Opinion: “Indie” lost its meaning

This year’s E3 was strange for many reasons. Outside of the presence of Microsoft and Nintendo and a few show stoppers from third parties, the big AAA games took the backseat to games outside their high-priced range. As a developer working on occasional part-time contractors and teams of three, this was very exciting at first. E3 is usually not the place where small games get the attention.

However, I was worried about how to package these games. This year’s E3 felt that the definitions of both AAA and indie games were becoming more and more opaque. AAA has been compressed into a few mega-budget titles, and the term “indie” seems to have been extended to cover everything else.

I don’t want to define “indie” in clear terms. I would like to argue that “indie” may be approaching the point that it is no longer a practical term in itself, and it may be time to reassess the way we talk about these games. is.

How “Indie” attracted attention in the 2010s

There is an elephant in the front room. “Indie” has always been an ambiguous term in the gaming industry. I can’t think of an era when I’ve been involved in games for about 10 years and the definition of the label wasn’t actively discussed.

It’s an argument that is always lagging sooner or later. Does it refer to the production range? Artistic priority? Self-published? There is no satisfactory answer because it is difficult to define “indie” without boxing out at least some developers.

The closest thing to a universal consensus is that you know indie when you see it. This means that the label is practical when used in context, even if it is loosely defined. “Indie” does not require any further clarity. Because the game you’re talking about defines a label when it’s used.

So how did you get here? Much of this current language of indie games was made known by the indie boom of the early 2010s. At the beginning of the decade, there was an influx of commercial games by teams of 1-5 people. To give a few examples, Super Meet Boy, Fez and Thomas were alone. This move only grew when Steam opened the door to more developers. Immediately after Sony and Microsoft began actively encouraging small studios to engage in dialogue with them to bring games to the platform (especially the Vita began to be advertised as a portable Steam machine).

It all seemed that many thought that “gray-brown shooters” were like the cultural undertones of mainstream video games that saturated AAA space. It was happening behind the scenes. I don’t know how fair it was, especially given some of the great games released between 2008 and 2010, but there was still the feeling that the games were being homogenized.

It’s an environment that allows a vibrant series of small games by enthusiasts to surface, and small studios and alternative artists are more prosperous on the market than ever before. Of course, there were “mid-tier” or “AA” games. The Walking Dead, Tokyo Jungle, Spec Ops: Lines all definitely fall into this category (the definition of “AA” is as vague as “indie”). However, the line between what was considered mainstream and what was indie was clear and normalized by the rise of Let’s players and game streamers at about the same time. What does “indie” mean in the mid-2010s? Refers to one of the many cover shooters of the new generation and says “not.”

Many different types of “indie” games

So what does “indie” in 2021 mean? Depending on who you ask, indie games can be created for by a crappy team of 1-2 beginners, with a budget of over $ 5,000,000, 15-20 industry veterans and major platforms. It may be a game that includes a team of. support.

And what do you know? It may be okay, or at least it may not be worth trying to fight it. The label will continue to cover more and more games in promising projects as long as it remains a valuable marketing tool. will you do It becomes more noteworthy when the story surrounding it is being made by a small group of developers working outside the mainstream.

This isn’t exactly the case for many games labeled “Indie”, but it’s certainly not my place to tell the studio how to identify themselves. I don’t think a well-funded developer maliciously accepts this label or anyone is inertially using it. All the developers I’ve met are working hard, and “indie” means so much for different people that someone on a team of 15-30 developers is who they are. You can understand why you can feel rational.

But I think the label is saturated. Other developers prefer to sell their games outside the label because of the scope and tone of the project. “There are several reasons to call silent games” AA “or” Double A “studios. The main reason is that the size of the studio can be larger than what we consider to be “indie” and will grow in the future. ” Silent Games CEO Sally Blake (formally Ubisoft) talks about this topic. “We currently have 15 people, but we will continue to expand over the next few years.”

12 minute screenshot

Tone, the silent game project is outside both the indie and AAA spaces, Blake continued. “I feel that’indie’is related to a particular atmosphere and aesthetics …” she said. “We’re aiming for a high-quality game, but we don’t want to be mistaken for AAA studios, so we carefully considered giving the player the right impression of the scope of the game.”

As a co-founder of a small studio myself, this kind of clarity is appreciated.Looking at it, it’s difficult to be a team of 1 to 5 people A team of almost 20 people in Hades, Or Hellblade’s experienced team of AAA plus motion capture, or a 12 Minutes star-studded cast with “Indie” on the most popular Steam tag. In an industry where overwork and infeasible production pressures are already widespread, the concern that these games may set the standard at which your game is retained is sympathetic.

This certainly means that it’s more important than ever to set expectations through channels available to small developers and let viewers know what the game is when people find it. ..

But what if no one can find it?

“Indie” brush is too wide

Whether you’re an outlet trying to emphasize a small team game, a streamer looking for an indie game with alternative mechanics, or a game enthusiast who wants to support interesting new talent, these games It can be really difficult to find. Most storefront indie labels contain games that are smaller than the controls. It’s also difficult to find coverage of indie games due to the wide range of articles that try to spotlight indie games. I also sympathize with the game press in this situation. I don’t know how developers sift through dozens of interesting little games that come out every week without portraying them in a better language.

“Indie” doesn’t seem to perform its former function, but no newer, better language has emerged to replace it. We’re at the time when more games are released than ever before, but we lack the vocabulary to easily distinguish them, and thus we’re spotlighting some of the most interesting or ambitious ones. ..

I would like to emphasize that this is just a problem, as the game is more diverse, creative and ambitious than ever before. More developers are creating games with more scopes, styles and perspectives than ever before. I believe this was a good reflection of Microsoft’s Xbox showcase on the E32021. In that showcase, the game was treated as a game rather than separated into “AAA” and “indie” blocks, sitting next to each other regardless of range or budget. That’s how much we are currently beyond the binaries, which is unbelievable.

But if you don’t change the language you’re using when speaking something other than the flashiest and most expensive games, I think a lot of things will slip through the gap. Does it have anything to do with me as a developer? Of course it will. But the ones who feel the loss most are the players in me who are eccentric and eccentric fans, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Dan Pearce is a game director and co-founder of Four Circle Interactive, a developer of 10 Second Ninja X, and an unannounced project in the future. He has worked on a small scale in the gaming industry for over a decade and previously developed the BAFTA-nominated Castles in the Sky at The Tall Trees.

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