Kylan Coats intended to start a studio even before making a game, as a student spending summers between classes as a QA tester. At the time, 30s seemed like the right age for this transition. If things went as planned, he would have the experience to succeed, but if it all blew up, he could always resume a AAA career. Coats worked in the industry for 14 years, but it wasn't until an unexpected layoff at Obsidian Entertainment that her husband reminded her of that belief. "He talked about it like, 'Hey, you've been talking about starting your own studio for a long time, why not now?'" Coats says.

After a good year of contract work, more profitable than any year before, he founded Crispy Creative. His first game was an idea he had been thinking about for a while. “Each developer always has a few unique game ideas,” he says. A long journey to an uncertain end is, in Coats' words, a queer narrative space opera. Players control a rogue spaceship fleeing between colorful Moebius-like planets; The tasks are to take drag queens on great adventures. It's not the kind of game a bigger studio would touch, he says. Not only does Crispy allow him to be creative, but his work environment is healthy: employees don't have to kill themselves to meet a deadline, and he can promote mental health and inclusion. In the past, he had been critical of leadership, so starting Crispy was a time to give up or shut up, he says.

“I have been independent for more than four years now. In about six months it's going to be the longest job I've ever had, which is really scary," he says. "But also really crazy because I'm like, 'Why didn't I done earlier? "I make so much more money, I have so much more freedom, why did I get involved in politics with big studios. And now I've talked to other people who are doing the same thing. Coats is a small part of two big movements in the gaming industry. One is noticeable. Last month, Microsoft bought Activision-Blizzard for $68 billion, its biggest technology purchase ever. Eleven days later, Sony, whose shares fell following the Microsoft deal, gobbled up Bungie, creator of Halo and provider of Destiny. The gaming industry seems to be consolidating. But the industry is also fragmenting less noticeably. Developers say they feel like they're part of a wave: veterans, tired of the growing corporatization of the industry, are leaving the AAA world to chart their own paths.

What is an independent studio for?
Independent is a sticky word. "Indie" evokes an aesthetic - pixel art or lo-fi graphics; deep themes or sophisticated mechanics – as well as a given, an ambiguity that can blur the facts on the ground. Independent funding varies: Developers tend to differentiate their status based on the size of their budget. Crispy, for example, is closer to what most people think of when they think of indie development: a "single I" in response to AAA. We are tiny and rambunctious; Balancing client work, free time, and quite a bit of hope to create our first title,” Coats says.

Studio Gardens, founded by the artists responsible for Journey, Dustforce and What Remains of Edith Finch, is called "Triple I" because it received significant financial backing, at least for a small team. The founders of Gravity Well, former Respawn Entertainment developers who created Apex Legends, explain that they are too big to consider themselves independent, but they are independent in that they have creative control, prioritize the health of the team and offer the team a significant benefit. share of our games," the team said via email.

Developers are artists, but making games is work. In fact, development, notoriously exploitative and disruptive, is precisely the kind of work that many of us are less likely to tolerate because of the pandemic. A few stories of R/Antiwork chasing employees with broken limbs for handing over a stool, Blizzard's sexual harassment scandals, and the Big Layoff, Coats says, might as well be called the Big Reprioritization. "When you're faced with a potentially deadly global pandemic, ask yourself why you're killing yourself for all these things," he says. "Because next week you could get sick and be intubated in the hospital."