The Indie Game Conundrum
So indie games are cool. It’s true! They’re easily distributed, they often pursue pretty lofty artistic goals, they’re fun to play and cheap to buy. And there are literally THOUSANDS of them. Hooray for the indie gaming world!
Now that I’ve effectively summed up my opinion on that particular subject (and there is ample evidence in previous posts of mine that this is really, really true), let’s talk about what makes them so problematic. Because there are problems. I think that indie games are a godsend for game developers everywhere, but boy, they have their downsides.
The main reason for this post is because Notch (the near-god-status creator of MineCraft) did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit recently, and said some things that are very profound in terms of indie game development. Now, Mojang really only has ONE game. They may have some in the works, they may have put out a couple silly little projects before MineCraft, but MC is their big one. So, I guess we can’t call Notch “experienced” in the art of making indie games. But, actually we can! He’s had the chance to meet with, work with, fraternize with, play Halo and drink beer with every big name in the indie gaming industry, and some who are even bigger than indie games as a whole! He knows EVERYBODY, and thus knows a lot about the world of indie games and how they are made.
The big thing that totally struck me is the hype surrounding MineCraft and Mojang. EVERYONE who plays it loves it. There are a ton of people who are just completely apey over it, and I’m one of them. It’s a brilliant game, it keeps getting better, and every time I play it I look up and like 5 hours have gone by. (I’m not proud of that… okay, maybe a little, but in a very nerdy, self-loathing kind of way.) So what’s next for Mojang? What is going to capture our lives and our attention NEXT? It’s gotta be GREAT! It’s gotta be BETTER than MineCraft! WAY BETTER! CAPSLOCK! But the reality of the situation is that it won’t be. It can’t be.
And why not? Well, because it’s MineCraft, Notch says. He explained that MineCraft’s popularity was a fluke, a one in a million chance that he happened to get lucky on. It wasn’t intentional. And certainly, if we play MC ourselves, we can understand how this can be said to be true. The limits of the game are not imposed upon the player, they are imposed BY the player. Therefore, if players find it too difficult to embrace their creative desire, or an elite few hadn’t decided to make scale models of the Arc De Triomph, Neuschwanstein castle, and the FRICKIN’ U.S.S. ENTERPRISE, then perhaps others wouldn’t have picked it up and tried their hands at it. It really WAS a fluke. And the next game they put out won’t be. The reputation of Mojang is not enough to make a game that isn’t %100 awesome succeed.
Also, we must consider some other things. A different artistic goal must be in mind for their next game. To make a game quite a bit like MineCraft would make their fans jaded and let them down. In the indie game industry, novelty is a strongly attractive attribute for a game to have. The reason people like Haydn or Mozart were able to write so many symphonies and concertos is because they had a formulaic approach to composition. The same cannot be said for indie games. So, while Mojang may do sandbox games really well, they have no choice but to abandon that genre if they wish to make another game.
Finally, we must consider the people themselves. The gamedevs for indie games almost never number more than 12 or 15. There might be some indie studios with more than 20 people, but it’s very rare. When you have a close group of people like that, creativity is very hard to come by in large amounts. To produce awesome (and different) games consecutively is a very challenging thing for all game developers, but when you have such a small group of people, it becomes nearly impossible. Not every game can be utter genius. Not every game can be the most brilliant child a game company brings into the world. That’s not how it works.
To be an indie game company presents a very interesting set of challenges, and they’re ones that big game companies don’t have to face. They have the ability to create franchises out of their games that allow for a somewhat formulaic approach to how they do business, even if the artistic aspect is changed a bit (Final Fantasy or Tekken, anyone?). They have a lot more manpower, which, while it doesn’t create something completely mindblowingly brilliant very often, there is a base level of artistry in every aspect of the game (writing, 3d modeling, gameplay, programming, environments, music, etc.) that provides a quality product a lot more often than any indie company can hope for. And there’s the advertising. Big game companies throw around a lot more money, and can expect to make a lot more money from their investment. It’s the nature of the beast.
It’s a wonderful path in life to take if you love creating games. I would get up every morning and love my job if I could make indie games or write their music. But… everything that makes it so wonderful can also give these creative individuals a lot of problems and obstacles to their success. How does one continue being successful after one STARTS being successful? Notch says it’s not possible. Perhaps he’s right? Well, given the profits of MineCraft, he can AFFORD to be right! Frickin’ millionaire. For the rest of us, however, let’s hope he isn’t!
Posted on August 3, 2012, in Miscellaneous and tagged BioWare, Blizzard, blizzard games, EA, Final Fantasy, Flash Games, Gaming, Haydn, Indie Games, Indie Gaming, kongregate, mass effect, Minecraft, Mojang, Mozart, Notch, PC Games, PC Gaming, Schubert, Video Games. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.