It’s hard to argue that one of the biggest surprises this generation has been the rise of the indie developer. As rising game costs have driven out the mid-tier publisher (see THQ), we’ve seen a sudden explosion in the indie market over the years that clearly illustrates the ever widening gap between triple-A game makers and independent developers.
In the beginning, indie games were largely considered nothing more than pet projects found hidden deep within the depths of Xbox Live Arcade and the burgeoning PC market. Phrases like “it’s great…for a downloadable game” were common, and there was a certain assumption that indie games were lower on the quality scale than their retail counterparts.
But as we’ve seen over the years, this simply is not the case anymore. Games like Journey, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Braid, Limbo, and Fez have clearly illustrated what phenomenal experiences independent developers can give us. And with the way the industry is heading , I forsee a complete indie takeover in the next generation should they continue their momentum.
Being that the dawn of the next generation is all but upon us, there are a few ways in which indies could potentially rule the industry as a whole. But how?
MAKE USE OF NEW TECHNOLOGY
The reveal of the Unreal Engine 4 has already seen a handful of teasers and development announcements worth being excited about once the eventual new consoles roll out later this year.
Looking to be even more accessible and user friendly than the likes of the Unreal Engine 3, UE4 promises to deliver a bunch of new features that will both increase the abilities of game creators and make for a more streamlined creation process capable of bringing new ideas to fruition.
One such game looking to shake things up using the Unreal Engine 4 is Daylight, a horror game from Zombie Studios that sees players taking control of an anonymous woman and making their way through a haunted asylum gathering clues and learning about the location and what events took place there.
The most interesting part of the game is not necessarily its survival horror atmosphere, however; rather, it’s the game’s use of randomly-generated environments and dynamic lighting courtesy of the Unreal Engine 4 that makes it a unique horror experience not so commonly found in the gaming space these days.
Furthermore, new technology opens the doors for experiences like Jonathan Blow’s The Witness, a title that blends elements of 3D adventure and puzzle solving into a full game on the PlayStation 4. While we don’t know the full extent of everything the game has to offer yet, it’s still promising that the mind behind Braid is able to come out with an all-new game using the technical prowess of the PS4 in new ways.
CHANGING THE WAY WE PAY
With the somewhat troublesome idea of microtransactions and different paid models entering into the gaming space, it’s no surprise gamers are a little uneasy about the future of the industry and how they interact with the games they’re playing. Pay to win models, nickel and diming of games, and an overall sense of being ripped off is something that many are wary about whenver publishers mention ideas of monetizing their games in new ways.
EA specifically has been in the limelight for this, and not in a good way. The trouble first started for them when they announced in-game purchases for Mass Effect 3′s multiplayer, then microtransactions in Dead Space 3, and have since angered many when they announced all of their future games will contain options to spend additional currency in order to gain access to in-game content.
Now, there are many right and wrong ways to go about doing this. But being that I’m not writing about microtransactions and monetization, I’d rather like to point out that indie developers once again have the opportunity to present us with an alternative to being ripped off by bigger publishers. After all, not may indie games run for more than $30, and we often see them containing experiences just as unique and interesting as full retail triple-A releases.
Add to that ideas of “pay what you want” indie bundles, Kickstarter campaigns rewarding backers, and even free-to-play games using new ideas of monetizing elements of the game, and there’s something to be said of the potential. While it’s going to be something of a mess until people can figure out a solid formula on the big stage with the massive publishers, indie developers have a serious opportunity to come through and give us what we want by way of creative and consumer-friendly payment ideas.
Really, the most exciting part of the indie developer’s role in the next generation is the idea of innovation and changing the way we view and play games. Just take a look at what they’ve managed to do in this generation; The Unfinished Swan made the move bearable, Shadow Complex showed us what a downloadable title could do with the metroidvania format, Super Meat Boy re-introduced tough-as-nails platforming a la classic NES games, and The Walking Dead served as a master class of what could be done with a gripping narrative in an adventure game.
What could they possibly do to continue to innovate on next-gen consoles? Thatgamecompany managed to change the way we view online interaction and multiplayer through Journey, a game that blended both mystery and adventure into one breathtaking and emotional experience. What if we could see new ideas in this space on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720? What if they are able to re-define what we consider to be a game? Hell, what if they could take motion controls and make them fun?
While trying to not sound like a Disney commercial, I really do think anything is possible for the developers that dream up clever enough ideas. And there’s nothing more exciting than imagining the possibilities the indie developer might be capable of with new hardware and new ideas. Considering the precarious situation many major publishers find them in today, it’s completely possible that indies could come in, change things up, and rule the next generation of gaming. Of course, only time will tell. But I’m remaining optimistic nonetheless.