Indiepocalypse: A Year in Review (2021)

Covers 13-23

Despite it’s best efforts, Indiepocalypse continues to come out on time (good) and be a failure (bad).

But What is Indiepocalypse?

If you you are coming in fresh or have heard about it but don’t actually know what Indiepocalypse is, Indiepocalypse is a monthly bundle-zine of DIY indie games from 10 creators, Of the 10 games, 1 is handpicked, 1 is newly commissioned, and 8 are submitted through itch using their jam page. The -zine portion is for the pdf (or physical if you’re so inclined) zine of art, comics, and game commentary that comes with the bundle.

I started this in February 2020 because I wanted to help carve about a better space for shorter, alternatives games but more on that later. First I’ll go through

THE STATS

General Expenses

Above are the total profits of Indiepocalypse (and like last year I have a pending itch payment, so technically it’s -$5310.33) and it remains to not be very profitable! But if you look at last year, I am certainly spending and earning more money and the net loss is not that far off! Though Indiepocalypse loses money each month, its cost is not too far off what I had previously paid in student and car loans and those never paid me back any money. If you consider monthly debt payments to simply be an inescapable aspect of life, I’m actually better off!?

Year 1 (technically -$3850.94)

But this year I also actually organized my income and expenses.

Income

As it’s to be expected, itch is the highest earner though that number is inflated for a reason you’ll see soon, which makes it ahead of Patreon by only ~$400. The vague “Sales” is just event sales, which is a new thing for 2021.

Event Sales

Events, I told myself, were going to save Indiepocalypse and be the lifeblood it needed. Obviously this was not the case but 2021 was an abnormal year to say the least. Would it have done better if I had a year or two pre-Covid? I’ll never know so I can’t worry about it!

CTFIG (or Connecticon) was a 3 day event in Hartford, CT and largely unattended. The vast majority of attendees were cosplayers who so far as I could tell technically there as attendees but were more like roaming exhibitors?

Too Many Games was a 3 day event in Oaks, PA that was better attended and seemed to be primarily vendors. The indie game space was also off in this little easily avoided space with 3.5 walls that may have been good for people with demos but has someone looking to make that cash it seemed like a bad space.

Hassle Flea is a 6 hour punk flea market in Cambridge, MA where people are looking to buy clothes and weird art. Ideal event and only costs $40 if you bring your own table so easily profitable.

Akron GameFest was a 1.5 day event in Akron, OH. This one is deceptive because while sales are low, it being a funded museum event meant I received a $200 stipend and was reimbursed for my travel making it profitable despite the only two copies sold. I also met a future cover artist there so big wins all around.

What I can best tell is that this further confirms that the audience for Indiepocalypse is smaller but more invested. At events the sentiments I tended to come across were “this is the most important thing” or aggressive indifference with little in between. Though this matches what I’ve seen online and in a similar ratio with the latter being far more common.

But what issues are people buying?

Issue sales

That big ol’ pledge drive number at the top is the reason for itch’s “inflated” number. Though technically the money from the Indiepocalypse Pledge Drive (more on that later) was evenly distributed as sales across every issue, it’s too irregular to measure wholly as sales through itch.

When I initially I didn’t know which issue would be on top and it’s very heartening to see that it is the kuš! collaboration issue is the highest because that means it worked? But before I get into the fun part of actually talking about the zine here is the expense breakdown.

Expenses

Straightforward where the money goes. Nice to see that royalties in 2021 were ~$700 less than the total expenses in 2020. Royalties are paid at a rate .05% before $400 in gross sales and .08% post.

Comparisons?

How does Indiepocalypse stack up to other similar collections? I don’t really want to think about it but here they are! For my sampling some are more direct analogs to Indiepocalypse and some are less so but include a lot of the same
(I’m using other people’s gross sales and mine after vendor cut because those are the numbers I have but they shouldn’t be so different)

Indiepocalypse (2 years): $9060.45
The Shorter Games With Worse Graphics Bundle Round 2 (~2 weeks): $19,910.05
Queer Games Bundle 2021 (~1 month): $112,627.04
Cartomancy: A Digital Games (~1 month): $31,791
SRG Mixtape Volume #1 (~1 day): ~$74,120

What’s it like to work on this thing?

I wrote about this in detail last year and rewriting would be more work and copy-pasting is frankly too much text so you can just read that. In short, because people sometimes assume otherwise, I created, organize, and fund Indiepocalypse entirely on my own.

What’s new for 2021 then?

Surprisingly a lot!

Commissioned Games!

