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January 23, 2019
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The meaning of the word "Indie" has changed.

by Dan Hayes on 06/11/18 11:38:00 am

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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A lot of talk about Steam's decisions lately. Many are blaming steam (and the developers that create poor games) for the indie crash. But it's not just them.

The meaning of the word "indie" has changed.

Let's go back to 2008-2012, the indie "golden age". Back then, a slightly higher percentage of indies were making enough money to go full time. It was also a time of great innovation, where indie games were merited based on its gameplay more than it's graphics. People expected AAA to have the nice graphics, but indie was a word that meant innovation in gameplay or theme. A couple of years into it, the gold rush started, especially with the release of "Indie Game: The Movie". "Hey these guys sold 20k copies in their first day, so I can too!" does not take into account that Ed & Tommy worked for several years without much "success" before super meat boy. Jonathan Blow was in the industry for a decade before Braid.

Now, instead of the community being made mostly of people who want to make things that are personal to them, to do things that no-one else is doing, most of the community seems to be made up of people who want to be "successful". Not all of these people are asset flippers, but many are refusing to try new things, some are even just releasing game after game in the hopes that one will be deemed successful.

The other thing, is that the indie-game movement inspired what makes up 90% of the indie game community today: People who weren't game developers. In the indie golden age, the people making the hit games had already been doing it for years, and this was simply their first time doing it independently. Now, the community is made mostly of people who had never worked on a game before their first indie game. This sudden drop in experience level has had a ripple effect.

Now that players are no longer able to expect innovative, new gameplay in their indie games, what's the next thing people are gonna consider when buying your game? Graphics. I'ts shallow, but true. As pretty as some of the latest indie gems are, they do nothing innovative. Look at cuphead, it does nothing new, but people took it seriously simply because it picked an art style seldom seen in gaming. As a result, a year after release, not many people seem to care about it anymore. There was a time when people were more willing to disregard "bad" graphics in an indie game because of the innovation, but now that innovation isn't guaranteed, they simply see the poor graphics and see a poor game. But a new graphic style says that this time, maybe, this game is different and cool.

Then there's our devolving attention spans. As kids, many of us received maybe a handful of games a year and replayed and replayed and replayed them to death. We learned to love those games. Not just like; love. They became parts of who we are. Now we sit with libraries filled with hundreds of games, due to steam sales and bundles, and now we're loathe to buy new indie games. Because what's the point when you already have dozens of them that you bought, but never played? On top of that, we've all seen players give bad reviews with 10 minutes of gameplay time. If your game does not immediately win over the player at the start, it's gonna become a low priority to play. Players are also less willing to go through any kind of lengthy tutorials or play games with a steep learning curve these days.

Along with this, we have the 1st generation indie successes like Jonathan Blow releasing games such as "The Witness". Now that these indies have more resources, they get to make near AAA production level games. You'd think that people would switch to thinking, "Ah. this is the new level of quality for indie games that I should look out for!". But they just don't view these games as being indie at all unless you're already familiar with their work.

What I''m getting at, is that most people now view the word "indie" as meaning "cheaply made game".

That's all it is. It's not just the asset flipper's fault, it's simply because the overall experience level of the community has dropped. Also, and I'm gonna say this yet again, Innovation is the indie game's most sacred weapon, and it's been collecting dust for too long. We have to stop this mentality of "Hey, one person made this game, so I can do it too!" without also adding "How can I put personal pieces of me into my game and do something no one else has done before?"

Indie games became popular because they were doing things that AAA wouldn't. Now most indies just try to copy AAA or other indie games. If the space is no longer known for its originality, then people just stop paying attention.

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