We have heard the praises of indie games being sung a million times over. Gamers everywhere are hopping on the art-game train, complaining about corrupt AAA publishers, and swearing that tiny studios no bigger than the studios we had in the age of the NES will save gaming as we know it from drab, boring, carbon-copy games. But will they? I’m not saying that AAA publishers don’t have their fair share of problems, with corruption, greed, and mismanagement of bloated game budgets being only a few of them, but are indie games really this phenomenal bastion of creativity that will instill new spirit into the industry, or are they falling into the same pitfalls that their AAA counterparts are?
Let’s compare them for a second. Everyone knows that the big moneymaker in the AAA world is the shooter, right? Uncharted is a shooter. The Last of Us is a shooter. Halo is a shooter. Call of Duty is a shooter. Battlefield is a shooter. The list of shooters that have made money hand over fist just goes on and on and on. The market is saturated with shooters, and this very market saturation is what has jaded gamers and made them turn to the indie world in the first place.
Indie games, supposedly, have a lot more diversity. This diversity takes the form of games such as Braid, the 2D platformer that kind of started the indie game craze; then there is that dark and moody 2D platformer, Limbo. There is alsoFEZ, a 2D platformer with a dimension-shifting mechanic, Outland, a 2D platformer with a color-shifting mechanic, Cave Story, a Metroidvania-style 2D platformer, Super Meat Boy, a hardcore, 2D platformer… then there is Spelunky, Trine, Terraria, Towerfall, The Swapper, VVVVVV, Rogue Legacy, Henry Hatsworth, I Wanna Be the Guy, Eversion, Closure, and Thomas Was Alone--all 2D platformers, and we are even going to see more come out with Mighty No. 9 and Murasaki Baby. But indie games aren’t just making games in the same genre, right?
Granted, there are exceptions. Minecraft, for example, isn’t a 2D platformer, and it’s one of the most popular indie games out there. I’m sure all of you will come up with plenty of other examples of indie gaming greatness such as Flower and Journey that aren’t 2D platformers at all. To that I say, “Are there not exceptions in the AAA world?” In 2012, Call of Duty had the best-selling title, sure. But immediately following it was Madden, and following that we saw games such as Assassin’s Creed III, Lego Batman, and even Just Dance 4. There’s your diversity right there.
There will also be those of you who claim that indie games are superior to AAA titles because of how they play around with mechanics. Braid, for example, is a work of art because of its time mechanics, mechanics strikingly similar to Prince of Persia. FEZ blows our minds with dimension-shifting mechanics, mechanics reminiscent of Super Paper Mario. Outland uses a color-shifting mechanic, like Ikaruga, to win our hearts. Heck, Super Meat Boy uses a wall-jumping mechanic that is used time and time again in games such as Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man X. In fact, nearly every indie game with a cool mechanic has just borrowed its mechanic from a AAA game that tried it before them. Besides, it’s not like the AAA shooters that everyone loathes aren’t doing the same thing. Inversion is a third-person shooter with gravity mechanics, but instead of being applauded for innovation, it was almost universally criticized for being “gimmicky.”
I’m not saying that AAA games are better than indie games. Any blanket statement like that is bound to be wrong. What I’m saying is that indie games aren’t impervious to getting swept away in the river of hot gaming trends, just like AAA games do. The AAA market is oversaturated with shooters right now because they are easy to make, and people like them. That way, companies are able to keep costs down and sales up while simultaneously having the highest chance of satisfying the most people. Similarly, the indie market is oversaturated with 2D platformers right now because of the exact same reasons: They are easy to make and people like them. They still allow small indie studios to save money and make profit, and that’s really what the gaming industry is all about: profit.
And yes, the indie market will eventually encounter the same problems that the AAA market is encountering now, just on a smaller scale. If everyone jumps on the platformer train, budgets will grow higher and higher and sales targets will get bigger and bigger. Failures will begin to hurt more and more, and soon, one bad indie-game release will be enough to close an indie studio all together.
Not only that, but indie studios have Kickstarter politics to worry about. As indie games get more and more popular, Kickstarter goals will get higher as well and will start getting harder to meet. Not only that, but it will become harder and harder to fulfill your promises after your Kickstarter has been funded. Several Kickstarter projects have already run into this roadblock, with some developers spending all their Kickstarter money before they even begin developing the game in question.