Independently developed games, a movement that found it’s feet in the early 1990’s with the rise of shareware. Small companies, usually of no more then a couple people making games, funding themselves, holding no loyalty to a publisher. These developer’s see games as more then products, they see games as art. As they are the artist. A true artist never restricts themselves to restrictions set up by society. They make art for the fact of making art, something beautiful, something new, something theirs.
Indie games are becoming the face of gaming, and of what gaming should truly be. Indie devs rival the traditional corporate game developer by creating games in which less is more. They make the most with what they have. Indie games are not bound by genre, but the creativity, drive and passion of the developer. Where production values lack, innovation provides new experiences you don’t find in most modern games. Also they are cheap. Dirt cheap. As in anything up to $20 cheap.
The developer-publisher relationship has always fought with this scenario; Games are like art. They are created by artist’s, and the artist’s would like to keep their game within their own vision. However, game’s are also a product being made to make money for a company. So how do you balance artistic integrity with million dollar aspirations? Well the feud is on going. In the rubble of the ongoing fighting, a small band of gamers and artist’s have banded together. They put aside their differences, choosing to ignore the question of why do we create games? Instead these indie developers choose to do one thing. They make games for themselves. They stop treating it like a project, and more like a passion. They want to create the best games they can. How can it be so easy?
Well it’s not. Being an indie developer is a lot like being a tradesman. Except instead of focusing on one trade like most developer’s do, these indie guy’s have to be a jack of all trades, and a master as well. It calls back to the beginning of the industry when game companies were not so large. They, like indie developers, had small teams. Each of these members had certain criteria. They had to know how to code, and they needed a certain amount of experience with art.
An indie developer, much like an artist, has a vision for a game. By self funding they bypass the need for a publisher, and can instead focus their time working on the game to how they want. Like that rewind mechanic in Prince of Persia? How about unrestricted time reversal combined with good ol’ fashion platforming? Ladies and gentlemen Jonathan Blow presents to you Braid. Gaming press, this is where you can actually use the term “innovative”.
Ever had that feeling after finishing a game, almost as if something is missing? I mean sure, you liked it, but it just was not quite perfect. It’s almost as if you have played it before. This is what I like to call the “Call of Duty Phenomena”. Yes, these triple A blockbuster’s are good, but they just never hit you like they use too. Maybe the year’s of bad guy shooting (For Batman fan’s, bad guy BEATINGS) have lost their touch. Fear not, there is a cure to this phenomena, and they are called “Indie Games”.
Innovation is almost a necessity for an indie game. Due to little to no funding, the only way make a game stand out is via an innovative mechanic. Whether building upon an old one, or introducing something new. Making the player think “Hey, I’ve never seen this done before” will fill that deep dark hole in a player’s heart left by today’s gaming gap.
Look at Minecraft for example. Marcus Persson (Otherwise known as Notch, or to Minecraft fan’s, God) liked sandbox’s as a child. When he discovered game’s like Dungeon Keeper, Dwarf Fortress, and Infiniminer, he thought to himself “I can do that, just better”. He took a one mechanic, environmental manipulation, out it into a sandbox, and after a little coding magic came Minecraft.
Gamers then flocked by the millions to buy Minecraft (6 Million to be exact)*. This new concept of Lego, but in a video game, got the attention of many creative individuals. One man, one concept, one game, millions of dollars. Minecraft is about as aesthetically appealing as a Nintendo Entertainment System (Note: I love that gray box, but it is ugly), but it that was not the focus. The focus is creativity. One man created a game that has become the prime example of the quality of indie games (And he did it without a mask)**.
Some men just want to watch the world burn.
By self funding their own games, indie devs can make any type of game they want. Even dead genres, and their is nothing more satisfying then reviving a dead genre.
Some genres of gaming have just had no luck. The rouge-like, for example, never hit quite the audience it needed to maintain a mainstream appeal (With the exception of a couple Square and Nintendo games). Super Meat Boy co-creator Edmund McMillen moved on from one forgotten genre, to another with The Binding Of Isaac.
Do not be fooled, for this is the only safe for work image in the game.
The Binding of Isaac combines the mechanics of a Legend of Zelda dungeon with the difficulty of a rouge-like. Hold on a second, what is a rouge-like? Imagine a maze, now imagine a book of mazes. You have one objective, finish all the maze’s without dieing, ever. Fill that maze with enemies, items, loot and bosses and you have a rouge-like. An extremely challenging action game in Laymen’s terms.
Does any of this sound appealing? Well 700, 000 people think so after buying the Binding of Isaac. A genre many have never heard of, has had one of it’s flagship title’s sell an amount that’s going to make Mr. McMillen very happy.
There is one last thing indie game’s have that their blockbuster counterpart’s do not. A suitable price point. Most indie game’s never exceed more then $20. This is in large because they do not belong to a publisher, and rely on digital distribution instead of selling hard copies.
Do not let that price point scare you, indie game’s can be as long and as full of content as any blockbuster out there (Skyrim may be a good exception). Super Giant Game’s, Bastion for example took me about 7 hours to complete, around twice as long as a Call of Duty campaign! The Binding of Isaac is a 40 minute game, but because it is a rouge-like; the death rate, and replayability turned it into a 40 hour game (and rising). That $20 mind you can drastically decrease if you wait for a Steam sale or the Humble Indie Bundle to pick it up.
One indie game at most is a third of the cost of a new blockbuster. 3 of the highest quality indie game’s would then be the same price as one blockbuster. You’d get three times the content, at the same cost, plus more of your money is going specifically to the developer instead of being divided amongst 4 or 5 different companies.
Games are very expensive, they always have been. Buying a new game is an investment for many people. Indie game’s are a great alternative for the less fortunate of gamers. They are cheap, but come with the same polish as a blockbuster.
The community that drives the indie movement is just as human as the rest of us. They do not have to hide behind large corporations, and have the artistic freedom that comes with this break from modern liability. The indie game movement has proven at least one thing, it is possible to do more with less.
Submitted by Ryan MacInroy of GeekPortal