The Experimentation and Positive Influence of Indie Games
The gaming industry is, well, an industry. In any business or industry, sales are important. The problem with industries is that they often stagnate and rarely innovate. This happens in the gaming industry quite often. A game that tries something new and becomes incredibly popular. For the next few years, every game attempts to emulate it. This is particularly notable in the triple A industry where millions of dollars are on the line if a game fails. No matter how much a game is adored by fans, publishers are interested in numbers. It’s very rare that a game bombs and receives a sequel. Entire game series have been scrapped due to the failure of a single installment.
This leaves both developers and gamers in an uncomfortable situation. For developers, the artistic integrity of their vision can be sacrificed in varying ways. A game may have been a passion project, but because the publishers scrapped it, the series will not see any DLC or expansion packs, let alone a sequel. The developers are also forced to add or remove features from a game to appeal to the same market that bought another game. This includes actions such as removing most of the story segments from Destiny or forcing multiplayer onto Watch_Dogs. And, more than anything, it can lead to publishers requesting a game in an already over-saturated market. Lawbreakers is a good example of this developing a game where there is already a highly saturated market for it. Worse than any of the above issues is having to produce the same game on a yearly basis like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed.
On the gamer’s end, this leads to apathy. Gamers get bored of having to choose between two different versions of the same game. Games will always be compared to one another, so if too many games on the market are similar, most players will simply opt out of buying any of them. If a game doesn’t do enough to separate itself from the crowd, it’s doomed to fail. At the height of MOBA popularity, the only games that continued to thrive were Smite, DOTA 2, and League of Legends. Most others are now barely scraping by or cancelled altogether. Casual gamers will continue to buy the most popular version of whatever the flavor of the month is, but only for so long. The end result is hardcore gamers becoming jaded and casual gamers losing the ability to see the difference between games.
About ten years ago, in 2007, large developers such as Capcom began to operate through a software known as Steam. Steam allowed players to purchase games on PC without having to go in store and buy installation discs. This also created a larger margin of profit for publishers. By may of that year, thirteen million accounts had been made. In 2010, Humble Bundle was released. Humble Bundle allowed players to pay whatever they wanted and get a small bundle of games. A portion would go to charity. This meant two things. The first was that developers no longer had to work with major publishers and distributors in order to put their games in the hands of players. For players, Humble Bundle gave them access to games that they probably would not have played otherwise due to lack of advertisement. And thus, indie gaming was born.
Indie games existed long before any of this happened. Indie gaming has been alive as long as PC gaming has been viable. However, digital distribution and easy access, along with more homes have multiple computers, meant that indie games were financially viable options.
This was a developer’s wet dream. Without having to answer to a publisher, indie games were allowed to become more experimental. And in the years sense, experimentation has become the norm in indie titles. For example, Darkest Dungeon forces players to deal with their teams developing mental disorders as they fight strange creatures. SUPERHOT is considered to be one of the most innovative FPS games in years. This creativity has drawn players who tire of the monotony of another open world fantasy game or the sixth WWII shooter in two years.
Experimentation is not the only aspect of gameplay that stands out with indie titles. Genres of games that have long been forgotten or never really gained traction stateside. Stardew Valley is an example as a farming simulator, a genre often overlooked outside of Japanese games.
However, it’s not just gameplay that is allowed to be experimented with. Indie games have become far more artistic than their triple A counterparts. This actually came to be because most indie developers lacked the funds to create powerful graphics. So, instead they opted to create powerful visuals that are pleasant to look at. Not to mention that many genres don’t work with hyper realistic graphics. A metroidvania game that looked like Horizon: Zero Dawn would be quite jarring to look at. More than anything, this helps sell the game as games stop looking similar.
Also, like gameplay above, not all indie games have experimental art styles. However, by virtue of being an independently made game, they’re given the benefit of the doubt when the graphics aren’t as good as they could be. Developers can focus on the mechanics of the game. Not every member of a development team is an artist. And small teams usually only have one or two artists, so not having to worry about high end graphics can certainly lower the stress.
Indie games manage to inspire new and old players alike to try games. The creative styles and more varied designs of both gameplay and art can inspire those who have never played games before to give one a chance. It’s a far more welcoming hobby than an incredibly violent FPS or overwhelming and confusing open world game. Also, since many indie games are more artistic, even those with no experience in playing can pick it up and play.
On the other hand, because indie games are works of passion by those who love video games. They want to create something that gamers like them will love. Because of this, games often have a challenge only hardcore players can love. Games such as Salt & Sanctuary have been described as a 2D Dark Souls and has developed a massive speed running community. Developers with good ideas but no funds can Kickstart their games.
And, more than anything else, indie games are usually fairly cheap, often costing between $10-$30. This is about half the cost of a triple A title and makes the games far more appealing to those who are budgeting with ther games.
However, with all the good that comes from the indie community, there are a few horror stories. Many developers have tried to abuse the trust gamers have in indie developers. Many developers make too many promises but fail to live up to them. This was most notably seen in No Man’s Sky when Hello Games failed to deliver on half the promised features of the game and even faced lawsuits of false advertising. Some games just end up not being quality projects and change hands too often to create anything meaningful from them, not unlike Mighty №9. Mighty №9 also suffered from a common issue with Kickstarter funded games — it was in development for far longer than it needed to be despite already being fully funded.
However, the biggest potential issue with indie games are early access games. Ideally, an early access game allows a developer to release a game and make money from it while still working on the game. However, there’s no law forcing the game to actually come to fruition. Many early access games are never actually finished leaving buyers with a product that doesn’t quite exist.
Indie game developers can lie and steal from potential buyers. But, overall, indie developers and indie gaming in general is a force of good. It offers young and idealistic the ability to create games they’d otherwise have to forfeit. This isn’t to say all triple A developers and games are bad — just that they have to answer to publishers who are more interested in making money than they are making quality games. The most recent example of how price gouging a triple A publisher can be is seen with We Happy Few. The moment it stopped being an indie title, the price doubled, it came with pre-order bonuses, a season pass, and an overpriced “collector’s edition.” Luckily, indie titles are not often bought out by triple A publishers.
In short, support indie titles. They’ve impacted the industry positively. They provided an alternative to triple A titles so that consumers can protest with their wallets. They offer vibrant art styles and experimental game styles not available with many triple A titles. There are many good triple A games, but they’re not the only games. I’m not partnered with any developers at all. I’m just a guy who loves gaming and wants to see gaming flourish. And a mix of actually good triple A titles and the variety seen in indie titles will only expand the market and quality. Sleep tight.