The biggest change in 2021 is the addition of commissioning 1 new game per issue. Starting with issue #13 I contact a developer 3 months from an issue’s release (same for cover artists) and ask them if they’d like to make a new game for the zine. The conditions are
-$150 commission + standard contributor royalties
-Game can be whatever they want
-Game is exclusive for 1 month if the zine reaches $400 in sales or 3 months otherwise
-In the case of developers with Patreons, the game can be released through Patreon like normal and I provide them with a $5 off sale

Right up front, $150 is not a lot of money. I know that. Everyone does. In my pitch I recommend people treat it like a “casual weekend jam” because it helps alleviate a tiny bit of my guilt, but only a tiny bit. I’ll admit that it helps when someone has a public monthly income on Patreon because I can convince my self I’m just sort of subscribing at a very high tier.

The secret message of the commissioned games is that you don’t actually need a lot of (or any!) money to make a good art, games included. It’s something that people will tell you online, that you need to spend $XX to get good music or graphics or all the other pieces to make a good game but here’s a secret I’m willing to share with you. Lean in a sec. Spending a lot of money on art doesn’t make it any better. A short game about plums (or the lack thereof) can be better than a millions-dollar budget game thousands of people across multiple studios spent years making. That’s life! Nothing you can do about it! Winter (Issue#15) won damn top awards!

The aforementioned kuš! issue was even a bonus of completely commissioned issue made in collaboration with kuš! comics by randomly pairing developers I provided and and artists kuš! provided a la Comics x Games. It’s really my ideal bonus project and I still amazed it even happened.

Cassidy’s Bad Game Corner

As I started commissioning games I knew I needed to keep the zine contents leaner to avoid this project becoming too expensive. I did also want to have a regular feature and as luck would have it, while I was thinking about it, Cassidy of the Bad Game Hall of Fame posted about looking for work. The Bad Game Corner is celebration of Bad Art and the important lessons we can learn from engaging the frankly rotten bullshit. I love Bad Art, there’s often an enthusiasm to the work and an excitement of experiencing someone who may not know what they’re doing but is trying something.

Indiepocalypse Pledge Drive

The Indiepocalypse Pledge Drive was an 8 hour livestream to celebrate the 20th issue of Indiepocalypse and will continue with every 10th issue. It was a largely unplanned hangout with maybe a single planned segment (important lesson from a doctor of business) and was otherwise me surprisingly talking for almost 8 hours. There was a limited PWYW collection of every commissioned game to that point and a lifetime subscription to Indiepocalypse granted to one lucky donor.

It was a real mess (not in an intentional way) and want to improve on it immensely for the 2nd Annual.

Indiepocalypse Radio

Most every Saturday I host a radio show with guests who most often are Indiepocalypse contributors. It was inspired by shows like The Ambiguity Program and Trash Night that I like and an indie game publisher ‘show’ that was actually them just doing twitch and very boringly video games. I just kinda like radio shows and talking to people, not really much more to it. Never mind, started that last year. Time sure does move quick.

WHY DOES IT (STILL) NOT WORK

As an update on last year’s stance. Fuck if know, but I think I’m getting closer.

Plenty of last year’s reasons sure still apply (bad at promotion?) but you can reread those and I’ve got new ones!

The games are niche

Something going to events and seeing people check out the games has reminded me of is that some are these games are quite strange to the average game player! I will admit that I am very up my ass with regards to with exploring art but I forget that sometimes skews my perspective a bit. I love things like death of vansat finfail (Issue #22) but I am coming to terms with the fact that moving your average Gamer™ from Halo to that is maybe a bit much. There are plenty of more traditional games in Indiepocalypse with things like “goals”, “mechanics”, “gameplay loops”, “win/fail states”, and all those other things that Gamers™ crave but left to my own devices (and there are nobody else’s devices to stop me anyway) I gravitate towards the alternative in games. It’s the whole point of the damn zine!

I ain’t shit

Despite awareness about the zine spreading and (so far as I can tell) a good percentage of (at least the indie-aware) Industry being at least knowing it exists, it has not really caught on. Cynically perhaps, I assume this is because I have little social sway and even less money to throw around. Who knows.

Nobody is talking about the zine (even if they like it (or at least like the idea))

I’ve learned that everybody knowing about Indiepocalypse does very little if nobody is talking about it. There was belief that is just This and That person knew about the zine it would help but if they never mentioned it does no good. I noticed something that often happens with announcements with projects that I never see with Indiepocalypse, people commenting “cool!, “congratulations!”, and the like. It’s a small but increasingly noticeable thing that support of Indiepocalypse is, aside for a few stalwarts, largely passive and in a world of constantly shared promotion, passive promotion is the most easily ignored.

I think it’s entirely possible that it’s simply been around too long and people aren’t as excited about it if they were ever very excited about it begin with. People are also not invested me as a person making the desire to support the zine even less urgent. I think in this year on twitter there have been maybe 2-3 instances of someone talking about the zine by name (without me passive aggressively guilting them into it) and if people are talking about it anywhere else I have no way of knowing.

