Are you a fan of indie games?
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I“d like to start this piece off by asking a simple question; what exactly defines the term â€œindie gameâ€? We hear about it all the time these days, about the successes of small teams making equally small games and their gain in popularity, but what exactly are they?
I suppose you could start by defining what â€œindieâ€ means, because it“s not exclusively tied to the gaming world. We have indie artists, indie moviesâ€¦the list goes on and on. The word â€œindieâ€ of course is short for independent, and in the case of creators be it movie directors or game developers, being independent means you have creative freedom, no studio or publisher keeping you on a leash, making sure you â€œmake that guy more evil lookingâ€ or â€œadd some more koopas over thereâ€. Thus, indie games often tend to buck the mainstream trends associated with bigger productions.
The gaming landscape is dominated by several game publishing giants, all of whom spend a great deal of money making sure they put out the next AAA title. Their goal is after all, to make money, and lots of it. But you really can“t fault them for that, can you? Sure Activision COULD start funding Joe Indie“s new project Super Blasterman, but why would they if they could churn out another Call of Duty and raking in a few more billion dollars?
That“s where indie games step in. We“ve always had them, but they“ve really fallen into the spotlight in recent years due largely, if not entirely, to the marvels of digital distribution. 10 years ago it would“ve been impossible for a game with no or limited physical release, and no marketing or advertising, to reach even a few hundred people. But because of digital distribution making the selling and transferring of a game so easy and cheap it is now possible for a single creator to reach thousands if not millions of potential customers. Minecraft is possibly the best example of this, created by one man with a vision to make a game he wanted to play and made available for anyone to purchase, has sold well over a million copies worldwide, and its still being worked on!
So what sets indie games apart then? Markus Persson (the creator of Minecraft) himself has stated that he not sure that there“s anything that indie developers can do that the big studios can“t. He refers to Portal as essentially being an indie game in all but name, a unique game that took a risk at being different. The difference being Valve chose to make the game on a small budget, whereas indie developers oftentimes don“t have a choice. However, there is still the fact that Valve is a major (albeit private) company and still lacks the ultimate creative freedom that small team of indie developers has.
Another highly successful indie game studio, Thatgamecompany is one of the major players in the rise of the indie game craze of the past few years. They started with flOw a mildly successful title that garnered little attention, then moved on to Flower which was held up as â€œgaming artâ€, until finally releasing their Magnum Opus; Journey. But Thatgamecompany is but a drip in the giant pool of indie developers that have arisen these last few years.
I already mentioned that the ease of digital distribution helped make the indie game craze possible, but there are numerous other reasons as well. While AAA game development costs continue to soar, making simpler games are a much cheaper task. The affordability and access to better hardware and software has allowed even those of lesser means to bring their visions to life. Even funding no longer poses as much of a problem as it once did, thanks to a rise in sites such as Kickstarter which rely on crowdsourcing to fund an otherwise un-fundable idea.
Not only that, but smartphone use has seen a spike in usage in roughly the same amount of time as the rise in indie game popularity. Sure, indie games remain a largely PC staple but they are, and have been, branching out to mobile phones as well as other platforms, which also help increase their audiences. Rovio for example, made a simple little game called Angry Birds with a tiny team and tiny budget. That game is now more popular and widely played than most real videogames.
Even now, with the dawn of a new generation on the horizon, indie games are looking to stay, and I believe they won“t be going anywhere anytime soon. The decrease in the amount of smaller game titles released each year in favor of a few major hits is being compensated by indie games, and if things continue to go the way they are now we may very well see the line between these smaller game releases and indie games blur and eventually, disappear.