In the past few years it’s been increasingly possible and popular for teams big and small to break into the cruel world of game development. The surge of Independent developers, the indie devs, has become a popular uprising in the gaming industry.
Creative minds, programmers and artists all striving to get their dream from paper to pixel while rebelling against the man that is the corporate heartless industry bigwigs, like Konami. In theory this is a noble pursuit, a small team trying to living the sleepless stressful dream of making their envisioned narrative in the gaming landscape. In reality however…this more than often leads to over hyping, disappointment and under delivered goals. The indie bubble has well and truly popped, at least it’s outer shell of illusionary expectations. Titles like Mighty No. 9, No Man’s Sky and Firewatch have firmly taken the hearts and minds of gamers this year over even many triple A titles, simply because the bitter taste of disappointment is easier to remember.
So why then has this become the new norm? Is it because of over hyping and over promising, or failure to manage our own expectations? Well it’s some of both. The most important thing to remember is that the root of the problem comes back to that noble idea, the indie dev. Sure recent years has proven again and again that indie devs can and will pull off amazing experiences. Titles that stuck with us more and more because of a simple idea, an emotion, brought to life and executed to its own ideals. Something only indie devs can do to a certain degree when the norm is teams of hundreds of worker drones barely in communication as they pump out the next title, just look at Ubisoft and what they’ve become.
Heart and soul or not however, it comes back to manpower. The more people you have, the more resources you have. The big companies have money, people and resources only available at such a massive size. In return they lose the ability to even effectively get a small room to agree on a games direction, much less commutate this perfectly to a team in their hundreds. Indie devs have the opposite problem, it’s easier to nail their idea, but harder to do. This leads to that sense of excitement from this tiny team ready to take on the world. They have a dream, a purpose, and are more than willing to dive into the project. That is until three years down the line when lacking resources, sleep and the initial drive, things become harder to keep in focus. It’s easy to look at the practically sure wins from Bloodstained and Yooka-Laylee, but these come from decades of experience and clear pre-planning. Even then, sure shots have failed in the past, Ideas don’t pan out, mechanics get scrapped, gameplay has to be cut for time and this is all as their fans become an angry horde calling for their game and their blood, in that order.
This is to say nothing of the people on the outside, the media following every scrap of information, ready to spin what they can to fuel the hope engines. While fans themselves will go as far as to either believe this is the next coming of gaming perfection, to hating it based on some screenshots. People in the center either pick a side or end up avoiding it on principle. In the end, no one entity takes responsibility, because we will always have a bias. Either it will live up to our own expectations or falls short. The team will come into the picture with a clear goal, set plan and deliver, or lose focus and sway under the attention and expectations during a shaky development.
Kickstarter and similar platforms play a part in this too, becoming something of the ultimate double edged sword after its rise to power. Teams pin their hopes and dreams on hitting it big with the audience and skyrocketing past their funding goals. Only to be left with a hungry audience and a large sum of cash. Do they spend it all on making the game bigger and warp the original scope and goal? Did they only promise so much to get the game off the ground in the first place? Would managing expectations kill the lift off needed to break into reality?
All we can do, regardless of position, is manage our goals and expectations. Hope for the best without believing hype for fact. Maybe don’t aim for the stars on the first Kickstarted project your team has made, the moon is perfectly fine, unless it’s that creepy one from Majora’s Mask. At the end of the day the gaming industry is an ever changing landscape, and I’d rather see the indie’s keep trying and failing than only rely on the bigwigs to create money over ideas. I mean…that’s what got us Metal Gear Survive.