So closes another (calendar) year of Indiepocalypse and I find myself with another year-in-review trying to figure out what this year meant to me.
This year more than any other affirmed that I don’t know how to stop publishing Indiepocalypse each month and frankly don’t want to. What would I even do with the time! But more on all that all later, first comes the very exciting numbers.
If you are reading this and aren’t quite sure what Indiepocalypse is, there’s a starter guide. The short version is that it’s a monthly anthology of alternative games. I use “alternative” as my current descriptor for “art”, “non-commercial”, “bedroom dev”, or whatever word makes the most sense to you. I also prefer the term “zine”, as I find it to be more aesthetically in line with Indiepocalypse, but know that this is in fact a collection of games you can download and play.
Also, everyone involved gets paid for their work and game developers get royalties.
Up first are my overall stats from itch. It doesn’t really say much about 2022 but so far as I can tell there’s no easy what to get these numbers on a date-range basis. Plus, I just have zero sense of what are “good” or even “typical” numbers on itch so I hope in talking more about it, people will get the urge to share theirs.
In the last 30 days the main traffic comes from itch’s main page. Like any other storefront being on the front page helps! People looking at your thing of course. It’s much harder to tell if sales come from those views or from a more dedicated newsletter/social media/whatever audience, but there’s no way all that extra traffic can hurt. But how does that actually break down into a per issue basis?
The top issue again is #4, most certainly because it was included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The next highest is the very first(?) “Indiepocalypse Presents” issue, Indie Tsushin. And that makes sense because it easily packages games that are much harder to come across outside of Japan and that issue is real cool! Indie Tsushin is the first guest edited issue of Indiepocalypse, organized by Nice Gear Games and showing off a collection of Japanese indie games. The goal was to help someone else through this indie game zine process (and cover the contributor costs) and show that if I can do this, surely anyone else can. It’s even spawned two offshoots, Indie Tsushin and douZINE. It’s everything I could have ever wanted.
On the sales side, Indie Tsushin ranks a bit lower but Indiepocalypse is never strictly about sales (though they’re nice to have). I don’t accidentally link from the Indiepocalypse store pages to each individual developer’s pages where you can often play the games for free. Indiepocalypse is meant to be a library as much as it is a storefront.
The top issue (I’ll get to the pledge bundles in a second) is Indiepocalypse #34, the issue that in fact cost me $0 to produce. Indiepocalypse #34 was sponsored in full by Ranged Touch, making it, by default, the first profitable issue. Greedy of it that is also the highest selling issue imo. But in all seriousness it shows the strength of giving people a platform and the power of the “active” endorsement (actively saying “i like this” as opposed to just sharing something). Perhaps the first case of money ever trickling down. I cannot understate the Sylvie Bump™ either. Regular promotion from Indiepocalypse #34‘s commissioned contributor sylvie brought people to not only buy the issue but also subscribe to the patreon. You can even see up above that the prelease “game isn’t out yet but you can get it in Indiepocalypse” store page for Sylvie Lime (which you can play for free now and should) is one of the highest ranking referrers!
Now back to the pledge drives. Every 10 issues on the 10’s (starting with Indiepocalypse #20) I’ve been hosting an 8 hour pledge drive/livestream. The first ran for approximately the length of the show and the second, for the whole month. That the second did worse than the first with ~30x the running time is something that I don’t have a clear explanation for, though I think it has to do with both an itch sale and my “airline lost my luggage” sale happening relatively close to it.
But this is all money coming in, what does it look like with money going out?
Much worse. But you can’t say those numbers aren’t going up! But again! If you turn them into percentages (459.01%, 177.88%, 150.95%) I am losing less money each year. Sure, but where does this money come from and where does it all go?
Before talking about the obvious sources I want to talk more about consignment and event sales. This year I started the Pizza Pranks Consignment Shop where, for a one time buy-in (to cover print costs), I would sell people’s games on consignment at every event I attend. It still don’t know if there exists the zine-fair/indie comics show equivalent for games exists where alternative games could thrive but I think there could be! (There is also your local art market, but then you have the problem of the dreaded and all too common “I don’t play video games”, with your cries of “these aren’t games like you think they are!” falling on an uncaring audience)
That aside, most of the money for Indiepocalypse comes from itch (makes sense, since it’s the only place I sell it) but Patreon provides a steadier income for each issue. And since I count patreon as ‘sales’ it also provides each issue with a steady bit of royalties regardless of how well they actually sell.
