Autonomous Video Games: A dive into the world of Indie game production.

indies

Indie games typically feature a variety of characters different from what’s usually seen in video games.

Much like the production of a music album or an indie film, the production of an indie video game. Like other indie products, indie games are typically self-made games representing the creator’s intentions/ideas instead of following the latest trends in the gaming world. Hesmondalgh and Baker bring up in their book Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries, that “autonomy is intended to produce quality” (p. 105), which I read as the product of one’s labor must be met to certain standards within the market. While the standards of what makes a “good” game are questioned constantly, there is a basic understanding of what makes an indie game an “indie” game.

Decades ago it would have been a pipe dream to self-publish your own game. Independent game development was a small and secluded hobby in the 1990s where few people were lucky to even have a copy of GameMaker or RPGMaker to produce a short game of their own. It wasn’t until 2005 when a Japanese PC game by the name of Cave Story was translated that many people realized that they did not need to work at a company like Electronic Arts or Ubisoft to make games, and that they could do it on their own at their own time. A few years later when online gaming hit it’s starting stride, market places where people could sell their games popped up on Xbox Live, starting the first boom of “Indie” games. Soon people were talking about games with teams made of two or three people such as Braid, Castle Crashers, and Super Meat Boy alongside games made by teams of hundreds with millions of dollars towards their budgets like Halo or Gears of War. While the indies certainly started with the consoles as their initial home, they would soon find their home on the PC.

Steam-Greenlight-Thumbs-Up

Giving players the choice to vote with their mouse since 2012

In August of 2012 Steam, a gaming software platform for PC/Mac/Linux (Think of it as iTunes but with games) introduced Steam Greenlight to their site. Greenlight allows game producers to put up information about their games such as videos or images as a page. Games up on Greenlight are then voted on by the users of Steam on whether or not they would like to see this game put on Steam for sale. Sometimes it’s a game that had previously come out on an older console being rereleased for PC such as Ikaruga while other times it may be a game that may have a very small but vocal niche such as Euro Truck Simulator 2. Most of the time however the games uploaded to Steam Greenlight are from small dev-teams working on the kind of game they wish to make. Letting people vote for what games come out on markets such as Steam is inherently a good idea, but if that is the case then why do people claim that many of the games that go through this process to not be of the standard of game they are looking for?

Not your average video game locale.

The Stanley Parable is not like most video games. The player controls an office worker by the name of Stanley, a man in an oddly empty office building who can’t do much other than walk through the office’s hallways and open doors while a rather posh British narrator commentates on every action you take within the game. There is no princess to save, no army to defeat, and no puzzles to solve. The Stanley Parable in its entirety is what is commonly referred to online as a “Walking Simulator”, a game where the player takes a role and acts that character out while finding out more about the world he is in. Many other games such as Gone Home or Dear Esther get referred to as this due to the fact that they feature little to no replayability, or that they would provide the same emotional responses if you had just watched someone else play. Despite this The Stanley Parable was one of many games released on Steam through Greenlight, and would go on to win several awards for its writing and voice acting.

The choices an indie game developer have to face are rather tough at times. Working on your own or with a small team can lead to many problems in development, both collectively and financially. As Hesmondalgh and Baker put it, autonomy is a desirable feature of creative work but it comes hand in glove with self-reliance and an uncertainty about career paths” (H&B p. 221). While those working at a company like Sony are paid to produce the game on time, an indie developer is working out of his own pockets through the majority of the game’s development. This means that they will either have to work on the game while employed at another job, leading to less time to work on the game, or going for the online donation route.

Many times when an indie game is first announced/shown off, it is shown with an accompanying Kickstarter or IndieGoGo site focused on funding the game initially. This allows people to judge the game based on the initial information shown similarly to the Greenlight system, but lets them put as much money as they feel like towards the project, either to support those making the game or to reach bonus stretch goals offered by the developers if they reach that sum of money. These can range from physical goods such as exclusive merchandise only available through the campaign like T-shirts or a physical copy of the game or additional playable characters and modes. Be it both freshly starting out companies producing games like Shovel Knight or Yooka-Laylee, or producers of classics trying out new products like Bloodstained or Mighty No. 9, it’s become much less of a hassle to produce a good game on your own.

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Comments

  1. Have you seen this documentary about indie games? http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1942884/

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