From the vantage point of most small time developers, the indie explosion that has taken the gaming industry by storm over the past several years is nothing short of incredible. Suddenly, aspiring game makers have affordable access to the tools they need to rapidly create niche, oft-kilter products. And thanks to portals like Steam the best indie games are being made visible to the masses. Additionally, crowd sourcing formats like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are helping dozens of teams fund their dreams every month. But all is not pixelated roses in indie land. In fact, the revolution has brought with it some ugliness.
For one consider how super saturated the indie market has become. Similar to how every male teenager bought a guitar in the 80′s in the hopes of living a rock ‘n roll dream, there are more indie games out there then anyone would care to count. Most of these games are utter rubbish. Consider the XBLIG channel. Sure there are a handful of gems, but dispersed among the good titles are buckets of horse manure. Many of these are cash grab titles that try to exploit current pop culture trends; others should have never been approved. Apple’s App Store is hardly any better. Sadly, quality titles are being lost in the mix, so much so that some developers are only placing their games on mobile platforms as an afterthought.
Steam seems to be the answer for developers who make quality games, but given Valve’s rigid requirements for acceptance, even games with the highest production value sometimes fail to impress the mega-distributor. A few – Notch’s Minecraft comes to mind – have managed to succeed in spite of being distributed anywhere but their own website, but most indie games cannot go viral without some assistance from a major distributor.
Then there is the crowd sourcing problem. Less than 25 percent of games that apply for crowd sourcing actually reach their goal. Of those 25 percent, many are former industry giants who after being rejected by every major publisher on the planet resorted to crowd sourcing for funding. That’s great and all, but these one-time behemoths are stealing the attention away from smaller, younger teams who will never be able to create the game of their dreams without some crowd sourced help. The industry needs innovation to thrive more then its needs a slew of retreads of once genre-defying games. I’ll exclude Tim Schafer from this equation, because he was making awesome games all along, but what is Wasteland 2 going to do that Fallout already hasn’t?
The indies of today are slowly metamorphosing into the AAAs of tomorrow. Now that Jonathan Blow, Notch and Phil Fish are wealthy, will they lose their indie mentality? Granted I can hardly see any of them making the next Call of Duty game, but there may come a time when the indies of today become the despised mega-corporations of tomorrow. The allure of riches is sometimes too overwhelming to simply ignore. Already Blow is making tons of money as the founder of Indie Fund, and while the quality of his funded products have been high, what happens if he wants to start appealing to a broader audience?
Alright so Notch one day running EA is admittedly a bit of a stretch, but suffice to say that the current indie revolution has its drawbacks. Granted for each of these cons there are about ten pros. Heck, the game that I’m creating was crowd sourced on Kickstarter, and there wasn’t a chance in Hell that I’d be able to make it within the next two years otherwise. But, like everything in life, the indie revolution is not perfect.