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Independent Video Game Development: A Reversal of Industry Trends

Updated on January 27, 2013

Introduction

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.

Cover art for a video game created by an independent video game developer.
Cover art for a video game created by an independent video game developer. | Source

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.

In Conclusion

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! ;)

-Winterfate

Comments

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    • brahamlink profile image

      brahamlink 

      5 years ago from Portugal

      Good hub. I do agree with you. And not just that. The good games now days are the "indie games" (like Minecraft for example).

      The big companies that used to make good games, only see $ on this days, and make bad games. They should make good games, so gamers would be happy about their games.

    • Winterfate profile imageAUTHOR

      Darrin Perez 

      6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Thanks for reading RolyRetro and JohnGreasyGamer! It is an interesting subject to be sure. There are some very good games coming soon from the independent market, so keep a lookout! :)

    • JohnGreasyGamer profile image

      John Roberts 

      6 years ago from South Yorkshire, England

      Loved reading this, and gives me a much better idea of the role of the publisher and developer. I can see how companies go from a little snowball rolling down a mountain, and within a few moments can turn into huge spheres of white destruction. Voted up, interesting, useful and liked on FB ^^

    • RolyRetro profile image

      RolyRetro 

      6 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      The ultimate extension of this concept is the gamer funded development, where micro payments through sites such as kickstarter enable niche games to be created. Basically the developer gets paid in advance for a game by the end consumer, and depending on level of payment, gets updates on the development process as well as special editions and merchandise.

      This kind of development will ensure small developers get to release the kind of games they want, not what the lowest common denominator dictate.

      Roly

    • Winterfate profile imageAUTHOR

      Darrin Perez 

      6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Trine sounds pretty interesting then, to say the least. I may have to check it out one of these days. :)

    • Csjun89 profile image

      Csjun89 

      6 years ago

      sure thing!

      Bastion won quite a few awards!

      Trine is a mix between puzzles and action platformers, but with 3d rendering and physics that makes you doubt its indie roots

    • Winterfate profile imageAUTHOR

      Darrin Perez 

      6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      @Csjun89: First of all, thanks for reading!

      Second of all, I haven't tried either of them, but I've heard great things about Bastion. What's Trine about? :)

    • Csjun89 profile image

      Csjun89 

      6 years ago

      I think it is really good that the indie games are coming into their own! Have you tried the recent Bastion or Trine? It was hard to tell that they were indie

    • Winterfate profile imageAUTHOR

      Darrin Perez 

      6 years ago from Puerto Rico

      I don't really hate Call of Duty so much as I hate both the publisher of the game (Activision) and what it represents for video games (the commercialization of video games).

      I think the appeal comes in shooting other players and then taunting them verbally later, or something like that. :D

      Thanks for stopping by tammyswallow! :)

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Great hub to help us understand the current market trends. I do not understand the appeal of some of these War games. Two of my teen age sons are so addicted to Call of Duty games, I think they need therapy. They love Xbox Live. I am surrounded by gamers. Welcome and you are off to a wonderful start. Voted up and tweeted.

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