Experienced Points

Experienced Points
The Indies Will Ruin Everything!

Shamus Young | 14 Jan 2014 19:00
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We've got a new console generation, and we're in the early days where the public is straddling between the new and old, with lots of people waiting for some killer games or features to sell them on one platform or the other. The new consoles don't have anywhere near the install base of the old, and developing for them is much more expensive. So you have to spend more to make a game for a smaller audience? That's not a good position to be in. And you can't raise prices without driving even more people into the arms of those low-cost indies.

While developers are caught in this vice, indies are taking off, creating a more fragmented, niche-based market around novel, experimental titles developed for almost nothing. Well, "nothing" compared to what AAA devs spend. $100k is still a lot of money in the real world, but to a big name developer it's one DAY of development. (Assuming a budget of 50 million bucks and a development cycle of a year and a half.)

In the past, consumers were pretty much obliged to buy stuff like Lair because, hey, what else are you gonna do with your brand-new console? But now we're swimming in indies and if launch titles are terrible we can just play artsy side-scrolling platformers, retro-styled strategy games, and off-the-wall action games while we wait for something good to come along.

Ironically, Microsoft and Sony are probably in less trouble than anyone else. Their new consoles might be part of the reason AAA games are about to run into budget problems, but both companies made some room for indies on their machines. They run the digital storefront, so ultimately they win no matter what consumers buy.

Sure, the tent-pole releases like Battlefield and Madden will probably sell as well as ever, but everything else is a gamble now. The silver lining is that the rise of indies makes it very clear that consumers care a lot less about graphics than developers ever assumed, and one really talented artist can please people a lot more easily than an army of artists working in photorealism pipeline. Maybe some developers will go for broke (literally) with their next-gen graphics. Maybe they'll start messing around with art styles to try and get their spending under control. I'm not saying indies are destroying AAA games. I'm just saying indies (and the new console generation) have created a situation where are the developers are going to have to adapt or implode.

I have no idea what's going to happen. All I know is that things can't keep going like they have been.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, Stolen Pixels, Shamus Plays, and Spoiler Warning.

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