Sep 18, 2013
We are now well into the era of downloadable content, and entire titles, as platforms on PC such as Origin and console stores like the Xbox Marketplace have proven.
Along with this, comes an incredibly simple distribution service, with no need for the middle man between the developer and consumer. In the wider sense, the internet and the digital age has given everyone more power, with more ways to contact each other. Our voices are heard more frequently, and the big businesses are inclined to listen when the opinions are so accessible.
For gaming, it brought along independent games, creating a whole new wave of incredibly innovative, inspiring, and alternative gaming experiences that larger companies would not even dream of attempting to create. Often made by a small group of people, or perhaps even one slaving away in their bedroom day and night, indie games keep improving their track record. And with online downloads becoming more frequent, and in future sure to make the disc based game obsolete, it seems they are here to stay.
Why do they matter?
Super Meat Boy was created by Team Meat, and released onto the PC and Xbox 360, receiving critical praise, with 90% on Metacritic, and has sold over a million copies. With such acclaim and adoration by fans, it is hard to argue that the gap between indie and mainstream games is that wide anymore. Journey is another recent success for Sony’s PlayStation 3, gaining many awards for game of the year, alongside its score. The concept is quite simple, yet effective, in that players travel through the desert, meeting anonymous players in the process, communicating only through music; which makes a nice change from the trash talk seen in many online shooters these days. The result is an incomparable adventure, beautifully crafted by only 18 people, which adds further to it’s personal charm. It attempts to move away from, as the developer states, the traditional online “defeat/kill/win mentality”, allowing emotional interaction between players, something the mainstream industry has not attempted.
Price wise, many people are put off by the high prices of traditional games, retailing at around £40. However, indie games do not have this steep price tag, and for the same amount of money, people can play 4 games, which are often of similarly high quality, albeit with a different budget. Aside from this, applications on smart phones and tablets can be easily created by small groups of people, and operating systems such as Android are gaining market share, allowing aspiring game creators to create simple games with a wider audience than perhaps the computer or console would allow. Alongside this, the Ouya console, running Android software, allows a further platform for these Android games on the console-specific store. The console itself gained backers from Kickstarter, gaining $8.5 million dollars. Kickstarter in itself is a great platform for indie developers to gain backing by fans who want new, passionate games from their favourite people.
The only fallback of indie gaming is that the public have generally not heard of the studios, or their titles. How to go about this recognition? Well, one thing that has brought recognition to the industry is the Humble Indie Bundle, which groups together several indie games in one package, for a bargain price. In this way, the companies behind them gain recognition for their titles, and sales to those who would otherwise not purchase their title. This spreads the word, and garners them more fans. The Humble Bundle has gained a lot of fame for it’s recent Origin bundle, packaging AAA titles worth around $250 for as little as $4.95, including The Sims and Battlefield 3. This has no doubt alerted many gamers to the presence of this bundle, and will surely bring about more sales in future indie bundles.
Gaining popularity through word of mouth or most played lists is an important way for them to increase their fanbase, but with recent debacles such as Xbox Live’s Indie Game Portal not updating sales figures for a period of months, the community still has to struggle in order to survive. Steam Greenlight is a great way for the public to support their desired games, as the community decided which indie titles should be released on the platform. This allows an equal footing between high-end titles and the independent ones, with Greenlight games often making the homepage and also taking part in their own sales. Despite this, advertising, or lack thereof, still plays a vital role, with YouTube hits and other tools garnering success within Greenlight itself, perhaps not as equal as Valve would like to suggest. One such success is Surgeon Simulator 2013, whereby a host of play-through videos were uploaded, and went viral, the most notable being an entry by Roosterteeth. This brought the game to new audiences, who were then encouraged to purchase the game on Steam.
Another example is Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which combined the horror genre with unique survival gameplay, which I found to be one of the most terrifying experiences of my gaming career. Its popularity has spawned a sequel, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, which was released September 10th, receiving front page advertising on Steam and other vendors, showing that independent game developers can compete with the larger companies.
Why choose an indie game?
The mainstream industry can be seen to grow stagnant, running out of ideas, and when spending such huge budgets with games running into the millions, risks are out of the question. The audience needs to be there, seeing a saturation of sequels and remarkably similar games (the near-future based FPS springs to mind) and have lost the innovative edge. However this restraint does not exist in the indie world, as game creators do what they are passionate about, creating an authentic and revisionist experience. Indie studios are not interested in churning out the same old game with minor graphic updates, but are truly excited about inventing new ways to go about gaming. With a small budget the risk is much less, and with a smaller price tag, the public are more likely to spend cash on new ideas.
The future seems good for the indie gaming community, as Sony are embracing the concept for the upcoming PS4. They are boasting a wide range of indie titles in development for the console, such as Transistor by Supergiant Games, and Don’t Starve by Klei Entertainment. With this kind of backing, it seems the market is only going to expand, especially into the casual market, hopefully influencing the mainstream market by demonstrating alternative ideas can prove successful. Sony’s tactic to allow self-publishing will pave the way for more innovation and unique games for the next generation of gaming, and I for one am very excited to see where this potential takes the industry.