With the two ongoing popular topics in the videogame industry - single-player games destined to disappear, and the pricing question (too high for AAA games, compared to playtime - , and too low for indie games) - what does the positive impact of the increasing success of Indie games means ?
10 years after Braid’s success, at a time where players can refund their games, a large part of the top Sellers, notably on PC, are Indie Games (on Steam, but also GoG of course). And not only on PC: 8 out of 15 top successes on Nintendo’s Switch during several past Holidays seasons are indies as well.
A bit like what already happened in the end of 80s/early 90s in the movie industry, where independent movies succeeded in reaching a new audience (Lynch, Van Sant, Tarantino, Ferrara, Lee, Coen Brothers, etc.), this also reminds us that video games are not only an industry, but also, sometimes, an Art, and it has very practical and business-related implications.
That belongs in a museum!
In the last 10 years, the main AAA games, searching to address to a worldwide audience, moved even further towards graphical realism.
This sort of global harmonization, on a shared realistic vision (whatever the type of games), impacted the videogames market, changing the hardware PC market (graphic cards needs, cooling systems, etc.) and potentially leaving some lower purchase power- players on the side of the road.
But, additionally, this realism trend also impacted the way players apprehended the games: the “Waow” effect tended to attach more to the graphic performances and quality, than on the pure gameplay or design uniqueness, moving a bit further towards GaaT (Games as a Turism), with players being more passive viewers of the beauty of the worlds, than active players immersed in the creative team’s choices.
And at the same time, independent teams started to propose a different offer, with strong artistic statements: Terraria, Don’t Starve, Limbo, Stardew Valley, Inside, The Binding of Isaac, Hollow Knight, Undertale, etc.
Both movements (über-realism for AAA vs Auteur’s-Art Direction Indie games), nourished themselves, in a constant contradictory, but enriching, dialog: Indie games stopped to attempt mimicking AAA games, and started achieving success by empowering their own creative visions and choices.
And to be noted, as we all know, realistic graphics tend to very age-dependent : a great looking game in the 2000’s will now look old, while cartoony or other creative Art Direction tend to more time-friendly perceived.
Throw me the idol; I’ll throw you the whip!
These games also started to grant players the same creative freedom, through UGC and modding tools and possibilities, and by doing so, re-establishing some form of open dialog between Devs and Players.
Players were addressed and touched not only by the pure visual shock, but by games that appealed to their other senses, intelligence or emotions, hence, bringing more diversified players that jumped on the band-wagon.
With strong artistic statements, these games consciously chose and accepted not to address to everyone, but only to players engaged by the offer and choices they proposed.
Like Ken Wong, Monument Valley creator, said: “The industry is now enjoying a wider diversity […] And diversity means not everything is for you. […] But diversity in game design and consumption means more people than ever can find a game that suits them”.
It’s not the years, honey. It’s the mileage.
A large part of current videogames players, are issued from two generations, with different needs: Millenials, and their strong sense/need for community, and GenZ, born in social, that are looking for individuality
And this GenZ/Millenials mix, is getting more mature and self-aware, cultivating a growth into chapels, with an urge for relatedness, both intrinsic and extrinsic (players to game, players to Studios/Developers, players to other players), contradictory to the all-appealing trend from AAA industry.
Combined with the 40s+ players, looking to reconnect to their early videogames love stories, through nostalgic approaches, it reinforces this new form of tribalism : in a world without any defining ideologies, religions or politics, the need for purpose, for making sense, is even stronger than ever.
Opposed to the technological move, where tech and platforms tends towards more harmonization (cross-play, XBoX/Win10 Program, One-place games library, streaming, cloud, etc.), audience is getting more clustered, with different needs, searching not only to be image-fed, but to be appealed by other senses (emotions, intelligence, etc.)
You go first, Indie !
So, what does it means for the industry at large, for AAA companies ? Only good things !
- With more games addressing to more different generations and profiles, that didn’t have any game offer addressed to them previously : more people become players.
- With the technological and market expansion, games also embrace new cultures, new references (new games being made in Africa, in South America, in India, SEA, etc.): more talents, with more diverse background and new creative ideas.
- With more generations starting to share similar references : more exchanges, and potentially more talkative communities, easier to handle and to address to.
- Players going beyond pure graphical eyeplosion, this would allow Dev teams to fully embrace their creative choices
- Allowing players to see beyond graphics, also means better understanding other game’s aspects (design, gameplay, writing, sound design, etc.)
All in all, with more different audiences and cultures, players being more sensitive to different type and aspects of games, more shared references, this creates a virtuous circle of understanding and creative dialogs between educated players and Devs free to express their creativity.
To sum up, like Dr Jones said, « Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory. »