Indiepocalypse – an interview with PIZZA PRANKS

The “indiepocalypse” is a buzz phrase that plenty of people in this industry know about, but we’re not talking about that. Rather, we’re talking about Indiepocalypse – a monthly series of curated games tied to a zine. Since February, Andrew “PIZZA PRANKS” has been putting together monthly anthologies of games from various developers in hopes to show off the variety that can be found in the indie game space, as if to counter its namesake.

Andrew reached out to me about the October edition, which happens to include Is It That Deep, Bro? I decided that I wanted to take it another step forward and asked him some interview questions, and he was happy to oblige.

The cover art for the first Indiepocalypse, by Peter Landry.

What exactly is the curation process for Indiepocalypse? Do developers submit games for you to handpick or do you approach developers themselves?

The process of finding games is fairly straightforward. Each month I make a new jam page on itch and do my very best to drive people to submit their games. In addition to that, I also seek out at least 2 entries (maybe more depending on the number of submissions I get organically) because I want to fill out the “something” the bundle-zine has been missing, add something I like, or just because I know my reach is very small and plenty of people who would be interested will never hear about Indiepocalypse. Issue #6 for instance, includes a game by Japanese developers who would have never found out about the bundle-zine.

The actual goal of curation is about finding and showing off the breadth of what indie games has to offer and putting that in each month’s release. I try to approach submissions on their own terms and intentions instead whether or not I “like” them. Most important though is that they are interesting, which is almost the most undefinable trait possible. Sometimes I have no idea what game will be interesting until after I’ve completely finished it.

How successful would you say Indiepocalypse is by itself and how successful do you think it is at introducing readers to new developers?

Box of Limes, by LadyLeia, from the fourth issue.

Gauging success is one of the most difficult parts of evaluating Indiepocalypse. The fact that it’s come out for 9 months straight without missing a release or the 10 developer count is a huge success to me. If you evaluate it by how well it sells or whether people are even aware of existence, the success is a bit less so. No issue of Indiepocalypse has made it’s money back (and that’s just counting the money paid to developers not other contributing artists) and if they are featured on the front page of itch, issues don’t even reach 1000 views.

However, the goal of Indiepocalypse was to always play the long game. Past issues are regularly advertised and the issues are sorted from first to last on my personal website. Furthermore, most of the games (and certainly the developers) are not new for the issue they’re in and that itself is intentional. Indiepocalypse is as much a work of curated preservation as much as it is a monthly bundle and while right now it seems that mostly seems to be the contributors being introduced to each other (each contributor gets a free copy), I hope Indiepocalypse will serve as a big directory of cool gamemakers in the future.

There’s also the secret store page you get access to when signing up for the newsletter that doesn’t have the actual games, just free copies of the accompanying PDF zines for each issue. But I have no way of really knowing if that leads people towards devs or the bundle-zine proper. I sure hope it does though!

With the current climate of COVID-19 limiting conventions, do you think there will be more emerging alternatives for exposure for indie developers like Indiepocalypse?

The truly unfortunate part of every event being cancelled is that Indiepocalypse was largely made for in person events. The PDF zine was made to be printed out as an easier way to “demo” the games than having at this point 90+ games available at any moment. Especially since some of the tabletop games would be nigh impossible to demo in most settings.

I think (and this is something that ties into pretty much every following question) that indie games are approaching a point where there’ll be a split within indie games and I’m sure plenty of insufferable classifications will come with it. Broadly speaking, I feel there is a divide between the technically-independently-owned-indie and the aesthetically-indie, or something to that effect. In most other artforms indie (at least as I am aware of it) is something aside from the most mainstream if not in direct opposition to it. Indie games that are trotted out onto the E3 main stage and/or are covered by major outlets tend to be, for lack of a better term at the moment, safe. Indiepocalypse and countless far more successful (10mg, Dread X, etc.) bundles will hopefully provide a platform for developers making more niche and outsider art.

Similarly, do you think that there’s room for alternatives to GDC? To me, GDC runs into the same issue of conventions in that they’re expensive gatekeepers to “legitimacy” as a developer.

