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Opinion: How Indies Must Succeed for Gaming
One of the biggest trends to come from the latest generation is the rise of Indie games. This was most recently shown with the critical success of Journey as it won numerous 2012 Game of the Year awards from various media outlets. While indie games were around before Journey, they are now at a critical point. Indies are of vital importance to the industry and must succeed for gaming to have a future not just for Sony or the industry itself, but for gamers as well.
Sony is betting very big on indie games. This was shown early on when Sony first announced the PS4 back in February. Almost at every opportunity, Sony has stressed the importance of the indie games being a key difference between it and the Xbox One. You could see the excitement of indie developers at E3 saying how Sony’s embrace is a great thing as they don’t need to find a publisher like EA or Activision to get their game out. The future is in the hands of indie developers. We have seen plenty of examples of how if a AAA game doesn’t meet minimum expectations, they will be shut down. Just look at what happened to 38 studios when they released a very good game in Kingdoms of Amalur but needed to sell 3 million copies just to break even. The rest of the story is well documented as it shut down and Curt Schilling is battling with Rhode Island about how much to pay back to the state for a loan. This is only one example of a studio shutting down after not meeting a quota to sell a certain number of copies for a game. The indie games need to succeed, because gaming must change.
In order for gaming to change, the industry must also change. AAA titles will always exist and publishers will continue to release them. However, just releasing AAA games isn’t enough in the industry for publishers. The growth of AAA game budgets has meant that publishers have to find another way to generate revenue with the games they release. We have seen the evolution of downloadable content (and the controversy of disc-locked DLC and day one DLC), online DRM restrictions, Season Passes, tacked on multiplayer and micro-transactions in games. Indie games are all about making a unique game experience and hope that the word of mouth will lead it to success such as with Braid and Journey being successful. What is also good is that the indie games come usually in the form of a digital download which reduces expenses (and every business can reducing expenses). For the gaming industry to change, it needs the indie developers to release excellent experiences that it can have digitally download so that gamers can have more unique and diverse games.
Those actively involved in the gaming culture have always been the most vocal when it comes to games, DRM, and anything gaming related. One of the constant complaints that the latest generation brought in is how most games have become derivative or they are quick cash-ins or how they even lost the soul of what made franchises so great. The indie developers change all of the complaints as they aren’t just looking to give us a game or a yearly iteration to play. They often give us a unique experience as the AAA business model doesn’t always give us that (with a few exceptions). This matters not only on a business level, but more importantly on a cultural level. We often have to be defensive about our hobby while movies and television shows are okay and can more often than not get away with violence and sex while games can’t. If we want to change this perception, our culture must change. The best way to change it is to support what gives us unique experiences that the indie developers focus on. This is all the more important this generation as Sony has continually pushed the PS4 to the hardcore crowd stressing the unique experiences we will get with the PS4. If the presale numbers are any indicator, the message that gamers want unique experiences is working. With unique experiences come more unique games and more people who will play games which will lead to the acceptance that television shows and movies get.
Indie, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is one that is independent. With independence comes great responsibility. The responsibility for the indie developers is to help change and save gaming as we know it (no pressure). This generation will not be defined by graphical prowess or technical specifications. It will be defined by unique experiences. In order for gaming to change for the better, the indie games must succeed.