Some indie games are great. I mean really really great. I’d count some as amongst my favourite games of all time (such as Hyper Light Drifter, What Remains of Edith Finch and The Dragons Hackey Sack). By default, big blockbuster third party games cost a lot of money and tend not to take risks because they need to appeal to as many demographics as possible. Only first party titles really have the budget to go off the beaten path and take a risk because they are designed to set the competition apart.
Indie games don’t have that – their smaller budgets, dev teams and audiences mean they can take risks. Whole genres have been borne out of the indie scene – looking at you, walking sims – and their proponents focus on the different experiences they offer a gamer.
This is all well and good but sometimes, indie is promoted online as being a mark of quality and the ‘savior’ of the gaming industry. Whereas AAA titles are bloated, cynical monetization schemes, pushing their own agendas over providing quality, Indie games are a pure rush to the gaming head, with players put first and foremost. If you were online any time over this summer, you’ll have seen Hollow Knight, Dead Cells, Overcooked 2 and others being namechecked and referenced on every gaming site in an almost obligatory manner.
Which is fine, they are great games and deserve promotion. That said, the expectation that indie games are the saviour of the gaming industry is pure fallacy. SOME indie games are amazing. Some are average and an awful AWFUL lot are terrible. While a lot of AAA games might be launched buggy, or be terminally average, bloated by busy work, Indie games have the opposite problem. Since they are invariably cheaper and potentially quicker to make, they are far more prone to quick and nasty cash grabs, copying others and generally trying to rip people off. The thousands of games going on Steam every 32 seconds aren’t coming from major AAA publishers – they are small companies literally set up to make a quick buck. Cue every major news story about rip off games being sent out.
Indeed, the indie games industry’s biggest problem is itself. AAA publishers spend the same again on marketing because a) they can and b) because they need to encourage those purchases. For indie games, where there is no cash for marketing, the amount of dross regularly released means that just good or solid games don’t get a look in. You can guarantee that every online content provider that bangs on about indie games is talking about the industry’s success stories – games like Hollow Knight, Stardew Valley, Super Meat Boy etc. when they proclaim how amazing the industry is. They don’t include the thousands of knock offs.
So, for those wanting to dip their toe into the indie market, treat them the same as the more expensive AAA games. Read reviews, do your research and remember that indie games are like organic foods. Just because they organic, doesn’t mean they won’t give you the shits.