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Opinion: Snobbery Aside, Or: How I Learned to Love the Indie

In this Gamasutra column, Connor Cleary shares the experiences that led him to love the indie gaming scene, and encourages others to join him in supporting the indie innovators.

Connor Cleary, Blogger

March 16, 2011

5 Min Read

[In this Gamasutra column, Connor Cleary shares the experiences that led him to love the indie gaming scene, and encourages others to join him in supporting the indie innovators.] Confession time: I've been so caught up in the era of triple-A gaming – with its endless polygons, fancy shaders, cinematic set pieces, epic scores, voice acting and on and on – that I have largely neglected the burgeoning indie scene. My loss, to be sure. My few forays into the indie world were extremely satisfying – Darwinia rocked my world and Braid blew my mind – and yet, I was still hesitant to spend my limited gaming time playing indie games because they often felt so obsolete (in an admittedly superficial way). Oddly enough, it was the free, browser-based Super Mario Crossover that sparked the revelation that led to a new resolution: Play more indie games. After loving every second of each (still memorized) level of Super Mario Bros. as a tiny Link, some piece of my gaming past came back to life. It was something like a eureka moment: Despite all the time we spend discussing gaming's minutia, a game's first and primary goal is to be an enjoyable experience – the range of forms that enjoyment can take has expanded greatly, but the goal remains the same. So, if a game is enjoyable, who cares if the graphics are on par with an NES? I loved video games back when all I had was an NES. The mere existence of the next-gen consoles doesn't invalidate the fun of Mega Man, Bubble Bobble, or The Legend of Zelda, those games are as fun today as they were when I was a kid. In the same way, the mere presence of triple-A, big budget games does not invalidate the fun of Aquaria, Give Up Robot 2, Organ Trail or (the highly addictive) Desktop Dungeons. (Another bonus: Indie games also tend to be more accessible for those of us with busy schedules.) Big vs. Indie There is a certain parallel that can be drawn between the video game industry and the movie industry, specifically in the realm of “big budget” vs “indie.” There are plenty of big-budget games (and movies) coming out on a regular basis that are worth experiencing, but oftentimes this isn't where the real innovation is happening. It's reasonable though, and I can't fault the bigger publishers for it. If you throw a whole lot of money at a project, you probably want to hedge your bets by going for mass appeal, which often means sticking to well-worn territory in one way or another. Granted this isn't always the case, because there are plenty of innovators at all levels of the gaming industry, and the gaming public tends to be far more embracing of a novel experience than the movie-going public might be. But in video games, as in movies, much of the real evolution is happening in the indie scene. Darwinia's Thomas Arundel wrote, in response to our sister-site IndieGames.com, “Larger studios are often responsible for technical innovation, but it's independent studios that push the boundaries of creative innovation.” As consumers in any market, we vote with our dollars. If we put money towards the (often cheap, sometimes free/donation supported) indie market, we are voting for innovation while supporting the pioneers that may be shaping the course of gaming's future. Look at Minecraft for example; anyone in the gaming world who hasn't heard of this game has been living under a big square rock and this is a game that was basically made by one guy in his free time. Creator Markus Persson wrote in a Game Developer Magazine postmortem, “Without the early funding from early adopters, Minecraft never would have taken off.” These indie designers are doing it for the love and the passion, but they need food and shelter too – that's where we come in. The fact that Minecraft was an entirely self-funded project meant Persson wasn't beholden to any investor's demands either. Again from the postmortem, Persson writes “Minecraft and Mojang are fully independent with no external investors, so we haven't made any promises to anyone other than the players.” I think this is a business model we, as consumers, should be excited to support. Only time will tell what the long-term impact of Minecraft will be on the gaming industry, and the marketing strategies of the indie scene, but it's a safe bet that it'll be huge. Pushing the Envelope The very phrase “video game” has become nebulous. Is Linger in Shadows a video game? We know it's a product of the demoscene, but it still features interactivity. You still need to do certain things in order to make the progression through the experience, there is an end-goal of sorts, and – oddly enough – it also features PS3 trophies. Is Cow Clicker a video game? Well, no comment. The point is, that nebulous nature is why games – especially indies – still have unimagined realms to explore. But if you're like I was, and you want to get into playing indie games but don't know where to start, check out our sister-site IndieGames.com and keep an eye out for GameSetWatch's weekly "Best of Indie Games" column from IndieGames.com co-editor Tim W. And be sure to check out the list of '50 Really Good Indie Games' reprinted courtesy of Derek Yu and The Indie Game Source. I can't wait to see what surprises the indie scene will come out with next. To quote our own Simon Carless: Viva la indie revolution!

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