The fourth installment of my ongoing analysis on the many directions the video game culture is could be headed. The above picture has nothing to do with gaming at all.
Much like music, literature and cinema; there needs to be clarification to what constitutes an independent work. In print, on the web, and especially in games -- a sub-culture has sprouted. Be these ideas formulated in a garage or partially funded by a major corporate entity, the independent scene has made quite the prominent impact in the gaming community. What I find most interesting in the DIY gaming sites and the plethora of gaming podcasts is the audience. Who goes to these sites? Who listens to these podcasts? In regards to games, what is the future for most independently produced games? Much like cinema and music, will there be or is there already an era of independently produced work being adopted by popular culture?
The damn internet. The internet has barraged the average gamer -- heck the average consumer, with Facebook embedded flash games which have banner advertisements being pumped through our ocular cavities at the speed of a gigabit bandwidth connection. This being said, how is money made on the web? If there are any similarities game journalists and developers share it would be that most consider their work of worth. So how do writers like myself, and the many game developers on sites like Kongregate.com find an audience? There is such a large chasm of shouting voices its a wonder if anyone reads or plays much of anything via the internet.
We keep writing, podcasts are edited and produced while indie games are the subject of both print and podcasts. Web sites like Newgrounds.com and Cactus Games have definitely made a name for themselves in the independent scene, but how many of these types of games are produced and forgotten regularly? Facebook is home to games that gross high enough for the site to be considered a platform. The same idea applies to the vast array of gaming web sites and blogs. How do I stand out when we are all playing the same games and shouting the same ideas? If you cover the gaming underworld and become even more niche, you stand a good chance of fading into further obscurity because of obscure content. Keeping current with podcasts, blogs and new releases is meant for a specific group of people. Hardcore gamers can't sustain both the independent gaming scene as well as popular gaming culture? After you shell out hundreds of dollars for Call Of Duty's Prestige Edition, a game like No More Heroes may get overlooked by even the sharpest of eyes.
The hardcore community are a small fickle bunch, but are responsible for supporting all [or most] of the various venues that make up the structure of our dysfunctional gaming family. If there is a new iPhone/PSP/NDSi game released, chances are a hardcore gamer has played it and has several opinions the average person could give a damn about. However, this new age of downloadible games makes the savvy gamer the go-to-guy in any family or friend looking to buy a game scenario. I believe this is how independent and quality games in general thrive during a time where there are literally more games than ever being produced. The hardcore community pirates and steals, because we are inherent skeptics and are difficult to initially impress. I am also glossing over the fact that in any media of entertainment, the hardcore of that community generally has a jerk or two. We buy the most games and listen to the podcasts week in and week out only to fill message boards and enthusiast sites with our criticisms. So how do we police ourselves and this industry we may care a bit too much for?
With any hope: Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo will mimic the Steam structure of what has made that PC program such a great success. Independently developed games supported and priced by our very corporate gaming console overlords seem to not be as big a deal as I thought it would be. Now it is common for DLC to be issued the week of a game's release. It is only when a game like Braid is seen as overpriced to many we get insight as to how difficult to judge worth in the niche corridors of gaming? Video podcasts like CO-OP and audio gaming podcasts like A Life Well Wasted, seem to be totally worth paying for with the amount of production that goes into their respective unique takes on this culture. Print unfortunately doesn't function like the word-of-mouth a lesser-known game would see success from. Like the various podcasts, blogs and game sites, print media is a slave to the ad space. Getting people to read is a tough enough dilemma made more vexing when telling them to "turn a page" as opposed to scrolling down. I have the highest of hopes for EGMNow and Kill Screen, but it is hard to gauge in this very fickle community what gamers want and what gamers think they want.
We are still in the early stages of this wild west of independent venturing. Hopefully, we can all meet somewhere in the middle in order for all parties to feel like fun and fairness is just as important as the right price point. The one thing I take from all the various forms of how I consume one of my favorite hobbies, would be that it all seems to be being made by people who love what they do. Personally, I didn't even own a PS2 until 2007. Before that I played my $35 dollar, CD Warehouse purchased Dreamcast and my PS One [from home] while in college. Gaming just got too expensive. I read blogs and bought magazines, because I wanted to feel a part of this culture, even though I couldn't afford to play the games shaping the future of the community at the time. What happens now? Independent games have the creativity potential of any genre of art. The games being produced are more than abundant so finding a good one is a good problem to have as a fan. As a developer, doing more with less seems to hearken back to an old-school manner of substantive game making. Blogs and gaming sites may not be fighting the same battle as print [by a long shot], but finding ears for the many voices and eyes for the flowery language and art is a shared struggle.
What were some of the improvements you expected or expect to see in how independent or lower budget games are promoted by consoles? What should happen with gaming coverage [podcasts, print, gaming sites] that would provoke you to pay for extra content? Where do you see the independent gaming culture going?