Yes. Full stop. Yes. GDC especially is an industry trade show for corporations that indies got suckered into because there was nothing else. It’s entirely fine to want to take the indie to AAA career path but that’s what GDC is. The problem is that games was (and largely still is) a big soup where AAA, AA, indie, and everything else are all sloshing around together. That’s how you wind up with an event like GDC seeming like an essential event because everybody is there because it’s pretty much the only one. For countless developers (especially non-US based ones) just finding the time and money to travel to events can be prohibitive.

Local indie game events or really any local art events would be preferable to GDC. I used to go to a local punk flea market that I would consider an infinitely better investment than a million GDCs.

“Legitimacy” is almost an entirely different and miserable problem plaguing games. The idea that any platform, award, sales figure, or anything else make you legitimate is complete bullshit. You don’t need some business magazine to make you valid. The fact that there is little recognition outside of these things is the problem. I often tell people that a big problem with indie games is that the people doing the hard work of covering mostly indies can have as small if not smaller audiences than the indies they’re covering. This leaves little room for someone to survive as a purely ‘indie darling’ without mainstream success since there isn’t (so far as I can see) that major mainstream/indie split in games. This leads to mainstream success through mainstream methods feeling like the only viable path to success.

Considering some frustration I’ve seen about marketing from you, do you believe that marketing is important for indie developers, in spite of the pageantry?

A snippet from the first Indiepocalypse zine.

My main issue with marketing is that I find it incredibly boring. I have gone through the ‘good press release’ guides and cannot possibly imagine the person that actually enjoys writing or reading them and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It all feels like business bullshit that everyone agreed to but hasn’t thought about why. Another symptom of chasing and emulating big companies in a way that makes no sense for individuals. Even listening to journalists themselves give pitch advice, they imply that you have a community manager or someone for PR and are not in fact one person who is probably doing something else to make money. Like, is anyone really expecting me to hand craft 50+ personalized press releases each month?

Of course you need to tell people about the things you do. I just feel most marketing advice is irrelevant for what I’m doing. Pitching to major outlets can especially feel like I’m pitching a 3 & 1/2 art house piece about a Belgian mother’s daily routine to a website that just reported on a game’s latest 10-meme-cycle-too-late season pass skin. And I’m supposed to figure out how to do that! I’ve been focusing more on seeking out writers who specifically might cover things like Indiepocalypse but that is yet another time consuming task.

I suppose the problem is that there doesn’t feel like there is a strong desire (outside of aforementioned small sites doing The Work) to discover games. I remember recently seeing an article about a bold pioneer venturing into the games delivered to them Microsoft’s game pass to ‘discover’ games. It’s just that I feel a (perhaps imagined) fear in other artforms of always being too casual in my interests that drives me to seek out more works. I never feel this with games. I think a little touch of (nonaggressive, non-exclusionary) snobbery can be good for an artform.

Do you believe that indie developers should cooperate more as a way of finding mutual success?

Yes. 100%. Or at least we won’t succeed in constant competition. But at the same time I don’t think every indie needs to like or support every other indie’s work. I think that mentality is because that previously mentioned soup is all fighting for the same space so it feels especially mean-spirited to create any disadvantage for someone who is already competing with major corporations. That’s why indies need to work to create a space completely divorced from the AAA space. And that’s going to take a lot of time and work but I think it needs to be done long term. In a world where 200+ employee companies have become ‘indie’ there needs to be a move to build a distinct scene.

The idea for Indiepocalypse came from comic anthologies, zines, and other short form opportunities in other artforms. Bundles help to highlight creators making smaller games as well as adding value to smaller games in general. In an ideal world there will be an audience for hour-long $10 games and I think a big part of that is indies acting like it already exists until we just will it into existence.

You can check out all the current Indiepocalypse issues on the PIZZA PRANKS site and the New issues are intended to come out on the first Friday of every month. The 11th issue scheduled for December is currently accepting submissions, so if you’re interested in becoming part of this project, try to enter it!

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