of the indie developed games- though I have a seperate theory on something that could cause the collapse of the downloadable game market as a whole. But that requires game consoles to become household objects used by the entire family for entertainment in place of their PC.... Hey did you know what Nintendo's Wii's goal is? Hmmm...
I'm not saying we're all doomed, because frankly some people are going to make out like bandits. Just be aware of the potential path and hazard and recognize it when you see it coming.
Finally, a side note: So long as I am with ArcadeTown I plan on stressing to the upper management (read: Brian) we never require our developers use agents. Using them will be up to you guys. Sadly, that is all I can do to stem this potential endemic.
I hope this indie bubble lasts decades rather than years though, because I'm sure having a good time!