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Are Champions and HERO System "indie" games?


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After spending the last week at Origins Game Fair, I was impressed with the volume and variety of "indie" games. But with the rising popularity of these games, such as Fate, and the increasing amount of supporting material for them, it seems like the line is blurring between "indie" games and their opposite (whatever the opposite of indie is . . . "corporate?" "committed?" I don't know). Let's assume Dungeons & Dragons is the exact opposite, with Wizards of the Coast as its overlord. Somewhere in the middle, and I may be mistaken, but I think people still consider Monte Cook games to be "indie" since they were Kickstarter funded, although they have a very strong flgs presence and are very well funded and supported by secondary market material. They are also well attended at conventions. My question becomes, if being "indie" is to have limited or no affiliations with mainstream publishing, does HERO System count as an indie game? Even with its volumes and volumes of 5e/6e material?

 

I'm inclined to say yes, since it is largely self-published without the aid of a big publisher, has an online presence that outweighs its flgs presence, and is supported largely by independent, individual contributions of written material, etc. So, shouldn't "we" try to celebrate more vocally HERO System games as "indie" games in order to entice a new generation of gamers who want to support such endeavors? Conventions seem like a great way to promote the game system, and some people are simply junkies for new indie games. 

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If the game line is more or less its own company, I'd call it Indie. Owned by a larger company, I would not. Smaller companies like Cubicle 7 might edge their games into the category just about, even though technically they shouldn't. The term "Indie" feels more like a cultural affiliation than a technical category to me. A sort of "We're not the Man, man!" branding. There were lots of "Indie" bands from Seattle that were corporate as Hell. Whilst something like Pugmire might be produced by Onyx Path but somehow feels more small "labour of love" game than you'd think.

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Well, Champions started out as an "indie" game, and then grew to become a major product brand (mostly thanks to I.C.E.). Post-4th edition, however, it shrunk back down to indie status, and now it is more of a community project than a legitimate, fully commercial product line, at least in my view.

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Indie, rightly or wrongly, also tends to implied stripped down, modern design... a game designed for a unique experience rather than a "system" to be applied in many different ways with lots of support material. I think it is this, and its past as a major product brand (as zslane pointed out) that make it "feel weird" to consider Hero indie, even though right now, it probably is.

 

Like, there is a lot of "Fate" play and games and uses out there, so that it doesn't really feel indie to me, even though each individual example of a game designed with Fate behind it is/could be. Powered by the Apocalypse is a good example of open source "common axiomatic design" but the games that use all or parts of the PbtA 'system' are very much indie.

 

Hard to say, but clearly the community and current support are very much indie in nature.

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By that interpretation, how much non-indie is left out there?  I'll grant I'm not keeping up with the industry these days, but "big gaming company" that's not WotC seems largely an oxymoron.  Shadowrun shrank down.  Same with Storyteller's lines.  Pathfinder?  Not indie, but also weird because it's the last vestige of 3.5 D&D, and the later versions have...issues.  Would you consider Steve Jackson Games to be a "big publisher?"

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If you are producing your product exclusively through vehicles like Kickstarter, then that means you are operating independent of an established publisher, and that is the very definition of "indie" (i.e., indie being short for independent). The nature/style of your game design is orthogonal to your publishing stratum.

 

By this definition, most RPG "publishers" out there are indie, yes.

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2 hours ago, unclevlad said:

By that interpretation, how much non-indie is left out there?  I'll grant I'm not keeping up with the industry these days, but "big gaming company" that's not WotC seems largely an oxymoron.  Shadowrun shrank down.  Same with Storyteller's lines.  Pathfinder?  Not indie, but also weird because it's the last vestige of 3.5 D&D, and the later versions have...issues.  Would you consider Steve Jackson Games to be a "big publisher?"

 

Well there's Fantasy Flight Games. You can't call them Indie and they have several RPG lines. And Onyx Path might try to look Indie, but even if they're not big, they're still a professional outfit with permanent staff. Catalyst Game Labs which bought Shadowrun can't really be called Indie unless failure through your own terrible decisions counts as Indie now (it doesn't). Cubicle 7 has a real small press feel to them and I don't think they're big. But they crank out great stuff with licences like Doctor Who and Warhammer, so also not really Indie.

