You can choose an art style that is broadly accessible, or not.
You can have training in your new mechanics, or not.
You can expect to make money at your art, or not.
You can see your art as a business, or not.
You can regard player needs as paramount, or not.
You can require absolute adherence to your own artistic vision, or not.
You can embrace the sordid need for marketing, or not.
You can select a populist price point, or not.
You can wish for many to embrace your work, or not.
Some of these work well together. Some of these don’t. For example, making money works well at only a few points on the spectrum. Hewing closely to an artistic vision only works well at others.
You as an artist, a craftsperson, and a businessperson (for you are probably all three) choose where you want to fall on these points. It is a game of tradeoffs.
You can lament that the tradeoffs exist, but you can’t really lay BLAME for them. If you choose to make inaccessible work, the world doesn’t owe you a living, regardless of its artistic merit. In fact, the world has a notoriously poor record for rewarding artistic merit, across all of history.
The media has always celebrates outliers. News is outliers from the norm. We shouldn’t construct our lives according to the news.
If you are given advice on how to water down your artistic vision in order to make more money, said advice may be crass commercialism. It may also be advice on how to get to keep making anything at all, because people who can’t afford to make art often simply don’t make art.
If you are making game artwork that is consciously a reference to art styles of years past that were based on technical limitations experienced by players from a specific era, you are choosing to speak to a specific audience. That audience might not be very big.
You can have a highly deliberate consciously chosen style of art and music that few people like. It might even be brilliant.
You can have a rich, subtle, complex message in your work that nobody can read/see/hear because they are not equipped to do so, or because you expressed it in Sanskrit, or because they think that sort of thing is pretentious.
Self-expression can emerge through many different choices. Some self-expression is not idiosyncratic. It might even be populist, or mass market.
You might make shovelware because you have kids to feed, and it’s an homage to the games of your childhood, and you get personal satisfaction out of it, and you put your soul into it even if nobody notices the personal touches, and you might get zero respect from a critical establishment that has different yardsticks for validity.
Art might even be found in “smaller-scale, slightly off-beat versions of already commercially successful formulas.”
You might be alarmed by someone saying “let’s pray to God the shovelware market suffocates itself” because it means someone doesn’t want you to make a living or exercise your creative faculties doing what you love. Or it might mean that you failed to reach them and that means you work is an artistic failure because you meant to be all-inclusive. Or that it’s a success, because it wasn’t for them.
Accessibility is sometimes the hard, rewarding, artistic choice. It is also sometimes the compromising, demeaning, pandering choice. Depending on who your audience is, it might be both at the same time.
A given “indie game insider” group probably only sees a miniscule fraction of indie titles itself, and is as much an echo chamber as the mainstream press is.
It’s awfully easy to judge, and there are many ways to be right. Everything in this article is also right, from a certain point of view, and you should read it.
Points of view are wonderful things, as long as they don’t exclude other points of view. My personal point of view is that Michael Brough’s games are really interesting, and you should play them. I like his work. It’s not very accessible, and most people won’t like the art. 🙂