Concept: Indie Heroes

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Game Concepts

Like many people, I have found myself with a little extra free time lately due to the near ubiquitous lockdowns in reaction to the Corona Virus. While I am still blessed to have my day job, our work has been a bit slow and I’m using a bit of that extra time to connect with my readers (don’t tell my boss).

When I’m struck with random inspiration for a game, I jot down my ideas in a list and save them to my computer for future reference. Generally I have trouble finding any free time to work on these concepts, but just writing down the basics helps get them out of my head so I don’t have to worry about them when working on my larger and more important projects. I’m going to try to take advantage of a little free time to publicly brainstorm some of these concepts and see if anything useful comes out of them.

Starting with…

Indie Heroes

Who gets the call when a deranged scientist threatens to destroy a local monument? Who do people call for when theyneed a hero to rescue them from certain peril?

You. Hopefully. You’ve got to pay the rent, after all.

If you’re going to be the number one choice for heroics, you have to remain on everyone’s mind. Your popularity is key to your success. To gain popularity, you must remain on-brand and build a large enough following to sustain your lifestyle.

It’s not always easy being an indie hero, but at least you get to make your own hours and call your own shots. You don’t have to work for the larger teams that always want to take a cut of  your profits, share your spotlight, or kick you to the curb once you’ve outlived your usefulness.

About Indie Heroes

Indie Heroes is a game about superheroes who take advantage of the gig economy to pay their own way in the world. Characters must vie for the hearts and minds of the public so they can land enough jobs to keep the lights on for another month.

Indie hero life is tough, but rewarding. Most who start on this path end up burning out and going back to work for a traditional team. Those who stick with it and manage to gain a bit of recognition tend to fall in love with the lifestyle though, even if it means not receiving Accidental Death and Disjunction insurance.

Game Mechanic Concepts

  • Indie Heroes as a concept could fit with most super hero RPGs. It would also work well with the Fudge System, the Pip System, or any other generic / universal system that handles supers as a genre.
  • A few key considerations in terms of game mechanics:
  • Heroes have to find a way to get paid for their work. They can’t exactly save someone’s life and then bill them for the effort either. Some have tried that, but they found that needy citizens would usually just call a hero who was willing to work for free.
  • There’s an app called Super which people use to hail a hero for non-emergency needs. Supr takes a 20% cut of every transaction and heroes are paid as contractors, not employees, so they don’t receive insurance benefits from the company. Heroes need to do their best to maintain a 5-tar rating with the app, lest they get passed over.
  • HeroTube is a trendy website where people can watch videos of crime fighting and day saving in action. Heroes can monetize their channel through ads, affiliate sales, , and sponsorships. The website has a high signal to noise ratio, meaning it can be difficult to get discovered. Heroes need to work hard on improving their video production, building their personal brand, and keeping their videos exciting.
  • Branding. Each hero has their own schtick, and fickle consumers tend to unsubscribe (or at least leave nasty comments) when you do something different. This can lead to sometimes doing the same old routine constantly, but whatever the fans want, right?
  • Branding includes things like: costumes, color schemes, personality, and power schemes. Dark heroes  need to brood, comical heroes need to crack jokes, etc. A little bit of off-brand action isn’t a problem, but characters who stray too far from their identity risk losing the interest of fans, which means fewer subs and less income.
  • With luck, a hero will attract an Arch Nemesis. That hero is often the first person called to the scene when their Arch Nemesis strikes, and view counts tend to skyrocket when a hero and their nemesis face off. It’s great when a nemesis breaks out of prison and comes back for revenge. It’s not so great if the nemesis reforms and decides to give up their life of crime.
  • Team-ups and collabs are a great way to build an audience and extend your reach as a hero. Too much teaming up  may threaten your cred as an Indie though.

Design Challenges

So far, I like where this oddball game is headed in terms of design. It pokes fun at modern conventions and there is probably a lot of space here for satire. There’s likely even some design space for teaching the fundamentals of YouTubing or gig working.

There are a few design challenges from an RPG perspective though. This game appears to lend itself best to individual characters and their stories. Most RPGs are team-oriented though, so that can pose a problem.

This game might be fun as a solo RPG, but the humor seems like it would lend itself better to groups of players.

It could be formed as a storytelling RPG and each player would pass the scene to another as they described what was happening. That seems like it wouldn’t have as much room for  in-depth action scenes though.

We could loosen up the concept of “indie” to include teams of indie heroes, kind of like an indie rock band or a YouTube channel with multiple lead personalities. I like this approach, but it comes with another consideration. Who is the team’s overall manager and what happens when other members of the team have a disagreement with what direction to take the team?


Other Thoughts

I often return to the idea of this game because its premise really appeals to me as an indie designer and a supers fan. Ironically, it doesn’t fit well with my brand, which I have been striving to tailor more toward games involving people with disabilities or family-friendly games. As a genre, Super does have some precedent for characters with disabilities. However, those characters tend to “buy off” their disabilities with super powers. I’d like to see a supers RPG that doesn’t do that, but I’m not sure if a silly game like this is really the platform for that issue.

What do you think? Is this a concept you could see yourself getting to the gaming table? Are there other considerations I hadn’t made? Let me know what you think.

Series NavigationIndie Heroes, Continued >>