Once in a while, in the middle of a long caffeine and video game binge, Joshua Wirtanen starts making wild predictions about the future of gaming. In this weekly column, we will take a closer look at some of these predictions. It's up to you, the reader, to decide whether these have any truth to them or if it's just the caffeine talking.
2010 was an exceptional year for indie games. Amnesia: The Dark Decent scared the pants off people – especially those who played it in the dark. Limbo wasn't quite as scary, but its silhouette-based visuals and intriguing world won us over anyway. Super Meat Boy rocked Xbox Live and then blasted his way over to the PC, reminding us how addictive the old school platforming experience was. Minecraft sucked us in and never really let us go, causing us to burn hundreds of hours building and destroying blocky worlds. And at the tail end of 2010, Ilomilo was a soothing treat filled with puzzles and cute characters. If you made a personal top-ten list of your own favorite games of 2010, there's a good chance at least one indie title showed up on it.
Had I predicted this massive onslaught of indie games that would share the spotlight with AAA titles, right here is the place where I would gloat over how right I was.
Unfortunately, I made no such prediction.
However, instead of bragging about my predictive skills, what I can do now is extrapolate about what this trend means for the gaming industry in the next couple years.
The video game industry is in a weird place right now. Just a couple years ago, we were boasting about how recession-proof it was. "Look at us," we said, "video game sales are completely unaffected by all this scary financial stuff that's going on in the world." But now we are eating those words as we watch video game studios close their doors one after the other. It hasn't even been a month since Disney announced massive layoffs at its game studios and the closure of its own Propaganda Games. And just a day or two before that announcement, Activision closed the doors on Bizarre Creations. Even worse, holiday sales of video games have been declining the past couple years. The recession is taking its toll on the gaming industry in a big way.
As is the case with any industry, the video game business is founded on money. And that means game developers and publishers need to do whatever they can to continue to make the bucks. Unfortunately, in the current market, this tends to result in budget cuts and an overall decline in risk-taking. Companies put their time and effort (and wallets) into projects they know will make money – generally sequels and clones of whatever is currently selling the most copies.
The video game is a rapidly evolving beast, one that looks completely different every five years or so. This evolution is driven by games that are willing to take risks – games that introduce something new into the gaming formula. Can you imagine what sorts of games we'd be playing now had Metal Gear Solid not blown us away with its focus on stealth gameplay, or Grand Theft Auto 3 hadn't paved the way for a generation of open-world sandbox games? Sure, both of these games were sequels (of sorts) to already proven titles, and neither was the very first to introduce the types of gameplay they popularized, but they both refused to be satisfied blending in with all the other games of their respective eras. They blew open doors and introduced us to ideas that are now staples of the gaming industry. Would we have ever had a Siphon Filter series without Metal Gear Solid, or Red Dead Redemption without GTA3?