Amazon ♥ Indies

Amazon (US) have opened a store for Mac and PC games from independent developers. The Indie Games storefront spotlights games from independent developers, as well as offering special deals and information on game development.

I’m not really a gamer, I’ve played a few in my time but I’d barely register as a casual gamer, and I always preferred my PC to a console. As such I don’t know what you’d class as an indie game, or if there was an issue with ‘discoverability’ before (a lot of indie developers seem to think there was).

Like most of us, I’ve seen the headline grabbing grand standing of the latest Halo launch and the cultural infiltration of Angry Birds. The fact that so many hits have come from Facebook, mobile platforms and the web suggested the little guys had finally found a way to market, or at least reduced the cost of development. The problem is, they’re typically for mobile platforms, which isn’t where hardcore gamers are.

So my guess is that Amazon’s play here is to follow its success in self-published ebooks, only with a bit more curation (looks like you have to qualify as an indie first). It’s obvious that there’s plenty of money to be made by independent games, and now Amazon wants to be the place to find them, again cutting out publishers/studios.

What’s interesting is it seems to be limited to Mac and PC games, though they already offer games for their Kindle tablets via the Amazon Appstore for Android. While mobile platforms seem to grab the headlines, the market for consoles is still vast, and with updates to the two big names due later this year, they’ll be around for a while to come yet.

The new Xbox doesn’t support self-published games though, so I wonder if Amazon plan to offer indies the option to partner up under their banner to release games for it. With both Apple and Microsoft offering games via their respective desktop OS app stores, maybe Amazon is concerned they could lose revenue selling games as more are bought digitally.

Why stop at games?

I was wondering if they’ll stop at books and games, they could disrupt the other media empires too, but technically they already do. You can sell your music and films via CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company, as well as via a few other services, but Amazon don’t seem to offer it in the same way as with books, or shout about it too much.

We’ve all seen the amazing short films being stuck up on YouTube, Vimeo and the rest. They could certainly use a better way to generate money and increase discoverability. The same with many song artists, who seem to rely on live performances or TV shows to get the ball rolling.

How about being able to charge for their short film? Maybe if they know they can charge for it, they’ll try to make something longer? Imagine how many filmmakers are out there, you only have to hear the stories about scripts that are bought but never made to know there’s a lot of unproduced material, usually overlooked.

An indie producer could raise some cash (Kickstarter, anyone?) and make that film without needing to go cap in hand to a studio or financier, knowing they can distribute it, plus get much better commission than any other distribution channel. They could even allow profits to filter back to investors, unlike Kickstarter.

You could spin it out like they’ve just done with Kindle Worlds and instead of all those fan films having to be released for free, they could get a cut, while also earning money for the copyright owner. How many Star Wars spin-offs have you seen over the years?

Music, too, is an area where production costs have fallen to the point anyone could do it, they just need a platform to let customers discover them and an easy-to-use marketplace (to be fair, there are some services like this already, but you have to go look for them). Instead of relying on talent contests or being discovered by some  music exec, they could get selling immediately and make use of Amazon’s publicity machine.

There’s options to make money on cover versions, remixes and alternative music videos too (the same song with different pictures). These all fit perfectly with the idea behind the Kindle being a media consumption device.

Potential roadblocks

There’s some risk, certainly. Would Amazon want to annoy the media giants by pushing indies? Well it doesn’t really affect them, though they may argue it devalues their work as indies would push prices down. If they decide to go the fan work route then there’s the sweetener of monetizing their existing franchises with zero work, so they might be swayed to turn the other cheek.

If we see a rise in the number of independent productions, especially ones based off of existing works, I think we’re going to need a serious shakeup of copyright licencing, perhaps some sort of central clearing house or online service where anyone can apply to pay a fixed rate or a percentage and get a licence quickly and simply.

We’ve seen what a massive shake-up the self-publishing of books has had, with authors who had never been able to make it past the gatekeepers suddenly reaching readers and, in some cases, earning a living. Now imagine that for all forms of media.

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