And speaking of royalties, look at those things! About half of my total expenses! And another ~$9k goes into the production of the zine each month. If you exclude the trips and “airline lost my luggage” reprinting costs, 95~98% of my expenses are money going to developers. Which is kind of the point of this whole thing! And “what is the point of this whole thing” is something I’ve really had to reconnect to in 2022
A Farewell to the Video Game Industry
For about two years each release of Indiepocalypse was paired with a press release as one releasing a video game project often does. Aside from the important facts, these tended to be varied, ranging from following the exact advice of game press to dumb bullshit to entertain myself. I must emphasize that I’m fairly certain I mostly wrote these for myself. By the time I stopped sending press releases, of the 165 press/writers/anything-close-I-could-find, only 13 answered. Now, plenty of these started as earnest attempts to find writers and outlets who were interested, but when plenty of places with “indie” in their site name or mission statement never respond to you, you just start trying everywhere.
The true death knell Indiepocalypse’s press life came in two parts. The first was a pondering on twitter about “why don’t more people cover Indiepocalypse” which led to a wider discussion (discourse, if you will) and entire article about indie coverage, both which shed the Indiepocalypse origin. The second was a review that referenced experimental indie anthologies, which was surely Indiepocalypse’s time to shine. (it was not) To borrow a phrase “I am losing my niche to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent and they’re actually really, really nice”.
And honestly it was really the beginning of me developing a healthier relationship with Indiepocalypse.
What Am I Trying to Prove?
I’ve been quite negative about Indiepocalypse in the past. Though I mostly tried to focus that on my own perceived failings with selling Indiepocalypse to a wider audience, Indiepocalypse (and by extension, it’s contributors) couldn’t escape that negativity. Somewhere along the way I lost the point.
From the outset, Indiepocalypse was scoped so that it would it could exist even if nobody bought it. But people did buy it and it got me thinking that it could actually be something. Truly, the worst thought that ever entered my brain was that Indiepocalypse had to be Something. Indiepocalypse went from a project that I was thrilled (and surprised) existed at all, to something that would never be good enough.
The games, the zine, and every other part of it has always been more than good enough, but I was letting this idea that it wasn’t selling well enough, it wasn’t getting enough coverage, wasn’t Part of the Conversation, drag me down. But does it need to be The Indie Thing or even An Indie Thing? I don’t think so!
Indiepocalypse doesn’t need to be industry defining. It doesn’t need to be front of mind. It doesn’t even need to be a perfect or best version of the indie game zine/anthology! This year I’ve been reevaluating my relationship to art, or more accurately, realizing how much my relationship to art didn’t match how I felt about Indiepocalypse. Mostly in terms of how I felt Indiepocalypse needed to be “successful” in the very traditional commercial sense.
No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future or: You Will Always Be A Loser
For the last two year-in-reviews and in the ways I often talk about Indiepocalypse I’ve framed it as successful in existing/having good games but a failure financially, culturally, and it most other ways. But that’s simply not true! (well, maybe financially it’s true) So much of relies on me constantly shifting my goals and metrics or reading things in the worst way so that I could justify perceiving my own failures.
If someone ever covered/talked about it, I could always just look to all the people who haven’t and likely never will. There is always more space to undercut yourself and I am an expert at wriggling into that space. But I’m tired of that space and the bitterness and the frustration over my own imagined problems. And having other people to talk to this about has done wonders.
As I was building the store pages to sell Indiepocalypse on my own site and working through every game released in Indiepocalypse I was reminded how much I love these games. Indiepocalypse is and always has been the thing I wanted it to be, something that would fill me with the excitement I feel buying way too many comics at a show like MICE, or being a real bandcamp freak.
Indiepocalypse doesn’t need to be some landmark release that game culture flocks around. If it helps any one person connect with any one of these games, I couldn’t be happier. Any amount of money that goes to contributors is money more than well spent.
For the first time in a long time, I’ve stepped outside of Indiepocalypse, looked at everything I’ve helped put together in these three years and felt deeply, truly satisfied without reservation.
Other things I did in 2022 that don’t fit in anywhere and don’t care to make them fit.
- Gave a talk a part of the Hand Eye Society’s Super FESTival
- Organized the Sicko Showcase, a video showcasing alternative, traditionally non-commercial games
- Organized the Local Scene Showcase, a video showcasing local game dev scenes around the world