Independently developed by small teams, games from indie studios are not just outnumbering big studios and AAA titles they’re outclassing them, too.
The term indie has been popping up all over the place these days. It’s become quite huge for that matter. There are people calling it the Indie Revolution and the Indie Movement and whatnot. But first, let’s ask ourselves the most basic question. What exactly is an indie?
Well, in theory, indie stands for independent, so studios or companies who are not owned by a publisher would technically fall under this category. But in that case, companies like Valve and Gearbox would fall under this category too. They aren’t owned by any publishers and they pretty much do what they want. But we don’t consider them indie, nah they’re way too big. A company like Telltale, for example, might have started off indie but they’ve increased in size tenfold since their success and they have 150+ member studios who work on licensed games. Doesn’t look very indie to us at the moment. Then, of course, there are games like Journey. Definitely, looks and feels indie, heck we totally thought it was an indie game till we started writing this article. Turns out Journey was part of publishing deals with major players so no, not very indie either to begin with, eh?.
So then finally what do we consider indie? Well we’re looking at small studios where there’s only like one or two people. A skeleton crew if you will, who do not care for the whims of publishers or licenses and all that. They’re not tied down by anything so to speak. The games these guys make, is what to us, define an indie game.
Why are Indie games so successful? Is there a lesson for AAA titles here?
Now it wouldn’t be right to just straight up say that indies are more successful than your standard AAA title. A title by a AAA developer and publisher is expected to make well over $5 million. There are many factors that come into play here. It’s incredibly rare to find an indie game with the same production quality as a AAA game. Which makes sense, considering a AAA company has much deeper pockets, larger teams, infrastructure, all that. Furthermore, there are many indie games being dished out every other day. A much larger number when compared to the number of games released by AAA companies. It’s much more difficult to find the good indie games among the thousands of releases than it is to spot a good AAA among the few that release every year.
But despite all this we find ourselves gravitating towards indie games. Why is this so? It’s quite simple really. It’s not that we’re boycotting AAA companies and standing up for the little man (sure that’s nice too) but it’s because indie games are giving us what we want. Over the past few years, all we seemed to be getting from AAA companies was rehashed and recycled goods. The name of the game is money, demand and speed trumps quality and everything is chopped up and scaled down to meet deadlines. Sure they have a budget and big teams, but when the focus is on money rather than the end product, well, we all know how that turns out!
Indie games to the rescue! Thanks to crowdfunding and sites like Kickstarter, indie game developers actually have a platform to acquire funds. If you had a concept or idea that you thought was awesome and felt like you could pull it off with some financial support, all you needed to do was pitch your idea to these crowdfunding sites. If the crowds felt your idea was worth backing, the money would roll in. This addressed one of the key problems when it came to indie games. Having a great idea and concept is all nice, but without the budget to be able to realise it, either you scrapped the thing entirely, or you were left with a sub-par game that was nowhere near what you initially had in mind. Of course, this is not the case all the time, there are indie games out there that have become massively successful and have done so with minimal resources. Sure the game isn’t big in the graphics department and it doesn’t look hyper realistic, but if you’re someone who plays games just for the visuals, hate to break it to ya but ya ain’t a trueblue gamer.
The best part about indie game development is that they work very closely with their target audience. The ones who are funding their game are the ones who will play it, and game devs go out of their way to involve them. Indie game devs don’t hide their development process, it’s kept open and anyone is free to observe and even participate in some cases. Some indie devs actually stream the development process live on sites like Twitch. Backers can actively participate and suggest ideas to the team as they’re working on building the game.
Since indie game devs aren’t held down by restrictions they have the freedom to go about the development process as they wish. This is something that many AAA company developers crave. AAA companies are bound to their publishers, have limited distribution options and have to adhere to the whims and fancies of their higher ups. Recent trends show many AAA company devs are actually leaving to form their own indie studios. In fact, many of the most anticipated indie releases coming up are being headed by veteran AAA developers who’ve gone indie. These guys aren’t in it for the money, they want to make a great game, one that everyone can enjoy, and they want to do it their own way, without being held back by restrictions or any type of limitations.
So let’s not waste any more time and take a look at some of the best Indie has had to offer, which could easily give AAA titles a run for their money.