 

But honestly, it's not a word I usually think with.

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OK, but doesn't that beg the question...what *does* define indie?  In book publishing, is Michael Anderle indie?  Because his Kurtherian universe is huge now.  He's got a publishing imprint he's running, too.  What about his collaborators, who are using his imprint?

 

And what's 'big'?  Honestly, is even D&D 'big' right now?  It certainly was in the early 3.0 to 3.5 days, but now?  I'll grant that I've not even been in our B&N to check out the gaming shelves much the last several years, but my vague recollection is, it's been pretty dry.  Now, of course, D&D is the antithesis of indie, given that WotC is part of Hasbro.  Hasbro is most definitely Big.  Fantasy Flight might have quite a few products, but what's their aggregate sales?  Same with Onyx Path.  I wouldn't necessarily say that having a staff disqualifies you from being indie.

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40 minutes ago, unclevlad said:

OK, but doesn't that beg the question...what *does* define indie?  In book publishing, is Michael Anderle indie?  Because his Kurtherian universe is huge now.  He's got a publishing imprint he's running, too.  What about his collaborators, who are using his imprint?

 

And what's 'big'?  Honestly, is even D&D 'big' right now?  It certainly was in the early 3.0 to 3.5 days, but now?  I'll grant that I've not even been in our B&N to check out the gaming shelves much the last several years, but my vague recollection is, it's been pretty dry.  Now, of course, D&D is the antithesis of indie, given that WotC is part of Hasbro.  Hasbro is most definitely Big.  Fantasy Flight might have quite a few products, but what's their aggregate sales?  Same with Onyx Path.  I wouldn't necessarily say that having a staff disqualifies you from being indie.

 

I guess the B&N test is a good one. They carry the D&D stuff, and 5e has gotten pretty popular. It's gained enough traction to have started releasing more compendiums, campaign books, DM screens, spell cards, and all that stuff that screams "big business" in my mind.

 

I wonder if "big" and "small" aren't bad measurements. I may have made that distinction too soon. I think RDU Neil brings up a good point: a lot of people think of "indie" as being rules light, although that's not the only consideration. Monte Cook has several games based on the Cypher System, and indie gamers love his stuff. I think maybe one thing that makes things "indie" is that they tend to be more open sourced by fans of the game.

 

I bring this up only because I'm wondering why Champions, or HERO System, doesn't try to market itself with the indie gamers. They love trying new things, have a lot of energy, and enjoy exploring the possibilities of a game system. And they tend to produce a lot of secondary material. The common problem with HERO, that there are no adventures being produced, could be solved if you unleash some indie nerds on the scene!

 

This also makes me reconsider what the "Champions Now" Kickstarter might be about as well. Because it's taking a more "narrative rich" approach, like modern indie games, I wonder if it is trying to use a rules light version of Champions to lure in the indie crowd. I just wish that this was made more explicit in the Kickstarter pitch if it was the case. . . .

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52 minutes ago, unclevlad said:

OK, but doesn't that beg the question...what *does* define indie? ... I wouldn't necessarily say that having a staff disqualifies you from being indie.

 

"Indie" is short for independent, unless you want to reorient the term with a completely different etymology, in which case I'd need to know what origin word you prefer to treat it as having been derived from. But let's assume we all agree that it means "independent". The next question is, independent of what? Historically it meant independent of (i.e., not a member of) the cabal of large established publishers, where "large" meant having multiple product lines, a full-time staff working in numerous different departments (marketing, sales, design, development, layout, art, etc.), and an ongoing relationship with their domestic game distribution infrastructure.

 

Now it may be true that only a few companies remain which are still large enough by that standard to avoid the indie moniker, but that doesn't mean the definition of "indie" has changed (or has to change). It just means that the decades-long decline of the hobby has forced the vast majority of RPG creators today to operate as "indie" (self-)publishers. They've become the norm, perhaps, but they are still "indie", at least in the sense that they are independent of the kind of regular, sustainable revenue stream that a regular, sustained publishing schedule would provide.

