Independent Video Game Development: A Reversal of Industry Trends
This hub is going to talk about an interesting trend I've been noticing in the video game industry recently. This trend is related to independent video game development and the rise of various independent video game companies. I will dissect the current video game industry standard before talking about independent video game development so you can get a feel of what is going on.
So, please read on about this interesting subject.
The Video Game Industry Standard
Like most industries, the video game industry has an established status quo. A few extremely successful publishers (Activision and Ubisoft as clear examples for computer video games) produce most of the industry's video games. However, their great power and rapport within the industry allows them to abuse their power as well. If you haven't read any of the scandals Activision has been involved in during the past decade, you're probably not a gamer.
There are many negatives associated with the industry standard, such as:
- They get to set the price of their games exorbitantly high. I haven't seen an Activision game released in the last five years or so that didn't retail at 60 USD. Of course, if the games are good, they have the right to set their price at whatever they want. Supply and demand and all that. However...
- ...when their games aren't that good, they refuse to lower their prices. They assume (with wildly varying results) that people will buy their tripe at any price. On that note...
- ...they release rehashed versions of their games in ridiculously short time intervals. Activision is extremely guilty of this. Call of Duty anyone? There's literally one of those video games made every year and they're basically the same game with slightly improved graphics and controls. I realize that you shouldn't fix what isn't broken, but how little can you change a game and re-release it at full price, under the guise of an "entirely new game", and still be able to call it such?
- As leaders of the industry, they stagnate the purchasing choices available. For example, since Activision's Call of Duty series is so popular, everyone and their mother is trying to cash in on the FPS genre. This lack of creativity is stifling video game selection. It seems that, nowadays, the only genres with any real amount of meat are MMORPGs and FPS games. Of course, to be fair, gamers themselves are partly at fault for this. If you purchase a game, you're enabling that game's developer and publisher to develop and publish more games.
- Invasive DRM (Digital Rights Management) schemes that public relations employees will try to spin as anti-piracy. In reality, it's just a money grab to monopolize content downloads and gameplay experiences. "You must be connected to play" on single-player games is the worst offender out of the lot. Called DRM servers, they are becoming more prevalent.
In summary, the video game industry's biggest fish are all about rehashed, expensive, pieces of software with invasive DRM. Of course, just like any standard, there are always exceptions. There are also quite a few established companies that have solid game offerings that are worth every penny. However, the point stands that the current trend for established video game developers can be summarized in the bullets above.
Why So Serious, Video Game Trend?
Let's face it, video game companies are still businesses, even if their product is a form of entertainment. While some video game developers may have passion for their art, many others are just in it for the big bucks. This includes shareholders in public video game companies. As a result, there's actually a blurb by someone on the Internet that once said that every video game company will go through the following motions, in this invariable order (and I paraphrase, because it's been way too long for me to remember well enough to quote it):
- Company is founded. There's only a few employees, and it's more of a family that loves video games than a company. It's less about the profits (although more profits are always good) and more about making a quality product.
- A game is released. Let's assume it's successful (if it's not, the company may go belly-up). The company gains more fame, and grows. The game is usually successful because of the passion its developers have.
- Eventually, the video game company reaches critical mass, at which point it goes public.
- Shareholders buy up stock and start influencing the company's decisions.
- Some of the higher-ups in the company smell the big bucks and start pushing for an agenda of getting games that will be marketable out ASAP. Alternately (or in tandem), it's the shareholders putting pressure on the company to produce more money.
- The focus of video game making shifts from making an interactive work of art to effectively making a mini cash machine.
As you can see, it's not entirely the developer's fault, nor the publisher's fault. Although they can contribute to the industry trend, this trend is as much a result of capitalism and shareholders as it is due to video game company decisions and actions.
Independent Video Game Companies
As a counterbalance to the video game industry standard, there is a trend surfacing recently with independent video game companies. Din's Curse, Torchlight and Grim Dawn are all games developed by independent companies.
Here's what this interesting trend represents:
- Inexpensive games made with the passion only a small company can exhibit.
- A great commitment to fans of their games that translates into great customer support and software support.
- Innovative games that deviate from the established mainstream formula. After all, they have nothing to lose by innovating!
- No invasive DRM to punish honest gamers and reward pirates.
- Since they're independent and privately owned, no shareholders to influence their decisions negatively.
In summary, independent video game companies represent an inversion of the industry standard. These are the types of video game companies that we should be paying to make games for us. Luckily for us, their games are cheap, so pay away!
Of course, not all independent video games are good. However, if you can find the diamonds in the rough, you'll be well-rewarded.
Observant readers will notice that I also incidentally described an early-stage company, as mentioned in the previous section of this hub (with the bullets). In other words, the video game industry is an eternal cycle, whereupon companies get too big and corrupt and then destroy themselves. Afterward, small companies rise from the ashes, making quality products and eventually getting too big for their own good. Ad infinitum.
So, what makes this particular independent video game trend any different from the ones before it? The Internet. Before, the little guys got crushed by the bigger game companies without a fight. Now, in this age of digital distribution, independent video game companies can get their games out to the general public, while cutting a lot of the publishing costs usually involved in the process.
I sincerely believe independent video game development will become a relevant aspect of the industry thanks to the Internet. So, help support the little guys and reject the big guys they'll eventually become. Such is the way of the world, but we as gamers can take the good and reject the bad, right?
If you want to talk about this article, feel free to post in the comments section!
Until the next time, take care and have fun! ;)