So why do I keep doing it?

i don’t know how to stop

At this point I am being propelled forwards by sheer momentum and spite. In particular this year I realized I am quite done with The Game Industry. My relationship with it has been
1. I wish the game industry would notice me.
2. Am I even in the game industry?
3. I am not a part of The Game Industry nor do I particularly care to be.

I was talking to someone on the radio show who somewhat casually dismissed someone working in the same artform as them before stepping back and wondered if they shouldn’t speak ill of a peer. It made me wonder (and I believe I even asked) if everyone working in the same medium as you is your peer. There are people working in every aspect of games whose work I like, but is everyone making games or working in games my peer? I certainly don’t think so! It’s caused me to really reconsider my place in the whole medium.

Bundles are one thing, but the increase in (infinitely more successful) more indie video game anthologies/collections are making me start to doubt my already tenuous footing. One of them even has a zine, which is a very specific thing I did knowing I needed an easy to ‘demo’ all the games at events. Now of course not everyone making an indie game collection needs to pay The Indiepocalypse Tax (links, credit) but the way a couple of them have framed Indiepocalypse reminds about every bad feeling I got from Game Industry types as a devloper.

When the zine was covered by Rock, Paper, Shotgun, someone at Super Rare Games commented on how it was like a “digital version” of Super Rare Mixtape. I’m not going to rehash why I think that’s weird (I told the person myself and you can look it up if you’re so inclined) but this highlights one of my main problems with The Games Industry. Or perhaps the self-centered nature of online? Like, if you actually think the project is cool why not actually support it financially or even promote it to your much larger following especially when you seemingly mostly just repost game news anyway?

Less egregious (especially since I like the project) is the casual dismissal (belittling?) of Indiepocalypse by the Cartomancy Anthology which, to be fair, is likely unintentional and poor phrasing but annoying and symptomatic of a problem I see anyway. I first took issue with it referring to itself as the “largest games anthology project EVER” which sure, maybe it’s an oversight or a PR brag. But their kickstarter update that refers to Indiepocalypse as a “community project” just furthers the sentiment I see everywhere that if you don’t have money you’re not a “real” project. (Indiepocalypse was also not even linked to unlike other larger, funded organizations mentioned in a previous post)

Community projects are neither a bad nor thing. Communities are increasingly become another resource to be exploited by creators large an small, but that is a whole other conversation.

Conclusion?

Indiepocalypse is not a community project. It is not the natural result of people coming together around a shared goal. It is something I started by myself about two years ago by sending a lot of cold emails and something I continue to organize by myself to this day. If one day I stopped putting out the zine and vanished, maybe someone would try something but “Indiepocalypse” would most certainly cease to exist. It’s possible Indiepocalypse has put a DIY energy into the indie game space that can’t be removed but that may (very likely) be an unearned sense of self importance.

As creator I find it difficult to take any pride in Indiepocalypse. After all I am not making anything, I’m just compiling work other people made and occasionally paying people to make new art. Sure it takes time to run Indiepocalypse, but everything takes time to do. If most every other bundle/anthology can offer more money and exposure what purpose does Indiepocalypse serve? A second-rate or side opportunity. I perhaps also knew I would never be the forerunner and be pushed out of this particular space by people with more resources, I’m just bitter it only took 2 years? And that I was never successful first?

I at least still believe that there is no substitute for Indiepocalypse’s status as being truly entry level. You don’t need to know anyone and nobody needs to know you. All you need is to make a game and submit it. Even if large publishers throw their hat in this particular ring, I think Indiepocalypse will still have this as a unique quality.

Plus, everyone is eventually going to get sick of everyone talking like they have too much media training and crave something real.

THE FUTURE PART II: NO FUTURE?

Another year-in-review of stats and feelings is done, so where does that leave me and my pal Indiepocalypse? I think I’m going to start by viewing Indiepocalypse less as a “indie game project” and more of an “indie art project”. The Games Industry has no need for me and unless I somehow fall into a pile of money, I don’t foresee it developing a need for me. I will continue to send regular press releases in hopes of getting some more “I’d love to write about it but won’t for no real reason”s but it can’t be my focus.

I feel there is a sentiment in independent art across all mediums that something needs to change. Everything is being funneled into 3-5 websites and if it’s not mostly those websites making all the money instead of the artists, those sites certainly preference those with more resources. I’m not quite sure what this means or where I am going to start, but at least it doesn’t make feel tired.

I really love Indiepocalypse, the games, and supporting the people involved. It’s still thing I very much want to exist in the world and see no suitable replacement yet. I also would like to be able to earn enough money to do only this. Ideal job tbh.

This review is complicated because my feelings about Indiepocalypse are complicated! But net positive!

Links for the people

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@PIZZAPRANKS

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