 

The quick and dirty heuristic I use is this: if an RPG publisher does not operate as a full-time business providing a livable wage for more than its founder/owner, then it is an "indie"/"vanity" publisher.

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5 minutes ago, zslane said:

The quick and dirty heuristic I use is this: if an RPG publisher does not operate as a full-time business providing a livable wage for more than its founder/owner, then it is an "indie"/"vanity" publisher.

 

 

So you're saying only a one-man shop, more or less, can qualify as an indie?  Maybe, but that feels a little too narrow.

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45 minutes ago, Brian Stanfield said:

I bring this up only because I'm wondering why Champions, or HERO System, doesn't try to market itself with the indie gamers. They love trying new things, have a lot of energy, and enjoy exploring the possibilities of a game system. And they tend to produce a lot of secondary material. The common problem with HERO, that there are no adventures being produced, could be solved if you unleash some indie nerds on the scene!

 

At a guess?  Age.  It's toooo old!  *6* editions???? :)  That's not new and interesting.  That's Old Skool.  Your DAD played Champions, dude!!!

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8 minutes ago, unclevlad said:

 

So you're saying only a one-man shop, more or less, can qualify as an indie?  Maybe, but that feels a little too narrow.

 

In order for me to answer that I'd need you to define what you mean by "one-man shop". But let's put it this way, there are lots of one-map shops that have people (aside from the founder/owner, and not counting freelancers) doing work, but not making a regular wage, much less a living from it. Those "multi-person" operations are really one-man shops by any practical measure.

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Fun conversation (and I really appreciate Brian's goal of bringing it up in the first place), but I doubt we'll ever have a perfectly comprehensive definition of "indie." To me, I can't help but relate it to indie as a description of music... Indie Pop, Indie Rock, etc. The term is used to cover a lot of different music, and it has a certain historical connotation, coming out of the arc of Punk DIY in the late seventies, post-punk into alternative in the '80s and then a significant independent, creator owned movement in the '90s and on (Indie as a label really took hold in the 90's though it has been used throughout)... but at the same time, there is a particular aesthetic associated with indie beyond just the economics of it.

 

Indie rock/pop has a certain angular, off-kilter sound to it. The lyrics and content tend to be less mainstream, and the sound considered less than radio friendly (even though there are often break through hits). The overall aesthetic eschews mass appeal, down to its marketing, etc.

 

Applying this to any other business, in my mind, brings that aesthetic question. Is the game being produced to be a mass market product line (D&D) or is it being created as an expression of play and experiential design? I'm not saying the creators wouldn't love to land upon a popular product line that actually made them lots of money somehow, but that isn't the driving force behind it (which clearly is with the classics, D&D, or White Wolf in the '90s, etc.)

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15 hours ago, unclevlad said:

 

At a guess?  Age.  It's toooo old!  *6* editions???? :)  That's not new and interesting.  That's Old Skool.  Your DAD played Champions, dude!!!

 

That's funny, and sorta true, but I'd have to say that a lot of the "indie" gamers I just spent the better part of a week with are also into stripped down OSR adventures too, especially one-shots for conventions, etc. So the indie, narrative-based, rules-light games tend to converge with OSRs in their experiences. That's when a little light came on for me, wondering why we don't tap into that more. Amorphous Blob hosts at least one Champions 3e game each year, and it seems like there are a lot of possibilities for this to work as an introduction to Champions. Perhaps this is what Ron Edwards's "Champions Now" project is for?

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1 hour ago, ghost-angel said:

IMO "indie game" is a lot like "alt music" - a useless title that tells you nothing, makes someone sound pretentious, and ultimately fails to help anyone figure out if the product is any good at all.

 

13 hours ago, RDU Neil said:

Fun conversation (and I really appreciate Brian's goal of bringing it up in the first place), but I doubt we'll ever have a perfectly comprehensive definition of "indie." To me, I can't help but relate it to indie as a description of music... Indie Pop, Indie Rock, etc. The term is used to cover a lot of different music, and it has a certain historical connotation, coming out of the arc of Punk DIY in the late seventies, post-punk into alternative in the '80s and then a significant independent, creator owned movement in the '90s and on (Indie as a label really took hold in the 90's though it has been used throughout)... but at the same time, there is a particular aesthetic associated with indie beyond just the economics of it.

