We’ve all heard the success stories. Video games from small independent creators are blowing up out of nowhere every day. Aided by popular gaming YouTube channels and social media word of mouth, indie games are becoming a more lucrative market than ever before in video game history. These games vary greatly in theme and genre, whether that be the massively popular Five Nights at Freddy’s or more traditional adventure games like Cuphead the market for indie games is fishing more than ever. But what does this mean for the gaming industry as a whole?
Here, we will explore the rise in popularity of indie games in recent years and the effects it has had on the gaming industry and the way we think of video games
What Constitutes an Indie Game?
An indie game is a video game distributed and produced by a small game company or independent creator without the backing of a large company. These games can be of any genre, the most popular being horror and adventure. The most common medium for indie games is PC due to the reality of easy distribution with platforms like Steam. These games can ascend to massive popularity or remain underground. The only thing they have in common is that they are the passion projects of independent creators or small teams of creators that are produced with the limited funds and resources they have available to them.
The Problem with Big Game Corporations
Like most forms of entertainment, the video game industry is dominated by big corporations. Companies such as Nintendo and Sega flood the game market with their most popular franchise titles. While this makes game consumption more convenient, there are many problematic effects that come from these massive games distributors.
Big game corporation have a record of mistreating and overworking employees. Game industry employees tasked with creating the games are criminally underpaid, often making barely above minimum wage. 85% of game industry employees are forced to work unpaid overtime. Workplace Game industry jobs are highly desirable , leading game industry higher ups to see employees as disposable. If an employee is not performing to their high standards they can easily be replaced. This puts extreme pressure on employees to do more work, work longer hours and accept lower pay. Several video game corporations have even been accused of violating worker’s rights. On April 14 2022, an anonymous employee of Nintendo America filed a formal complaint alleging that the company has been denying workers the right to unionize. Many people have withdrawn their support from big game corporations like EA, Sega and Nintendo for these reasons
Big video companies prioritize profits above all else. As a result of this, they are only willing to prudence games they know were sold. They tend to rely on well-known franchises and properties, leaving little room for new ideas and creative innovation, which can lead to a saturation of games that are extremely similar in the market. Creating games is, at its core, an art form. When creators are fully able to embrace their ideas, the results can be mind-blowing.
The Rise of Indie Games
Indie games remained fairly underground until the 2010s. They rapidly gained popularity around 2014 following the overwhelming success of the first Five Nights at Freddy’s game. Many small game creators were inspired to create their own games, particularly in the horror genre. Games such as Hello Neighbor and Poppy Playtime would not have been possible without the success of Five Nights at Freddy’s.
Another big factor in the recent surge of highly successful indie games is the emerging popularity of Steam. Launched in 2003, Steam has risen to the top of PC gaming distribution rapidly in the past few years, unearthing 69 million users in 2021. Steam is the ideal platform for distributing indie games. The process of uploading a game is relatively simple and doesn’t require the backing of a big company. Steam has accumulated a vast library of indie games in the past five years, exposing millions of gamers to small creator games that they might not otherwise have access to.
Indie Games Benefits
Creators greatly benefit from having their games widely distributed and played. They get to pursue their passion project without needing to chase the approval of a big gaming company. The potential to garner a loyal fan base and make enough of a profit to be able to make games as a full time job is enough to make the hundreds of hours of grueling work that goes into creating a video game well worth it to them.
Gamers are always looking for something new to play. Sometimes corporate produced mainstream fare just doesn’t cut it. Many gamers want to broaden their horizons and try something new. The increased distribution of indie games opens many doors for new and unique gaming experiences. Continuously purchasing and supporting your favorite indie games and creators allows them to continue to produce and distribute new and interesting games. Some gamers may choose to not support big game companies for any number of reasons. Indie games are a great alternative, especially if you don’t want to pirate mainstream games.
