There has been a bit of criticism directed towards Sony and Microsoft for them backing indie developers with their current-gen consoles, and I’m not entirely sure why. I can kind of understand that there’s a time and a place for indie games. Indie games aren’t the sort of titles that should head major game conventions. They’re also not the sort of games that you’ll plug as a release title for a major console. They are the sort of games, however, that you’ll release as ‘time fillers’, between the ‘big’ titles. They’re the sort of games that can be given away in initiatives like PS+ or Games with Gold, because that’s what they’re geared towards. I, however, admire Microsoft and Sony for supporting indie developers. But that’s because I’m a big fan of indie games, for quite a few different reasons.
The word ‘indie’ is quite ambiguous nowadays. It’s hard to distinguish what is and isn’t an indie game and, as with most things on the internet, you’ll never be able to please everyone with how you categorise indie games. For me, an indie game is a game that has been developed by a small team, usually on a small budget (compared to the likes of companies like Ubisoft, who spend millions on just marketing a game). Historically, the majority of indie games were self published, but recently Microsoft and Sony have been backing indie titles with quite a bit of money. The line between indie and non-indie is incredibly blurry, so don’t be surprised if you’ve been playing an indie game recently without even knowing it. Still, the classification of what is and isn’t indie is a discussion for another day.
I think that some indie games are fantastic, and a good percentage are actually of a greater quality than the games dished out by the big developers and big publishers. Obviously, the ‘incredible’ indie games are like gems interspersed between pebbles, and sometimes it’s difficult to know which ones are worth your time, and which ones aren’t worth bothering with. But sometimes that’s part of the adventure, provided you’re not paying too much for the game. That’s probably what puts some people off, especially if they’ve been burnt by a crap indie game once before. But, if history has taught me anything, it’s that you shouldn’t judge the many by the few. Yes, there will be some rubbish indie games, but there will also be some fantastic titles. I think you need to be brave when it comes to indie gaming, and if you’re willing to experiment, I’m sure you’ll find some games that you’ll absolutely love.
I find that the best way to ‘indie game’ is to check out the community. There are tonnes of websites and magazines out there that will tell you which indie games are worth your money, and which ones you shouldn’t touch with a “ten foot clown pole” – I do love a good Simpsons quote. Also, you’ll be surprised how many indie games started life on the internet as a browser game, or on tablets and mobiles. Games like Sixty Second Shooter started on the internet, so there is the ‘try before you buy’ option with some indie games; provided you’re happy to play the older version on a different platform. But, the majority of non-console indie games are free to play! We have a whole section dedicated to On The Go gaming on the website, where we often review free (or incredibly cheap) tablet and mobile games, the majority of which would be classed as ‘indie’.
Indie games are built for quick play, for flitting in and out of and for providing a few hours of intense fun. Some of them are kind of like one night stands; a passionate fiery relationship that lasts a few hours, but burns out soon after. It’s probably because they’ve been made on small budgets, with a small team. So instead of spending the budget on hours of gameplay, the good indie game developers tend to focus on packing the short game with a lot of quality content. Indie games are all about quality, rather than quantity, and there really are some quality indie games out there. One that really comes to mind is Guacamelee!. It’s perfectly paced, action packed, rammed with content and it looks stunning too. It might be a little short, but it’s so enchanting you probably wouldn’t know the difference between playing it for one hour or playing it for ten minutes. That’s what I love most about indie gaming; in a good indie game, the fun is intense and it’s always memorable. I often find myself absorbed in an indie game, and considering that they’re usually cheap, you get a lot of content for your buck.
I think the biggest barrier that indie games have had to break down in recent years is the stigma of some of the dodgy Arcade games of old, some of the cringey indie games of the last generation which were available on the Xbox 360, for example, and the casual indie games that are readily available on tablets and mobiles… or Facebook… like Flappy Bird. These games, whilst sometimes fun, don’t do a lot for indie gaming as a whole. They’re not bad games, necessarily, they’re just a bad representation of what makes indie gaming a special experience. Indie games aren’t just about repetitive actions, a dry story and bad graphics on a cheap budget. They’re about short, punchy, engaging narrative, quirky plots and characters, weird and wonderful themes, great content and, most of all, passion.
A good indie game is made with blood, sweat and tears, but most importantly, they’re made with love. I know that sounds really lame, but they are. Watch ‘Indie Game The Movie’ and you’ll understand. Octodad, Fez, Minecraft, BattleBlock Theatre, Don’t Starve, Hotline Miami, Guacamelee!, Dust: An Elysian Tale, Bastion, Super Meat Boy and Braid; all of these games have the hearts and souls of the developers fused within them. The games are almost extensions of the developers, something that is often lost in the ‘big’ titles, which seem to be more about making millions than making a great game for people to love. These are the sorts of games that have to be unique and have to be different, otherwise people won’t notice them. These games are forced to be special because otherwise nobody would bother to play them; their popularity is based on word of mouth. Well, as ‘word of mouth’ as the internet gets these days.
You’d probably be surprised at how many of the big game developers were, until relatively recently, classed as kind of indie. Developers like Telltale Games could once have been called indie, with their niche episodic style games soaring in popularity since the success of their take on The Walking Dead. I wouldn’t be shocked if we start seeing more developers like this – indie developers with a large financial backing, such as Undead Labs and their partnership with Microsoft. The more that Microsoft and Sony support the indie developers, the less ‘classically indie’ they will become… which is kind of ironic, I guess. That doesn’t mean that the games will lose that ‘special’ indie quality. State of Decay, for example, was a game developed by Undead Labs (which had a rather small team at the time) but produced by Microsoft. I’d say that it still felt like a game made with passion, but it had the financial backing to make it bigger and better than it would have been on a smaller budget. Whether or not their next title, currently known as ‘Class 4’, will have the same hint of indie magic is yet to be seen. But if they pull of a good game in a similar style to State of Decay, they might be on to something special.
The main reason that people should play indie games, or at least the quality ones, is because of the effort that goes into making them. I’m not saying that the big developers don’t work hard to make their games. But, games are a lot easier to make in a team of over a hundred people, with a budget in the millions. You also get a greater sense of the passion that goes into making a video-game when the team is small; you get a sense of the individuality of games when four people have worked on it, whereas that personal touch gets somewhat lost in a game made by hundreds. The success of the indie ‘genre’ is best shown in the fact that big developers, like Ubisoft, have recently started making games with a distinct ‘indie’ style. Titles like Valiant Hearts and Child of Light have a hint of indie to them, despite the fact that they were made with a hefty budget. Still, these little, shorter games feel far more personal than Watch_Dogs or Assassin’s Creed, which is something I admire them for. Call me an old romantic, but I like to know that something I’ve played is kind of unique, rather than a bit plastic and repetitive like the twentieth FIFA game or Call of Duty title. Guess that makes me sound like a bit of a hipster, but hey, I don’t like it when people miss out on some fantastic games because they deem the classification of ‘indie’ to mean ‘less’.
Are you a fan of indie games? If so, what are your favourite indie games to date? If you’re not a fan, why not explain why below! Indie gaming isn’t for everyone, after all.