 

Indie rock/pop has a certain angular, off-kilter sound to it. The lyrics and content tend to be less mainstream, and the sound considered less than radio friendly (even though there are often break through hits). The overall aesthetic eschews mass appeal, down to its marketing, etc.

 

Applying this to any other business, in my mind, brings that aesthetic question. Is the game being produced to be a mass market product line (D&D) or is it being created as an expression of play and experiential design? I'm not saying the creators wouldn't love to land upon a popular product line that actually made them lots of money somehow, but that isn't the driving force behind it (which clearly is with the classics, D&D, or White Wolf in the '90s, etc.)

 

I'm leaning towards ghost-angel's assessment, but in the minds of many young people, it holds meaning. I guess like "being a rebel" used to mean something when we were teenagers. I guess it's more an attitude of (perceived) rebellion than anything. RDU Neil taps into this attitude in his description of punk and post-punk in the '80s. 

 

Why I'm bringing this up in the first place, however, is as a way to perhaps reorient the way we try to present the game(s) of HERO System. If you look at Jason Walters's new update of the "Champions Now" announcement, it sorta taps into this notion. Perhaps Ron Edwards is seeing what I'm seeing: presenting a light version of the Champions rules (a la Amorpous Blob), recast in the more contemporary, and perceived "indie," approach of narrative games. 

 

I'm now reconsidering my support of "Champions Now" as a result of what I saw happening in real time at Origins . . .

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1 hour ago, ghost-angel said:

IMO "indie game" is a lot like "alt music" - a useless title that tells you nothing, makes someone sound pretentious, and ultimately fails to help anyone figure out if the product is any good at all.

 

Thank you.  I think you  hve a much better definition than anything I've managed.  There are role playing games..and that's about it. Who cares about a label based on the non-corporate purity of the producer?

Ok, rant on a soapbox time: Indie does seems to come up in the area of 'games I really don't like'  quite often. I  find the idea that a 'rules light' game  is a better vehicle for a "narrative driven game" or "Storytelling game" (other terms that I'm not fond of) silly. Having mechanics evolved beyond flipping a coin or 'just roll some dice and make everything up on the fly" is not a barrier to making a fun game plot and characters. As for 'epic storytelling'--its gaming, not War and Peace, Shakespeare, and Game of Thrones.
 

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I think we're chasing a red herring in trying to define the term.

 

Despite the fact that the thread title asks the question and the first post explicitly asks "Does Hero System count as an indie game?" I don't think that's what Mr. Stanfield is really meaning to ask.

 

The important questions aren't things like "What's an Indie game" or "is Hero System an indie game" but rather, "Can Hero System be successfully marketed to the contingent of gamers who identify themselves as 'indie gamers,'  should it be, and if so, how?"

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary and I are in indie-anapolis if that makes any difference.

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22 hours ago, unclevlad said:

And what's 'big'?  Honestly, is even D&D 'big' right now?  It certainly was in the early 3.0 to 3.5 days, but now?  I'll grant that I've not even been in our B&N to check out the gaming shelves much the last several years, but my vague recollection is, it's been pretty dry.  Now, of course, D&D is the antithesis of indie, given that WotC is part of Hasbro.  Hasbro is most definitely Big.  Fantasy Flight might have quite a few products, but what's their aggregate sales?  Same with Onyx Path.  I wouldn't necessarily say that having a staff disqualifies you from being indie.

