By helping emerging gaming studios find an audience, Amazon is buying itself goodwill in the developer community.
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Attempting to address one of the biggest obstacles facing independent game developers, Amazon.com on Thursday launched the Indie Games Store to help game buyers discover the work of emerging game makers.
"Discoverability" has become a major issue for small game studios, which typically do not have the marketing resources to build public awareness that their games exist amid the hundreds of apps being released in app stores and on the Web every day.
"Powerhouse game studios don't hold a monopoly on inventiveness or creativity, and some of the best games of all time were created on a shoestring by two or three people with a shared vision," wrote Peter Heinrich, technical evangelist at Amazon.com, in a blog post. "It's hard to get noticed, though. If you're an indie game developer, it's usually a headache to get your game in front of people, both gamers and reviewers. Amazon recognizes this."
The Indie Games Store itself could be a bit more discoverable: It's visible from the Digital Games menu on the Amazon.com website, but not from the higher-level section, Video Games. It's accessible directly from a fairly obvious URL, however: www.amazon.com/indiegames.
The Indie Games Store exists, as Heinrich puts it, "to specifically help indie game developers with promoting their PC, Mac and browser-based games while helping gamers discover a large and growing selection of innovative indie games."
Mobile games need not apply, which is probably for the best because there are so many of them -- filtering and discoverability might just be two sides of the same coin.
Valve's Steam already does a pretty good job of providing exposure to titles from smaller game companies. But perhaps there's room for competition.
Some of the game companies represented in the Indie Games Store aren't exactly the sort of shoestring operations described by Heinrich. Double Fine, for example, was founded more than a decade ago and has about five dozen employees. It's a bit beyond the indie stereotype of a programmer or two working out of an apartment, fueled by credit card debt and caffeine.
But there are also companies that hew closer to the traditional indie image: Gaijin Games and Subset Games, for example.
An Amazon.com spokeswoman said the following factors are considered in determining whether a game studio qualifies for the Indie Game Store: 1) whether the studio refers to itself as an indie; 2) the size of the studio -- indies typically have fewer than 50 employees, and often fewer than 10; 3) the price of the game, typically under $20; 4) financial backing, which indies usually don't have; and 5) the publishing model -- indies usually self-publish.
In conjunction with the launch of the Indie Game Store, Amazon is introducing several promotions to encourage customers to consider indie games. These include:
-- Indie Spotlight, a Web page Q&A that promotes one indie developer every week;
-- Indie Bundles, packaged sets of five, six or 10 games for $9.99, which are likely to do more for recognition than revenue;
-- Gift with Purchase, through which buyers of indie games will receive codes to redeem for three pre-selected titles, for free; and
-- Indie Gamer's Choice, a contest in which game players vote on which of two competing game makers should be featured in the store.
Other app store operators, namely Apple and Google, also take steps to help game makers market their titles. Amazon's effort, though, appears to be the most promising for indies because it excludes the big companies that tend to claim the lion's share of attention.
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