I was introduced to the indie community awhile ago. My obsession with indie content began with music and bands like Animal Collective, Battles, Grizzly Bear, The Microphones, and No Age. So maybe it was not awhile ago, but rather four or five years ago. Shortly after I began discovering the world of indie gaming, once it became more accessible because of the internet and console marketplaces. I have received much more criticism for my music tastes than my gaming tastes, but both are undeniably more on the side of indie than mainstream. Concordent with that tendency is my feeling that both have more heart. Indie musicians and indie developers alike do what they do because they love it, not for the money it brings. However, I think the gaming side of development may have become a bit too accessible to any one who can put pixels on a screen and call it an indie game. Just because one dude programmed a few lines of code does not mean he put everything he had into it.
I have seen a lot of games come and go. I play both indie games and AAA games alike, I am not biased, I just want to play good videogames. I am willing to try anything, but the same problems that sometimes haunt the AAA companies can ruin an indie production all the same. There is just less money thrown at the game. A heartless shooter that cost a company $500,000 and is poorly developed is no different to me than a shooter which cost $50 and has no heart. In that same path of thinking I find that a poorly thought out or developed indie game is just as offensive to the player as its AAA counterpart.
At this point it seems as though a cooking metaphor is only fitting, developers will be cooks. You see, cooking has become a popular trade. Cooking was a novel idea at one point. Because it was so novel, the few who ventured into the profession made the finest, although short, meals possible despite fairly poor means. These meals are what we call indie games. Other people then became aware of cooking. They said, “Hey, I know a little about cooking.” Using that knowledge, hundreds of cooks began taking a little time to cook very small, poor quality meals, but marketed them as the same or better than the traditional alternative. Soon enough everybody was confused about what even constituted a proper meal.
What I am getting to is that Indie games are not always full of heart. Some of them are just the same processed crap we have been eating for the larger portion of our lives, with a smaller budget. I think as a community of players and developers we have to not just accept run-of-the-mill games, and I would be inclined to say that most players do not. What instead needs to be done is to foster an evironment which supports indie productions becoming what they are fully capable of being; your few and far indie phenomenons. The bar needs to be raised.
The result of these mediocre indie games is eerily similar to that of the AAA gaming environment. The percentage of solid indie outings as compared to junky indie outings seems to be tipping more toward the negative side of the scale. It could ruin indie gaming. In fact it may come to a point where indie games simply sell as cheaper video games. There is a reason why the indie gaming community does not get alot of respect, and it is because fantastic titles are too sparse. Good should not be the goal. Breathtaking is worth working for, and quite frankly there is a need for more breathtaking games. We should not be playing indie games to play indie games, but rather we should be playing indie games because they are better. Why should I play an indie game if there is a better AAA title on the market?
In fact I only count 4 in my top 30 games of all time. Sure, the sample size is smaller, but I want more to love. I am greedy, and I want the most out of my games. Indie games can get there, but they need to keep moving forward, and it now feels that so many mediocre games are coming out that the good ones should be separated into a different category. In lay-men’s terms, I crave 9′s but play alot of 6, 7, and 8s. Maybe none of this means anything to you as a gamer, but it upsets me and I hope for improvement in the genre so we can truly call more indie games incredible instead of making excuses for them. We should expect big budget heart from everything we play. Indie game of the year should be aiming for video game of the year, and nothing less. Because if it is aiming for less than that, it truly does not have the heart we so often give it credit for.