The Binding of Isaac
So Isaac’s mother starts hearing the voice of God and he’s demanding a sacrifice. You know, to prove her faith and all that. The ideal candidate happens to be Isaac. Wait we’ve read this story somewhere before.. Never mind. Anyway, Isaac doesn’t want to be sacrificed (duh), so he runs into the basement and hides there. But you know that feeling you had as a kid, like there were monsters or something in the basement?(most of us don’t have basements though, awkward) Turns out it’s all true. It’s infested with monsters, lost brothers and sisters(who probably hid in the basement as well because; crazy mother), and his fears. Yes his fears. They’re quite scary, you’d get it if you’ve played it.
The Binding of Isaac is an RPG shooter. It’s got lots of rogue-like elements as well. You’ve got weird pick-ups that give you abilities to help you fight off the droves on monsters coming at you in the dungeon and there are over 300 levels! Who has a basement that’s that huge?!
If we could think of one game this resembles off the top of our heads it would be Legend of Zelda from the good old NES days.
Don’t starve comes from the same folks who brought us Shank and Mark of the Ninja, which were amazing 2D platformers in their own rights, so when we say they’ve outdone themselves with Don’t Starve, we’re giving them mad cred here.
Don’t Starve falls under the action-adventure survival genre. All you need to do is survive. That’s it. You’re dropped into a randomly generated world and you’re not given much to start with, not even instructions for that matter, so you’re a tad lost at first. Be prepared to die, A LOT. But once you get the hang of it, it’s quite addicting. The world is full to the brim with danger, everything here is out to kill you. You can gather items and there’s an intricate crafting system to help you survive longer. You can build structures and such to help you in your endeavour as well, so if you’ve played games like say Minecraft, you’ll feel right at home.
This daring spelunker(-er-er-er) will stop at nothing to get to the treasure, no matter what obstacles come in his way. Spelunky is a platformer – platformer games are aplenty in the indie category, so that makes it all the more worthwhile when a really good platformer shows up among the plethora.
Spelunky moves around like-a Mario but he wields-a whip like-a the guy in Castlevania. What makes Spelunky stand out is the fact that no two playthroughs are the same. That means you have a rogue-like platformer with unlimited replayability. Every level is unpredictable and there’s a lot of treasure to be found, but if you’re not prepared to take on that giant spider or move out of the way of that large boulder coming at you maybe this game isn’t for you.
Gone Home is a game that gives us something many AAA titles are missing today. A captivating story. It’s been awhile since we a saw a game that left its mark on us long after we finished playing it. Imagine coming home after a long trip, an exhausting journey, all you need now is to see the faces of your loved ones and relax. But after you come home you find that there’s no one there to greet you, the house is empty.
You’re left to explore your empty house and look for clues to find your missing family. You’re hunting for clues, items, anything at all, anything that will lead you to your missing family. You’re reading every note you find, and using keys all over the huge house. You’re looking through everything, leaving nothing unturned, even the pizza boxes are not safe. It’s not just some other point and click mystery game, you’re gripped by the story from beginning to end, and you want to keep going, you want to piece everything together and unravel the story behind your missing family. And you won’t be satisfied until you do, and when you do actually come to the conclusion yourself, it’s a feeling that’s beyond describing. You’ll know what we mean if you play it yourself.
Hotline Miami is a top-down, beat-em-up, shoot-em-in-the-face, create-a-bloody-mess-while-you-do-so game with an overabundance of neon. There’s a lot of neon! But it just adds to the retro vibe that just increases the appeal of the game. It’s one of those games you’re better off playing yourself than having us explain to you how bloody good it is. You’ve got a guy in an animal-mask wreaking havoc with whatever means at his disposal, and he’s got quite a few means at his disposal. To add to that we’ve got a sweet 80s soundtrack to enhance the mayhem and a crazy story to go with it.
You’ll immediately notice how it’s reminiscent of the original GTA. Hotline Miami takes the top-down formula and pretty much perfects it. Indulge in some crazy clutch close-quarters combat is as you murder your way through buildings full of bad guys, annihilating all of them with a variety of melee and ranged weapons. Don’t worry about dying, you’ll be doing a lot of that, it just takes one button to get right back to the action. Just wait till you can’t stop getting back into this game!
Limbo is simple. It’s minimalistic. It uses only the simplest of controls. And it’s a prime example of how you can make a masterpiece with limited resources. One look at this game is enough to compel you to try it out. It has a dark and mysterious vibe set in a gloomy monochromatic forest. You awaken in a forest and all you have to do, all you want to do, is look for your sister and escape the woods.