 

Fantasy Flight produce the X-Wing and Armada games, tonnes of board games and several role-playing game lines including WH40K (three related game lines) and Star Wars. The latter has churned out at least twenty hardback books. Even if odd games are small, their ownership or marketing by big companies like FFG disqualify them. Indie was a music term (along with an advertising schtick of "Oooh, isn't the Music Industry evil... Fight it by listening to us!") meaning not owned or marketed by a larger business. So even games like Pugmire which is small and was the brainchild of a single, home author with community support, isn't really Indie because Onyx Path bought rights to market it under their label, just like EMI bought up small, promising bands to market them. Indie really means "we made it and it's ours". Not Indie means "we made it for somebody else". Whether that "somebody else" is another company or a board of directors. It's why Monte Cook is considered Indie - because even though he's established and long-term figure in the industry, he's still someone making his own product and selling it, no matter how successful. And Richard Thomas isn't really, even if he put together a Kickstarter for Pugmire and it looks like a small press game - because he partnered with an established RPG company that deals in RPGs to market and sell it.

 

Hero *is* an Indie game so far as I'm aware. It's the labour of a few people (plus a lot of supplemental help) who sold it to the public themselves.

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5 hours ago, Brian Stanfield said:

Why I'm bringing this up in the first place, however, is as a way to perhaps reorient the way we try to present the game(s) of HERO System. If you look at Jason Walters's new update of the "Champions Now" announcement, it sorta taps into this notion. Perhaps Ron Edwards is seeing what I'm seeing: presenting a light version of the Champions rules (a la Amorpous Blob), recast in the more contemporary, and perceived "indie," approach of narrative games. 

 

I don't think the Indie brand will help sell it (but can't hurt). It's not what people think of as "Indie". It's not small, it's not fluffy, and it has a tendency to bite. The big thing that holds Hero back - and it's also the big thing that makes it valuable - is that it's a programming language. And the market for programming languages is programmers. Most people want a finished piece of software.

 

Maybe that's putting it too strongly. If you want to whip up a Superhero game, I guess you sort of have to take the Hero approach to make it able to cover all the different character types. But the fact remains that you're buying a box of bits, not a box of toys.

 

I presume FHC and similar are a recognition of this and an attempt to provide a pared down and more focused version that people can get into more easily. A recognition that a huge blank sheet is simply too much for some people and they'd prefer a small blank sheet they have a reasonable chance to fill. And I think that effort needs to be taken. But I don't know if it's the right approach. It's still very much a blank sheet. My attempt to solve the issue was to build a much more specific setting and rule system using Hero. I may market it one day, I'm quite proud of it. But what I did was to create specific character templates not in the way Hero supplements usually do, as suggestions of "hey - you could do something like this" but as specific "Choose one of these six races. Choose one of these twelve classes". I built D&D in Hero 6e. I provided choices rather than freedom.

 

And it worked. I had a few people telling me I was flying against the whole intent of Hero. And you know what? I totally was. I DID turn it into D&D. But you know what? It was a better version of D&D. Because Hero is a very powerful and well-thought out system. I took what I found valuable in Hero (great rules and balance) and used it to make a finished game that people could pick up and get stuck in. If they ever want to use Hero, well, the appendix has the points breakdowns, but they don't need to. I'm convinced it has the potential to be successful if I ever get it to publishable form. I think that's what Hero needs for mass-market appeal. Sell complete games made with Hero, rather than hope to make Hero more universal by exposing people to subsets of it at a time.

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2 hours ago, Lucius said:

 

I think we're chasing a red herring in trying to define the term.

 

Despite the fact that the thread title asks the question and the first post explicitly asks "Does Hero System count as an indie game?" I don't think that's what Mr. Stanfield is really meaning to ask.

 

The important questions aren't things like "What's an Indie game" or "is Hero System an indie game" but rather, "Can Hero System be successfully marketed to the contingent of gamers who identify themselves as 'indie gamers,'  should it be, and if so, how?"

 

Lucius Alexander

 

The palindromedary and I are in indie-anapolis if that makes any difference.

 

Thank you for getting to my main point, which I may not have been very clear about. What I really want to know is, can we get Champions in front of new eyes and drum up new support by tapping into the "indie" crowd, who seems to always be looking for the next cool thing (even if it's the next Old School Revived thing). 

 

Really, once the character creation cards come out, it seems like they ought to be packaged with Champions Complete and marketed as quick chargen with streamlined rules that will allow for more play/storytelling time.

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