Over the last 7 years or so, the so called indie industry within video games has grown in such a huge pace that even the more optimistic of developers wouldn’t have thought of it. From Bastion to Shovel Knight, from Ori and the Blind Forest to the recent success of Rocket League, these games have been praised all around the web, both by players and journalists, and in some cases even getting nominated for Game of the Year. But, opposed to the saying that goes “for every black cloud there’s a silver lining”, for every bright light, a shadow is always cast. And this shadow my friends are the haters; people that as of today, 2015, think of the indie game as something lesser by nature and that there are nowhere near the quality, enjoyment and aesthetics of a 60 dollars triple A title. This last bit of text is what motivated me to write this column, to educate not to judge a book for its cover (or price tag, marketing campaign, etc).
But first, my experience with indies and how playing one opened my mind about them. My first exposure to an indie game was Super Stardust HD, by Housemarque. I got the game because of PSN’s big hacking issue in 2011; Sony offered two free full games for the trouble caused, and since the only one I didn’t have was Super Stardust HD, the choice was fairly simple. To my surprise, the game was very good; it was like Space Invaders 6.0, non-stopping shooting action around a little planet with a super catchy soundtrack to relay on, it never got old. I just needed the exposure to a game like Super Stardust HD to understand that this kind of games could rival any AAA product any day.
Shortly after this event, a little game called Bastion released for Xbox 360, getting lots of attention and prizes from various websites. I consider Bastion the foundation stone for the games to come; it was the indie game that achieved the necessary critical acclaim in order for the players to go say “hey, indie games are actually a thing”. Add this to the fact that next gen consoles (Xbox One and PS4) fully embraced the indies and the results are pretty amazing: games like Hotline Miami, Shovel Knight, Rogue Legacy, Ori and the Blind Forest, Transistor, Resogun and a lot more are up there, always competing from some prize or receiving very good scores overall.
So why some portion of the gamer community still neglects reluctantly to play these games and, even more, has come to despise them?
A wide array of reasons comes to my mind, but two of them are stronger than the others, so I will make focus on these two. I like to believe the first reason is the most trivial and resonates with my experience: This group of the gamer community has either a bad experience with it first indie title, dropping them forever, or, even more, has never experienced an indie title. Here’s where the second reason ties in, and it has to do with marketing and price tags. Since the release of PS3 and Xbox 360, we have been used to pay AAA games a standard prize (now 60 dollars), that I think our mindsets at some point makes us reason “If this game costs 20 dollars, then it must be short and mediocre at the very best”, and that can’t be further from truth; a clear example would be to grab the latest Godzilla’s game, AAA published by Namco/Bandai, full retail price. That game sucks hard. With the same money, you can buy both Supergiant Games’ titles, Bastion and Transistor, have some extra change and have an overall better experience than with the king of kaijus’ game.
My point here is; the indie industry, just like the AAA industry and almost everything in life, has it highs and it lows, and trust me, those highs are getting higher by the seconds because indie developers have a special trait most of the big budget developers lack; they do whatever the fuck they want with their games, they are able to express their ideas in the same way they conceived it in their heads. That and the fact that if they blow it, they are almost done for it, so that extra risk factor usually makes for the developers to be extra careful and to polish every little corner of their game before release. You don’t find that kind of pressure in the big industry, take Ubisoft for instance: Assassin’s Creed III was a pretty bad game, however, year after year the AC games keep releasing, despite the technical issues AC III (and why not, the new ones too) had, and keep selling like the next big thing. If you take that example to indie ground, well, I can assure you a developer releasing a game with those standards would be immediately forced either to mobile gaming or not making any other game at all.
I would like to close this train of thought with a quote from one of my favorite videogames journalist, Colin Moriarty who, after what I think was last years’ Gamescom, said something in the lines of “I walked down the hall, to one side were the indie industry booths, to the other side the big industry booths, and I told to myself “this side has the ideas the other side needs””. And I couldn’t agree more with that statement (He also wrote an article in the same vein as this one, you can check it out here).
Wrapping up, I talk to you little guy who keeps saying “PS Plus/Xbox Gold, I want triple AAA titles, not only indies”, give those indies a chance, you might have a pleasant surprise and expand your mindset to a whole new world of games.