Indies Are Taking Over The Game Industry Through Creativity

With E3 2021 and Summer Game Fest in the rearview mirror, it’s giving everyone a chance to decompress and think about video games. What were their favorites? What are they really excited to see in the future? Where in the world are all the AAA games? We knew the tumultuous year that was 2020 impacted the development of a lot of big-budget titles, but the offerings we saw during this week-long celebration of gaming were pretty slim. Thankfully we have a thriving and growing part of the industry that is just as important to video games as the latest Bethesda or Square Enix title: Indie games.

The indies were out in full force throughout Summer Game Fest and E3 with multiple showcases and appearances in a few of the bigger presentations. All of them were a welcome breath of fresh air. Indie games are an important part of modern-day gaming industry because they typically aren’t forced to fall under an umbrella of some kind. Indie studios make a game because that is what they artistically want to create. The business side of video games is very real, even for indies, but the bigger companies can’t afford to always take risks the way indies can. Making a video game is expensive and doing something dramatically new and interesting, with the potential to flop, is not an investment many companies are willing to make. This is why so many games fall back on the proven formulas. Until that changes, we’re going to need to look at indies for games that are creative and different.

While most of the major shows at E3 were filled with the typical gameplay we expect like shooting, zombies, or swords, the sheer diversity we saw from the indie games blew the big-budget trailers out of the water. And this isn’t just a numbers game: Yes, more games mean a larger chance for variety, but the magnitude of difference in each game is astounding. Even something like the Wholesome Direct, an event about non-violent games, had concepts so wildly different from one another that anyone watching could have found at least one game they were interested in. Add in some more traditional games like side scroller, shooters, or RPG’s and there’s still an incredible variety in how indies present to the market.

Whether a game is supposed to be weird, strategic, overly violent, wholesome, or challenging we can always expect something different from indies. And that creativity of indie games comes from a place that has plagued the video game industry for years: The ability to diversify itself. Many of these indie studios come from all over the world and bring in ideas well beyond the less inclusive industry gaming was in the past. Women, people of color, non-cis characters are not a surprising sight for indie games. This isn’t to say that indie games have managed to dodge the problems of the larger game industry, because they haven’t. Many still have issues with diversity and representation and face crunches that can be even harsher than the ones at large studios. The games they’re creating, however, come from different voices and minds than the ones we’re used to seeing from AAA developers.

These differences led to an E3 and Summer Game Fest full of the most versatile library of games we’ve maybe ever seen. If the AAA developers are not going to take the risks then we need to look to indies to find games that are creative, different, and willing to push boundaries. We also know that there’s a good chance at least one of these games is going to hit it big time in the coming years. Hades, Celeste, Night in the Woods, Cuphead, and Hollow Knight are all indie games that blew up in popularity and earned Game of the Year accolades. Even if we don’t hear about it after launch there’s always the chance of a slow burn. Among Us, for example, came out in 2018 but didn’t blow up until 2020. Indies have a long lifespan that goes beyond their release date and is usually supported well beyond launch day. It’s fun to put support behind a game, play it in early access, and watch it become a Game of The Year contender later on. Almost like getting into a band before they make it big and play big shows after winning a Grammy.

As indie gaming continues to grow in popularity, and especially if AAA developers continue to play it safe, we’re only going to see more developers attempting to break out on their own. Away from the umbrella of giant corporations and a chance to be creative, indie games are the lifeblood of the industry right now. There was a time where we would maybe get one or two small breakout indies a year, a Castle Crashers, Super Meat Boy, or Shovel Knight. Then the genre was kind of pushed aside to places like Steam, with the really popular ones making their way to consoles. Now, in 2021, they’re just as mainstream as any other video game. This year’s E3 and Summer Game Fest was proof of that. More than 100 games were shown and there’s no chance that everyone can’t find at least one game they’ll like in that crowd.

Even the most committed devotees of AAA gaming should embrace the indie scene in this gap between major releases. Developers of indies are creating experiences you won’t find anywhere else and deserve more attention. The best thing about a late dive into indies is that it’s an extremely cost-effective experiment. Set aside $20 or $40, wait until there are some sales and check out some indie titles that catch your eye. It will be a refreshing experience that you won’t regret, and it will add a bit to that backlog you should be going through these days, anyway.