Indie Game Studio

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The revolution comes from the indies

When talking about games, usually the very first image that’s conjured on our minds is that of a gorgeously rendered avatar running through a rich and detailed tridimensional world. Nonetheless, the most interesting games, the revolutionary ones and, in fact, the ones that are most significantly shaping the future of the games industry have nothing to do with that!

The big blockbuster games are not to blame, neither there is anything wrong with avatars running in 3D landscapes at all. It’s also not a problem with the gamedesigners behind those games. The true problem is that there are fundamental characteristics in these games’ production processes and economic models that prevent large-scale innovation. It seems that, once again in the short history of the digital world, true innovation is not coming from big and organized corporations, but rather from some crazy, caffeine-driven dudes willing to kick design conventions in the face and revolutionize the whole damn thing!

Before any incautious reader might even have time to think that I have any grudge against the mainstream games, here goes a convenient, but honest confession: mainstream games made me want to be a gamedesigner. Done, there it is. To prove my honesty on that statement, I still expect to write on this blog about the huge amount of merits in some of these games. And here goes another little confession for you guys to throw at my face in the future: quite possibly, my most beloved game ever is The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – not exactly an example of low budget production!

Morrowind: the only place on Earth where I don’t need a GPS to go out in the streets!

Giving full credit to your ability to believe that I really love mainstream games, here is the unpleasant truth: even if one says (and I’ll agree) that these games do present some new stuff, still their capacity to innovate in but a fraction of that of independent games! Yes sir, the money of the videogame market is still flowing mainly to the blockbusters industry, but the revolution is taking place somewhere else in terms of defining what a game is supposed to be like. Consider that these blockbuster games, that form our mental image of a game, cost millions of dollars to create, and for that very reason, their design process are equipped with several devices aimed to reduce the risk of a financial failure. Ultimately, these games are products of big corporations, and even if they try to be interesting and innovative, they still have an embedded commitment of generating profit – in other words, to generate more money than they costed to be produced. As a consequence, they often take advantage of proven, safe formulas, game mechanics that are already known by the majority of the audience, and themes that are already popular, in order to make sales more predictable and to maximize the size of the target audience. The theory is that more generic games will have some level of appeal to everyone. Quick mental exercise: how many first person shooter games with incredible graphics, frantic action and themed on some kind of war can you think of, that were released in the last 2 or 3 years? On these strange days, sometimes it feels like there’s more repetition of formulas in videogames than there is in Hollywood – the ultimate example of blockbuster-driven industry! I hope you will forgive me for conjuring the image of financial graphics and Excel spreadsheets, but that is the truth.

And now, for something completely different: imagine a guy using his computer in his bedroom. The music is loud, but his player is repeating it for a couple of hours and he doesn’t even realize. His eyes are deeply focused on the monitor, and irradiates a light of enthusiasm that looks like that of a kid opening Christmas gift. A smile crosses his face, and in fact, every now and then he actually laughs. While he franctly types on his keyboard, the screen shows some programming language lines, a new one quickly appearing below the last. In the reflex of the eyes of this smiling, relaxed dude, it becomes clear that he’s not seeing programming lines at all, but actually something much more interesting: a curious and strange game that he would love to play, but that nobody created yet. Therefore, he is creating it! He had that bizarre idea while taking a shower, and rushed to the computer to create a prototype and see if his idea is really as cool as he thought when it came to him!

Typical crew of indie gamedesigners: few people, alternative facial hair style, and no money to buy more than a swimming suit!

In this sense, the independent gamedesigner (or simply “indie”) has an advantage. With no money, driven almost entirely by his love for games, struggling to create a game by himself or with only a couple of friends, the indie gamedesigner can pretty much GO COMPLETELY NUTS, invent new and extreme game mechanics that would make any corporation’s shareholder to have a heart attack out of fear of losing money, he’s able to create completely new ways of painting the player’s monitor to show what’s happening on his game, explore ideas that are ridiculously simple or absurdly complex… While all the mainstream industry focuses on the same product attributes as a safety measure, the indie developer can break every “rule”, experiment with each attribute or with all of them at the same time.

The most curious and contradictory aspect of it all: despite the fact that these lower-budget productions are less willing to sacrifice creativity in exchange of greater economic success, it seems that, in fact, they constitute the next big pot of gold of the game industry!

A few years ago, most people would say that I’m completely out of my mind, would hang me after a medieval public trial involving priests and wigs, and would offer my dead body to Cthulhu. However, here are some evidences: in the current generation of consoles, the three big platforms (Wii, XBox 360 and PS3) have services aimed at the digital distribution of “smaller games”. World of Goo, an absolutely brilliant game that deserves an entire post for itself, and that has been created by only two guys, was among Steam’s Top Selling games for several weeks in a row, and most recently has sold 125 thousand copies on it’s first month after being released to iPad. Not to mention the avalanche of other games produced by modest teams that have followed the same road of financial success.

World of Goo: a game about making piles of goo that brought piles of dollars to it’s creators

These are extreme success cases, but they are not few. As they made it, we all indie developers creating games for the pure love for creating games can make it too! This truly is an epic moment, when many eyes are looking at us, mere indie developers! It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to have the power to create something here, inside our homes, that may become the entertainment of players on the other corner of the Earth! Dear friends who wish to create a game, be you a programmer, an artist, a writer or simply a fan, UNITE! We hope to represent the genre reasonably well here in Brazil! ;)

Finally, when I’m not trying to do a William Wallace speech, I plan to sometimes share here some worth mentioning indie game, in a modest and subtle contribution to our indie colleagues!