Big, blockbuster, AAA games are great. They're fun. They're these big-budget, well-polished games that deliver a consistently good experience at a standard price. Some of my favorite games of all time are part of huge franchises, but sometimes I'm looking for something a little different...
I don't know quite to say it than just to say it: I love indie games. I just love them to death. But you know what I love more than indie games? Indie developers. I love the entire idea that you can get a small team of very talented people together and make something great. I love the passion and drive that I see in these people, and I love the fact that they're just so overjoyed to be part of an industry they worked hard to break into.
My love of the indie developer started with a game called Monday Night Combat. I tried the demo/trial out on XBLA before I purchased it, and was really impressed by what it offered. It was a cool blend of DotA-Style play and various TPS/FPS elements...And I loved it! I immediately looked up the rather obscure developer "Uber Entertainment", and signed up on their forums. The more I learned about Uber, the more amazed I was with the game.
Uber Entertainment was originally a team of 10-15 people (If memory serves), and their goal was to create a multiplayer game on the XBLA. This is a VERY tall order, considering all the logistics involved with making a multiplayer title. On top of that, they had to make it balanced and competitive, and appeal to that FPS gamer crowd. They initially got a lot of badmouthing for just being "A Team Fortress 2 Clone", which they got a lot of on their own forums.
But Uber endured the initial wave, and when the seas calmed, they began their real strides for greatness. The game quickly differentiated itself from Team Fortress 2 in many ways, and the game developed its own following. They smartly developed a free expansion for the game...And then brought the game to Steam. From there...The rest is pretty much history.
After being very pleased with this "Indie" title that I'd picked up, I turned a more active eye to the indie game scene. The more attention I paid, the better it all seemed to get. Minecraft won me over, as well as many other wonderful titles such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Super Meat Boy, Back to the Future: The Game, Magicka, Sanctum, and more. All of these games are not big-budget titles, nor are they developed by huge studios manned to the teeth...But to me they each represent some of the best game experiences in their relative genres. Amnesia scares the PISS out of me each time I get the courage to play it. Minecraft is a title I play almost on a daily basis, and is one of my most valued creative outlets. I don't tend to like tower defense games, but I loved playing Sanctum.
Every single indie game I've purchased represents something unique that I couldn't find in the mainstream gaming market...And I just LOVE it!
Indie developers are in a unique position right now, because they can develop fantastic experiences with fairly small teams, given that they have the time and resources. It's almost that their limitations give them power, in that they MUST create something different if they hope to compete with the big boys. They create an option for the poor gamer out there by charging anything BUT 60 bucks for their games...More often than not charging as little as 5-10 dollars for their wonder-juice.
Another advantage I feel that Indie developers have over their AAA counterparts is community integration. I find that most bigger studios tend to gather limited community feedback, and are largely self-propelled game machines. Indie developers, however, are much smaller, and have a much more concentrated fanbase from which to draw their feedback. I noticed that on the Uber Entertainment forums (I know I use these guys a lot, but they're really a prime example of an Indie company doing it RIGHT!), that the developer team was directly involved, and constantly interacting with fans. They were actively interested in their likes and dislikes, and wanted to make the game better for the players and not necessarily themselves. Indie developers almost HAVE to pay attention to their fans, because they don't have a huge pile of money or funding to fall back on.
But Indie developers represent much more to me than a good source of cheap games. They represent a unique career opportunity.
We all know that it's very, very hard to get a job in the games industry these days. You have to be damn good at your job, as well as having lots of industry experience to even be considered at a major studio. Even if you get in, you're probably going to be taking a lot of orders, and probably won't feel like you're contributing a lot to the game itself until you've worked your way up the ladder.
An indie developer that has just made their first break, however, are much smaller in size, and are probably actively looking to increase their staff. Their smaller team size makes it more of an active collaboration than it does a "taking orders" desk job. I remember talking to the folks at Uber Entertainment at PAX this year (so friendly!), and I actually met the guy that started the entire studio. That wouldn't even HAPPEN at a major game studio, and I felt honored at the chance to thank the man personally for a game I really enjoyed. The point is...It didn't feel like I was talking to someone that had their "Press Face" on. It felt like I was talking to a bunch of really active, happy, engaged people who loved their jobs and couldn't wait to do what they do.
It gave me hope that some day, I could work with people like that, and not have to endure a soul-crushing menial job for the rest of my life.
Some indie devs are most known for their generosity. The Humble Indie Bundle is one of the most successful charity drives that we've ever seen in the games history, and it was all possible because the game's developers had the heart to contribute the product of all their hard work to help those less fortunate than themselves. That's something you'd never see from Activision or EA...And it really warms my heart to know that there are still good human beings out there, and that they exist in and industry I so desperately want to work in.
Indie games and their developers are unique entities in today's gaming world. They are able to exist because of ever-growing cheap technology, and are slowly making their footprint in gaming history. They provide us with an alternative to both the mainstream games themselves, and to those who are looking, an alternative to a mainstream career. In my eyes, they represent the true creative drive and spirit in the games industry, and I can only hope to work in that environment at some point in my life.
To Indie Games: May their spirit never die.
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