Discovering indie games

Video games are the most interactive form of entertainment you can enjoy on the couch. You can play the hero with any superpowers you want, the villain with more guns than you can imagine and somewhere in between, you can find yourself going on quests helping random people while being just as likely to inflict harm all in your own digital world.

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But if you’ve been playing games for some time, you might be already used to the medieval fantasy settings, relentless gunfights, and the company of alien beings. Needless to say, nothing can be truly original. While the lack of originality doesn’t necessarily ruin a game, a little variety doesn’t hurt.With everything that can be brought to life through a computer, there’s bound to be something that isn’t a rehash of what’s been done before. These just don’t get as much buzz and are likely to stay hidden until they are accidentally discovered.

Enter the world of indie games where game developers come together to bring their thoughts to life while creativity is prioritized over marketability.


Free to take risks

Developers can easily manipulate a game’s environment to have any rules that can be thought of. Practically playing god to their creations, developers work in an environment that involves a lot of creativity, making the game ideas that could be explored seemingly endless.

However, the video game industry is like any other business. Naturally, there are genres that more people will enjoy and are more likely to make money, and the businesses in charge of the hottest games can easily see this. For example, action-oriented games seem to be the most popular, with sales being topped by names like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, and the industry’s giants like Activision and Ubisoft are more inclined to put out games based around similar concepts or just add sequels to what’s already been done. It’s already evident where the profits are when sales show no sign of going down after a franchise’s nth installment.

These companies have to play safe. Evan Livelo (III, BSCS-ST), who is a game developer himself, believes that although game developers can have an idea of what’s likely to succeed, they can never be sure, especially with something that’s relatively new. Trying something different could succeed, as Livelo cites Grounded, the documentary about the hit game, The Last Of Us. “Initially, Sony gave them a really low mock review and score but when it was released, luckily, it was critically-acclaimed,” he says, but also points out that if the idea doesn’t sell, it could lose enough money to kill a company. He uses the creators of Angry Birds as an example and says “Rovio almost went out of business until they were able to come up with the idea of shooting birds to kill pigs.” There’s just too much to risk for already established publishers to willingly throw the same amount of cash as they do with their popular titles, for the production, publicity, and distribution of something they don’t even know would sell well.

Independent developers, on the other hand, have a lot less to lose. Indie games are characterized by having a small development team with limited funding. They are usually more affordable and are priced considerably cheaper than many of the mainstream games out in the market. While the low priced indie games might not make a huge profit for developers, at least it did not cost its creators any extreme amounts. A game could even be backed by crowdfunding, like Planetary Annihilation, which used Kickstarter to gain funds for various features of the game and raised more than 2 million dollars for its development. Much like how reckless actions come at no consequence in a video game, indie games can afford to be a bit hit or miss.


Unexpected success

Staying away from well-known publishers doesn’t mean having a better game of course. John Benedict Javier (III, AB-PLS) says, “You can see that most low budget games that are backed by low quality publishers often have bad gameplay.” He gives the Battlefield series and Mass Effect as high quality franchises from major game developers. On the other hand, he gave Ride to Hell: Retribution and Rogue Warrior from lesser known studios as examples of games which, despite falling under the beloved action-adventure genre, ended up panned by every critic and received review scores averaging at around 1 out of 10.

Out of the thousands of attempts to connect with the right players, only a few click with the majority. With the trend in video games being more about pushing consoles’ hardware capabilities, how can indie games be worth playing? Cool effects and realistic graphics are just some standards in the mainstream that most indie games can’t compete with.

It would seem a good concept could really go a long way for indie games. The best example for this is Minecraft. Minecraft had simple beginnings as a project by just one developer, Markus “Notch” Persson. The game was very simple and had unusual graphics that seemed to go backwards and away from what current games are building towards, yet it attracted so many players that its developer managed to start his own video game company.

The great thing about indie games seems to be how they can find success, not by being better than the mainstream’s standards, but by creating their own. Indie games are able to touch those genres that are less visited. A good example of this is the success of developers in the horror genre with games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Outlast. Mr. Livelo also gives Spelunky, a 2D platformer released in 2009, as an example of this. According to him, “A game like Spelunky would not have been accepted by a Triple-A publisher, but the success it gained was undeniable.” It’s in this freedom from attempting to appeal to every player where the beauty of unrestricted game development can be explored.


There’s a game for everyone

Still, most of the sales are going to the stronger publishers. What’s better than an indie game’s potential for success with a new idea is that whatever indie developers make is a contribution to the art of video games. They make it possible for even more games, hence more choices for players.

Mainstream or not, the most successful games are what appeal to more people. What independent developers provide is an experience for the individual. Almost anyone who has spent time with a controller has been a superhero, a sports icon, and of course, a soldier at some point. Fewer gamers have gotten to be a baby whose rampant imagination sees everything in a terrifying way like in Among the Sleep. There are even more experiences out there that someone wants to find. Gaming is still a form of art, like a movie or a painting, with a more visible interaction with the artists’ minds. It might not appeal to everyone, but you’ll never know what you could find until you go searching.

Nathaniel Sierras

By Nathaniel Sierras

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