The Changing Tides of Indie Games

What a difference a couple of years can make. In the past, indie games were seen as something to satiate our hunger until the next AAA title. In other cases, indie games were looked at as a new take on retro game styles. So, what has changed?

Many people love the idea of showing the younger generation the types of games that we played, but the younger generation sometimes can’t deal with what they may perceive as archaic game design. Luckily, with the advent of indie gaming, kids and teens can play games like the ones veteran gamers were playing 20 years ago--just with a new twist. A perfect example of such a game is Super Meat Boy. It has the extreme difficulty of an “old school” platformer, but it adds the necessity of perfectly timed wall jumps and many more obstacles than older consoles could have handled.

More often than not, gamers get excited for a big, blockbuster game, and it doesn’t deliver what was expected, or the game simply adds nothing to the series or genre. While the bigger games are often good in their own right, indie games are worthwhile because they are one person’s or a team of people’s vision and not that of a huge corporation. Therefore, the game can be seen as more of an artistic expression. And these teams need their games to succeed due to the copious amounts of money and hours put into their art. If the game that they have made flops, their dreams could be crushed in an instant (along with their finances).

With the success of games like Braid, Super Meat Boy, and FEZ, bigger platforms (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U) are more willing to carry and advertise indie games. While large game developers seem to be struggling, indie developers have a chance to grow and truly make a name for themselves due to their unique take on the gaming world. While gamers are being inundated with multiple military first-person shooters from big companies, indie creators are giving us a new take on story-telling or the mechanics that are widely unused elsewhere.

While indie gaming is becoming more well-loved by bigger groups of gamers, we tend to separate them from other games. Maybe this is a sense of love for the DIY (do it yourself) model of gaming, or perhaps this is a habitual response at this point. In 2012 alone, we saw indie games contending for Game of the Year lists at many outlets, including IGN and Kotaku. This could be as simple as the notion that gamers are becoming weary of how AAA games are presenting themselves. But the real question remains; should we separate indie game creators from multi-million dollar game developers?

In my personal opinion, I think that the separation should remain. Of course, some people scoff at that statement. Please allow me to explain myself. While many indie games are still getting attention on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, they get passed up often. This adds excitement to watching the sales figures of smaller games. For us that follow the industry, it's interesting to see how a game from a tiny team fares in the current gaming universe. Also, if we free our minds of the separation, is an indie game that special anymore?

Indie games are special due to their ability to be original. The creator of FEZ, Phil Fish, didn’t have to take direction from a large corporation or change anything about his game that he didn’t want to. Please allow me to pose this hypothetical situation. Imagine that Phil Fish is creating FEZ. Its most unique feature is that its 2D world can be rotated to solve puzzles and reach locations. This is a huge part of FEZ’s charm. What if a mega corporation were to say to him, “Phil, could you please take out the world rotation and make FEZ a normal 2D side-scroller?” FEZ would no longer have its key feature and would probably not be anything that special to gamers.

Sure, it sucks that some of these indie creators lose all of their money on a project, but those of us that do get to witness their creations are usually in for a pretty magical treat. It's a mark that can be left on us forever.

Let me leave you with this: indie gaming is a special thing and we should never take it for granted. If indie gaming was piled into the same category as a AAA title, we would not see the ingenious designs that we see now. Perhaps larger corporations should take note.

Save a few bucks, go to Steam, and pick yourself up an indie game. Support those who work hard on what they love. Support art.