Note: This opinion piece reflects the views of the author and not PlayStation LifeStyle as a whole
I’m a huge fan of indie games. It’s not about an underdog story where I’m left rooting for the little guy to succeed, it’s because I’ve been able to see developers get complete freedom and take genuine risks. Something as weird and wonderful as Undertale would never have a chance of being made under the watch of a large publisher. The true vision of a creator is harder to find as publishers focus test every last detail, so I’m so glad that indie gaming is viable enough for these unique games to constantly be coming out. Despite how glad I’m glad this subsection of games exist, I can’t deny that the term “indie” has a negative stigma attached to it.
This has baffled me for a while. I don’t feel like the indie game stigma is deserved, but I’ve often scrolled down to the comments on this very site only to see readers complaining about an interesting looking game because it’s “yet another indie.” I’ve seen complaints about “indie garbage,” and how gamers didn’t spend hundreds of dollars on a new console to play a 2D game. It’s a common disconnect I’ve had with many of my readers, and I’m here to make the case why this negative aura needs to go.
Before I talk more about the stigma itself, I feel like it’s important to define the term “indie game.” It gets thrown around a lot, so what exactly does it mean? When broken down technically it simply means that a developer is independent and isn’t owned by another company. That’s it. There is no team size restriction, or anything that prohibits the ability of an indie game to be anything less than a first-party game like The Last of Us.
Up until 2012, when Chinese company Tencent Holdings bought a minority share of company, Epic Games were classified as an independent developer. Did anyone roll their eyes at Unreal Tournament and Gears of War because the company behind it was independently funded? No, that’d be silly. So, why does it happen all the time now?
Well, it’s pretty simple. When a gamer dismissively refers to a game as “indie” they aren’t actually referring to a company’s political make-up, they’re just making a snide comment about its production values or the staff size of a developer. It’s why larger independent studios who regularly create games that are sold at retail, such as Telltale Games, Double Fine and Flying Wild Hog aren’t often given that label. Meanwhile, any 2D platformer that hits the PlayStation Blog is immediately called an indie game, and will get dozens of comments where consumers say they’ll play it when it inevitably comes to PlayStation Plus (despite the odds greatly being against that happening).
Quality Isn’t the Issue
So the actual definition of an indie game doesn’t matter since it has no bearing on how it gets thrown around. It’s simply an empty buzzword to signify a small team or used by a dis to denote a poor quality. So, why is it like that? I’ve certainly played my fair share of terrible indies, but the ones that actually get buzz and are shown off on mainstream gaming sites typically are of a high quality. Indie games like Nuclear Throne and The Witness are at or near the peak of their respective genres, so why does it have a connotation of being a lower quality?
I’m not here to say that there aren’t some awful indie games, as I’ve played some terrible ones. Just a quick glance at the worst reviewed PS4 titles will show you that indie titles can be awful (and the real kicker is that the truly horrendous indies like Attacking Zegeta don’t get enough reviews to be listed on Metacritic). But a quick glance will also spot games made by huge companies like Electronic Arts, Tecmo Koei and Capcom, so clearly this isn’t just an indie problem. It’s also worth noting that 15+ indie games also rank on Metacritic with a 85 or higher aggregate score, so it’s not like the best games are only bigger titles either.
Frankly, I feel like a lot of this comes from a fear of the industry changing. Since indie games tend to take less time to develop due to being of a smaller scope, they release a lot more often than games deemed “AAA.” So, when looking at a release calender, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of indies and wonder where the big releases are.
Drink It In
Thankfully for open-minded gamers, the two types of games can gladly co-exist. Ubisoft won’t stop having every studio under their employ working on the next Assassin’s Creed game to work on the sequel to Grow Up, nor will every talented employee at Naughty Dog leave to in order to make first-person adventure games. We’re living in a time that is filled with a tremendous amount of video game diversity, and games both large and small will exist. It’s great and as Chris Jericho would say, we should all “drink it in, man.“
One upcoming release in particular has really shown that the label “indie” can be shrugged off if a game is marketed correctly. I’m talking about No Man’s Sky, of course. Hello Games may be a small studio, but they’ve managed to create a game that has a tremendous amount of buzz thanks to its innovative use of procedurally generated worlds and promise to provide an experience unlike any other game. In fact, the numbers don’t lie when they show that NMS has garnered more searches than another Sony published game in Street Fighter V. When that’s possible, it shows that there really is no limit to how big an independent game can get.
So, let’s stop using the term “indie” as if it has a negative connotation attached to it and appreciate that so many different types of games get to be made. Indie games range from pretentious titles that have players smoking on a beach to action filled first-person shooters like Shadow Warrior 2. The range of games that fall under the label is far too big to be universally discarded. Developers are creating different types of games that appeal to the all of the different types of consumers out there. It isn’t always with me (or you) in mind, but that’s great! Gaming is huge, and nobody has to like every game.
I just want everyone to remember that when you line up to purchase a copy of No Man’s Sky that you’re supporting an independent developer and buying a dreaded indie game for your PlayStation 4. It’s an amazing success story that it ended up being one of the most anticipated titles of the year. It just shows how silly the indie game stigma is, and why it should exit the minds of gamers.