Year of the Indie

It’s debatable if we even need the word “indie” anymore. Personally, I think the title has served its purpose, but the time has come to retire the label. Indie games are now able to stand toe to toe with many AAA titles, and in some cases, surpass them in quality and sales. So, going over the many 2013 game of the year awards (and there are a lot of them) the trend became clear.

Grand Theft Auto V and The Last of Us were really popular.

Ever so often a 3DS game would sneak in with either Super Mario 3D Land or The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. But the pattern was pretty obvious: Big Name Publishers.

Sony, Nintendo, and Rockstar, giants in the industry.

But these lists had a lead up that included Kentucky Route Zero, Towerfall, and The Stanley Parable. Papers, Please received a lot of nods as well. Polygon went so far to place a lot of people’s #2 as their game of the year with Gone Home.

To keep the record clean, I love indie games. I own almost every indie game I just named off. On the other hand my partners on this site are console, and to a lesser degree, mobile/handheld gamers exclusively. So I can’t imagine what they think about these games they’ve never really played being on the list. But from my perspective, it’s completely natural to hold these games up in the esteem they deserve.

So the question becomes the inevitable, “When will an indie game top most of the lists?”

Could this be the year? When I’m going over what’s coming out for consoles this year I see some heavy competition. Titanfall, Destiny, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Watch_Dogs and Dragon Age: Inquisition are all set for this year. Bravely Default and Yoshi’s New Island will be on handheld.

But the Indies are coming out strong. The first half of Broken Age has released, with the second half releasing later this year. Jazzpunk has already made an impressive splash. Always Sometimes Monsters is set to challenge the morality of choice in impossible situations this May. Gods Will Be Watching will put the players in the role of choosing how best to survive in June. Storyteller, Tangiers, The Witness, That Dragon, Cancer, Octopus City Blues, LISA and a plethora of other games, some we’ve probably not even heard of yet, are going to take this year by storm.

Is this becoming a tale of two economies?

It’s pretty amazing when you think of it, but when a AAA title bombs it hurts their entire company. Imagine for a moment if somehow GTA V had tanked, would Rockstar even exist right now as the company we know? No. Big budgets come with big consequences, so when Squaresoft takes a chance on making a movie with a budget of what some games are getting today and they cannot recoup their cost…change always lies in the wait.

So what do we get from this eternal fear of losing it all? Sequels. Well-worn grooves of the same formula over and over and over again. It makes perfect financial sense that Madden and Call of Duty do not break their molds because their mold makes money. This year we will see Destiny come out swinging as a new IP, but how far will that energy go? Will the framework under it all echo Halo and thus, familiarity to the masses? Honestly, it probably will. Just because there is not a number behind the title does not mean the entire experience is going to be in any way new. A fresh IP does not guarantee that the developer is willing to take a chance on their time-tested formula. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t played Destiny, I’m just saying, don’t go in expecting them to have reinvented the wheel.

Indies on the other hand do not have quite the financial burden resting on their shoulders. With this freedom they get to experiment. We get games that have to have new genres named after them. A first person shooter can have controls that make reloading the gun more challenging then pulling off a 500 yard headshot. We get risk and new ideas and stories so bold they can stand on their own. This is where innovation now lives. I hear more and more stories of well-known developers heading out of their established roots for the freedom of doing something different. Where levels of success can be measured in levels of failure if they were working on a AAA title. Indie games can sell cheaper but deliver such a more unique and diverse experience, it’s only a matter of time when everyone’s GOTY list is filled with indies. And perhaps this year we will see one shine above the rest.