If you support indie games, you’re not only supporting the dreams and passions of the creators but you’re also helping revolutionize the gaming industry. With the increasing popularity and influence indie games have in the gaming industry, they could completely transform the way we game. The big corporations that have ruled the gaming industry since its inception may lose a large potential of their influence to the up and coming indie gaming industry. This will pave the way for the gaming industry to become more oriented towards art and creativity rather than profits. This is a massively important step for game design as an art form. If game creators aren’t obligated to appease the executives at a big company, they are more inclined to take risks and pursue more innovative projects.
Barriers Indie Creators Face
Small game creators face many obstacles when trying to put their games out into the world. They lack the funds needed to create and produce a video game and may need to rely on crowdfunding services such as Gofundme. They’ll need to pay for software, equipment, marketing and outsourcing skilled labor such as game designers and story writers, all of which are quite expensive. If a small game creator cannot garner the funds needed to produce and distribute their game, their project won’t even make it off the ground
Marketing and publicity is another hurdle small game creators have to scale to make their game a success. There is intricate art to marketing a video game. It takes immense skill and patience. Small creators need to design and pay for advertisements, network with other small game creators and pay for sponsorships. If they get lucky, their game will be promoted by a popular gaming YouTube channel but very few games garner the traction to be noticed in that way. Even after spending thousands of dollars on marketing and promoting your game, it still may be lost in a sea of the sources of other indie games competing for attention and notoriety. That is a risk small game creators are forced to take when putting their games out there.
Indie Game Success Stories
Despite the challenges indie game creators face, there have been several indie games that have broken the mold and became successes in their own right. Here are two examples
Cult of the Lamb
Created by indie developer Massive Monster, this single player construction and management simulator revolves around a possessed lamb tasked with building a cult to appease the deity that saved his life. Cult of the Lamb has garnered a myriad of both critical and consumer praise and even a merchandise line.
Blood Nova is an up and coming point Sci-Fi and click adventure game developed by Cosmic Void and Ross Joseph Garner. It follows Princess Love and her best friend Kel as they try to escape from the interstellar lighthouse they’ve been stranded on.
Starting its journey as a kickstarter campaign, this newly released indie game has garnered a steadily growing cult following with its beautiful designs and unique storytelling approach. It has the potential to become something big over time
How You Can Support Indie Games.
Because they lack support from large corporations, it’s extremely difficult for independent game craters to get their projects off the ground. If you support video games as an art form or don’t want to support the big game corporations, here are some ways you can help independent game creators continue to do what they love.
Perhaps the most direct and obvious way you can support indie game creators is to buy their games. There is a whole section of indie games on Steam to choose from. They have something for every taste and preference, from RPG to strategy to simulation. You can often buy the games directly from the creator’s website as well. This will not only support independent creators financially but help boost the games visibility and further promotes the game on Steam and similar websites.
Another great way to support indie game creators is donating to their crowdfunding campaigns. Getting an indie game project off the ground is extremely expensive. You have to pay for software, equipment, marketing and possibly a team of employees. This can add up to many thousands of dollars, often causing indie game creators to rely partly or wholly on crowdfunding. For many indie game creators, crowdfunding is the only way they can gain the funds needed to start their project. If you come across a gofundme page for an indie game you think looks interesting, it may be worth it to consider donating, even if it’s relatively small amount.
If you want to support indie game creators for free, there are a few ways you can do that.
You can boost engagement on their social media profile by liking, following, viewing and sharing their content. This will push the algorithm to promote their contact so more people will see it and donate to their crowdfunding campaigns or buy their games. This is especially impactful on platforms such as YouTube and TikTok which are extremely reliant on algorithms.
When you support indie games, you’re supporting game design as an art form as well as the independent creators and talent that go into them. It would be well worth your while to consider taking these steps to ensure indie game creators can continue to thrive while doing what they love
Indie games have been rapidly growing in popularity in the past ten years. This is largely due to the rise in game distribution platforms such as Steam and the fatigue around big game corporations such as Nintendo. Indie games are a great way for game designers and artists to fund their passion projects and get them out into the world. If you want to put the creativity and art back into the gaming industry, you should consider supporting indie game creators and companies.