Indie | A Star and a Salesman
By Fraser McMillan
“Does whatever you’re paying for teach you anything? Will you remember and respect it? Will you use it again? Did it provide you with an experience you’ve never had?”
These are the words of Justin Leingang, commercial developer by day and the independent one-man studio CosMind by night. “Answers to questions like this don’t have to be ‘deep’ or ‘artsy’ at all,” he continues. “In the case of a video game – even if what you learned is how to overcome a challenging reflex-based obstacle – if the reward for that effort gratified you, then it was truly valuable.”
I couldn’t have asked for a more thoughtful, interesting or unambiguously true answer. It certainly wasn’t one deserved by my short-sighted question about how sizable an indie game must be before it can be justifiably charged for. Justin is clearly someone who places the inherent interactivity of the medium above all else, and his release Glum Buster, the fruit of four years’ hard work, is evidence of this.
The game itself is, in all honesty, probably the best indie release this year – and, indeed, most other years in which the scene has been active. It’s haunting, mysterious, beautifully designed and deceptively substantial. The mechanics of play are applied in dozens of ways encompassing several genres and styles – not bad for a game that uses just two buttons outside of character movement. On top of that, the puzzles are exquisite, leading the player on organically in a way that only Jonathan Blow’s Braid could hope to challenge. Above all, though, it stays true to the name. Not only is it called “Glum Buster” because the player character must rid in-game creatures of a dark substance known as “glum”, but because, in his own words, Leingang hopes to “bust some glum in real life” to boot.
Glum Buster is, you see, ‘charityware’. While the game is offered as a free download, users can donate money to the project on its website, and when twenty-five people have pledged money (one “round”), Leingang fires off more than half of the income to the Starlight Children’s Foundation. The charity works tirelessly to provide seriously and terminally ill children with family days out and in-hospital entertainment that would have otherwise been difficult to pursue. “I chose Starlight because it’s one of the most unique and noble charities I have ever known about. The fact that they are focused on those in need of happiness is unlike anything else out there,” says Justin. “They’re undertaking such an enormous challenge; trying their best to conquer intangibles that differ from person to person, from moment to moment. There is no single solution. There is no prescribed antidote. Yet the members of Starlight are out there doing their best to help bring some happiness to youth who are in serious want of it. Truly awesome.”
The charity’s cut of donations started at 51 per cent of takings, increasing by one per cent upon the completion of each round. Justin hopes that figure will eventually reach 99 per cent, with the remainder of that covering only continued PayPal costs; “I tend to donate to charities quite a bit,” he writes, “and sometimes it feels ‘too easy’ for me – almost as if it really doesn’t mean anything. I hope that doesn’t sound negative, because it’s not meant to be.” It’s is an incredibly fresh approach to selling a game, or indeed any kind of software, and perhaps a more worthwhile use for your cash than lining the pockets of the suited boardroom dullards that control the mainstream of the industry.
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