Games development is a tough business, as the industry becomes consolidated with a handful of giant publishers and the expectations for new titles continue to grow smaller developers can struggle to survive. This is bad for gamers because it means less creativity and less risk taking and ultimately less variety in the games they can buy. There is a big difference between developers and publishers.
The Trouble with Publishers
Publishers are extremely risk averse. They would rather take the familiar option than try something new, they fund developers grudgingly and frequently make demands for creative changes based on what their marketing department says. This means gamers end up with more unimaginative titles which are expensively marketed at them. Sure they look great but what about the game-play? Where has the challenge gone? Everything is dumbed down and forced to fit a formula in an attempt to attract the mass market for maximum sales. Publishers only care about profit, they aren’t in the industry to make good games or drive creativity forward they are there to make money, pure and simple.
The Indie Antidote
This is where independent developers come in, as an alternative to the corporate behemoths. Developers are in the industry to try and make games that gamers will love. Their obsession is not about money, however, and they develop games because they love gaming and they are always looking to push new ideas out there and experiment with new game-play. The only way developers can truly make the games they want is to stay independent of publishers.
There are a handful of exceptions to this rule. When studios regularly make big money for their publisher it often results in a situation where the publisher is genuinely afraid to meddle in case they break something. It is also inevitable that developers will work with publishers once they have a successful game already developed because they can actually cut a reasonable deal in that scenario and publishers have all the marketing and distribution links.
Independent developers face a real challenge to secure funding. It is rare that they can compete with the gigantic teams employed by people like EA, who can have literally hundreds of people working on a single title. What they can do, or what they have to do if they want to get noticed is come up with new, fresh, unique and crazy ideas for games. While the mainstream stagnates you can still find creativity in the indie game scene.
Indie Game Scene Growth
The indie game scene has grown rapidly and developments in the last few years have allowed that growth. With the rise in digital distribution and the importance of online media for the first time, indie developers have a route to market. They can get their games out there, they can build an audience and they can make some money to fund the development of more games. Teams can even work together across the net, dispensing with the need for a traditional office and developing games that don’t need to be justified and pass several levels of review before they reach the hands of gamers. They can even get onto consoles without having to negotiate a deal with a publisher.
Independent Game Developers
There is a tendency to think of independent game developers as small and most of them are; but all it really means is that they aren’t owned by a publisher or some other larger company. For example a very large independent developer is Valve. Through the phenomenal success of Half-Life they were able to take their time with further developments and stay independent. They also came up with the Steam system for online distribution which has been a big help to many independent developers providing them with a route to market which cuts out publishers and allows them to see some profit. Of course, strictly speaking, it makes Valve themselves a publisher, but they haven’t forgotten their roots and are easily the most independent and friendly choice out there.
Independent developers have brought back a number of genres in recent years, particularly strategy, adventure and puzzle games, which were declining in popularity and are now enjoying a renaissance. The casual game scene has exploded and while the big publishers are pushing their way in now, the revolution in this sector was driven by independent game development.
Support your Indie!
Instead of focusing on making everything graphically more impressive indie games push us in new directions, they explore ideas that mainstream games will simply never touch and while there is the odd innovation in the mainstream scene you will find a great deal more in indie games. It is important gamers support independent games development and instead of buying the latest sequel or movie license with the same old game-play try something different.
Just as it’s important to try new things in life to keep from stagnating the same principle applies to games.