The developers of this game aptly call it a ‘trial and death’ game, because you’ll be dying a lot. Very gruesomely. But hey that’s how you learn. Also there’s a giant spider that relentlessly follows you. It’s quite terrifying. You should most definitely try this game out when you have a chance.
As soon as you start Bastion, it’s already being narrated. Even though it has gameplay like most other hack n slash indie games out there, something about Bastion screams unique.
Maybe it’s the beautiful art and aesthetic, the game’s a visual treat. Or maybe it’s the amazing soundtrack, which in our books could possibly be one of the greatest of all time. Or perhaps it’s the amazing voice acting, well actually, it’s all the narrator. He breathes life into this game, he gives the game a voice, and the game lives and dies by his words.
The atmosphere, the narration, the world, everything in Bastion is an unforgettable experience. You play as “The Kid”, who wields two different kinds of weapons, one melee, one ranged. It’s all fluid and smooth but it’s not the gameplay that will keep you playing.
Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy has you playing as a raw piece of meat. 10/10 for creativity. But will playing as a piece of meat be fun? Hell yes! Super Meat Boy is a ridiculously tough, rage inducing, controller-smashing, super frustrating, fast paced 2D platformer that’s unforgiving and we absolutely love it for that.
It’s a game that’s inspired by classics like Mega Man and Ghosts ‘n Goblins and was designed to bring back the nostalgic feel of playing those old-school Nintendo games. Just in case we haven’t mentioned, this game is insanely tough. It’s almost like beating a boss on Dark Souls (almost because Super Meat Boy is tougher).
Braid is what we’d like to call a platformer masterpiece. It’s so good we could say that it sets the standard for every puzzle platformer that will follow. It features a beautiful hand-painted art style and draws inspiration from age old classics like Prince of Persia and Mario where your goal is to save the – you guessed it – princess.
In Braid, you take on the role of Tim, who makes use of a time manipulation mechanic which boggles the mind and has you using brain muscles that you didn’t know you had. The story is enthralling, something that is quite rare in a sidescroller platformer game. As you progress through the game and find hidden passageways, you learn more about Tim and the story. This is one game that keeps you guessing and where you want to progress and find out more. But you’re never quite given a straight answer. It’s open to interpretation and whatever conclusion you decide to come to when you finish this game, it still feels very satisfying when you manage to get your hands on every last puzzle piece.
Shoe-string budget? Check. Tiny development team? Check. Over 5 million copies sold? Check. Over 70 million in sales? Check. 2.5 billion dollar buyout? No problem. Need we say more?
Minecraft is a game that blew up in 2011, which first came out for PC and later for the Xbox. You would actually need to have been living under some rock in some cave to never have heard about this game. It’s THAT famous.
Minecraft’s heart and soul is it’s crafting system. So simple but yet so complex. You start with nothing. No items, no weapons, and absolutely no clue as to what you’re doing. You can run around, punch stuff and enjoy the pixelated landscapes, that’s about it. But then you learn how the game works, as you learn to gather materials, learn to craft, learn to make tools and improve them, and learn about the horrors of the night, learn ab– we’re already addicted, damnit!
What’s in store for the future of Indies?
The games we just mentioned are few of the many amazing indie games out there that definitely deserve our attention. These are games that are remoulding and reshaping the very genres they belong to. They’ve given us some of the most innovative and unique experiences we’ve had on any gaming platform. As the digital market grows exponentially, so does the market for independently developed games. We would have mentioned several more if we didn’t have any space restrictions. The Indie Movement is only just beginning, we’re yet to see the peak of the Indie Era and we’re sure there will be many more indie gems to come. Thanks to things like crowdfunding, more people are actually able to pitch their ideas to the masses and get things moving.
Furthermore, two of the most popular engines used in games – Unreal Engine and Unity – are free for use for developers. Game engines are normally quite pricey, so this was also great news for indie devs. People are showing great interest in indie projects. These guys actually listen to what the gamers want and so we’re more than happy to help these guys create a great game for us. Real talk though, at the end of the day, we don’t really care where a good game comes from, but when an indie title draws much more attention than all the Call of Duty’s, Battlefield’s, and FIFA’s, maybe the AAA guys have been doing something wrong all this while?
Manish "Trigger-Happy" Rajesh
If he's not gaming, he's... no wait he's always gaming.