06
Dec
09

A Renaissance of Gaming: How Indie Games are Reshaping the Industry

Let me start by pointing out, I am not an expert in the gaming industry.  I am a gamer and a novice programmer. I am also a student at UNA, and I plan on working in the industry one day.  However, my opinions are shaped on experience as a gamer, and what I have learned about the way the industry works thus far.

I believe we are coming out of a dark age of gaming and will soon enter a renaissance.  I am not saying there are no good games out today, because there are plenty of gems.  But I do believe the golden days have passed.  In fact, I believe there are three distinct ages in modern gaming:  The Golden Age, The Dark Age, and The Renaissance.

(*Note* By “Modern Gaming” I mean late 80’s to present.  Remember that gaming has been around since the 70’s.)

The Golden Age

In the late 80’s/early 90’s the gaming industry was just starting to grow from an odd little hobby to a big business.  The industry had managed to survive the Video Game Collapse of 1983 due in part to games like “Super Mario Brothers” and “The Legend of Zelda.”  There was an appeal to games from a business standpoint.  They cost relatively little to make, and there was a possibility of a huge payoff.

As a result, it became incredibly easy for developers to fund their games.  They also had a lot of freedom to experiment and create the games they way they wanted to.  The result was some of the greatest games in history.  In fact, in Game Informers recent list of the top 200 games of all time, 15 of the top 20 games are 10 years old.  Unfortunately, the rapid growth of gaming came with a price…

The Dark Age

As the industry grew rapidly, so did the number of people who wanted to make them for a living.  Meanwhile, as technology grew, so did the cost of making a videogame.  These factors created a stronger competition between developers to get publishers to fund them.  This competition forced the developers to lose many of their creative freedoms.  If the publisher wanted a change made in the game, the developer had to make the change or the project would be cancelled.

The publishers have not handled the power well.  The high cost of game development has made the publishers afraid to take risks on new ideas.  They instead depend on marketing departments to tell them what gamers want.  The result is a bunch of generic games that are just like every other generic game.

Now, that is not to say that all recent games are bad.  Many great games still manage to be made, in spite of a system that seems designed to weed out and destroy creative ideas. But the system has kept many great games from being made and has ruined many games with potential for greatness.  (fracture comes to mind)

The Renaissance

Indie games seem to be the best hope for giving power back to the developers.  By being free from the publishers, indie developers can make games with full freedom over their creations.  And thanks to the low price and convenience of downloading games straight to their console, they have a shot at giving the big names a run for their money.  With any luck, this will force the publishers to wake up and realize they need to give the developers creative freedom over their games.

How will this happen?  I don’t know.  The rise of indie games may strong-arm the publishers into handing over power.  The freedom of indie games may cause some kind of spark among developers leading to some game developer’s strike that shatters the industry, and the developers may take back the power.  Who knows, the publishers may be cut out of the picture entirely.

I have no way of predicting how the change will take place, but I do believe that indie games will bring about a Renaissance for the gaming industry.

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