Indie Games and Innovation

When Sony announced the PS4 a few days ago, we saw more of the same – more power, more polygons and higher reliance on visual verisimilitude – but this time with a share button.

As videogame researcher Ian Bogost put it shortly after the event (tldr):

A first-person shooter is a first-person shooter. A driving sim is a driving sim. FIFA is FIFA. There’s nothing revolutionary about them, no more than there’s anything revolutionary about a wacky family sitcom or an apocalyptic action flick.

We are seeing fewer and fewer examples of AAA games surprising us with something new and creative. With huge budgets and shareholder value at stake, large organizations manage risk by sticking to proven game concepts.

Indie game developers, on the other hand, don’t have to. We can experiment with new game mechanics and themes and push the limits of gameplay for the rest of the industry.

But are we really seeing that much more innovation in indie games?

Or are indies similarly staying in the comfort zone of retro arcade games and smaller or less polished versions of their AAA cousins?

After watching the video above and playing countless indie games over the past couple of years, I am convinced that there is more variety and experimental gameplay in indie games. However, most games need to generate some kind of revenue and regardless of scale, compromises have to be made.

A player who has just paid $60 for a AAA game will be much more forgiving towards slow loading times, lack of initial engagement or bad menu design than when playing smaller, cheaper, visually less impressive or casual games.

Most indie and casual games don’t perform well commercially, and even the App Store is now dominated by the big players.

We love the exceptions that his it out of the ballpark, but they are scarce and that’s why we celebrate them so vehemently.

The rest of us will just have to keep innovating not only in game design, but also in ways of creating value for players in free-to-play and IAP scenarios.

I believe there are still many undiscovered ways a small team can make money making games. And, even though I am a big fan of these services, I think resorting to crowd-funding and game bundles alone would be admitting defeat.

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