Let me make it a point to start off by saying: I’m a closet hipster.
I wear the Buddy Holly glasses, still dress like an art student (though one could say with a little pin-up mixed in), listen to NPR for both the news and to hear of new music, write poetry, am heavily into photography, paint occasionally, and King Crimson* is my favorite band. I don’t, however, drink PBR as I am no longer an underage drinker. I have refined tastes in beer and wine (as well as cheese).
So when one tells me they like “indie games” several things pop into mind – do they mean games like Braid or Super Meat Boy? Do they mean any number of abominations in the Xbox Live Indie Game Marketplace? Or maybe they mean games like From Dust and Sword and Sworcery: EP?
Doubtless you’ve heard of such games if you play them on a regular basis, or keep up with gaming news. Some have won awards. Others have made huge profits off of digital sales alone. There is even an upcoming documentary about the struggle of indie game developers.
It is easy to say, as a hipster, “Gears of War? Pfft. Too mainstream”. But what does that even mean?
With the rise in popularity of indie games, we are seeing a shift: a mainstream within the mainstream. No longer are the weird artsy types confined to making games from their basement and distributing it to their friends. We have the power of a video game friendly internet now.
I remember in high school, I was the only person in my circle of friends who had a passion for video games. I was part of a “clan”. I specifically remember one night being dragged out of the house by my mother to run some errands a few hours before a big clan match. The errand running took more time than I anticipated, and eventually I asked to go home. My mother wouldn’t, and an argument ensued. To me, missing a clan match was like missing a big game. I have never liked sports, and was never good at them, but killing my opponent virtually was something I could do well.
Eventually, years later, video games became so mainstream that my friends who have never played anything beyond the NES now know what Skyrim is. Their boyfriend plays it. Their boyfriend’s friend plays it. They watch their boyfriend and his buddies play several rounds of Halo or Call of Duty.
It irks me, now, that I’m the “cool” one. I was into video games before they were mainstream! But I digress. I will save that
hipster rant for later.
Much like the ambiguous definition of hipster, I have found in my travels the definition of “indie games” to be just as cryptic. Those of you who know what I’m talking about will snub your nose, voicing what the actual definition is. But I am speaking colloquially.
I think we have to come to equate indie with the underdog. Not so much in the sense that it is an independent endeavor; one with total creative freedom. But that it is a venture with monetary risks. No matter if you are backed by a large game studio, or backed by your mother, money is at stake.
Creative freedom is another point of contention with any sort of artist – be they painters, illustrators, writers, film makers, video game developers or musicians. Creative freedom is at the top of any artist. Typically, the bigger the company, the more creative restraints are in place by those who don’t understand your vision. In fact, they only think in terms of money. But do the big guys really hold us back creatively?
Back before the internet was a household name, games were literally made in basements (or attics, if you lived in the South). The problem wasn’t finding the funds to actually develop the game, but to distribute it. Do you remember how much a 3.5″ floppy used to cost? Nevermind having to buy them in bulk, the cost of an artist, the cost of packaging, and the cost of shipping to all over the world; if you were lucky. It’s different now.
Today, you only need to pay for the tools to create the game, and buy some bandwidth. Comparatively speaking, this is like buying a Lamborghini as compared to a moderately priced Audi. It’s easy to see why video games became such a corporate business affair: you needed people with money to help you start off your business.
Enter Kickstarter. Doubtless anyone with an internet connection knows what Kickstarter is, so I will spare you the explanation. But it’s another trend in developing video games. Now indie developers can have the large pool of funds, and creative freedom.
So I can see why people are outraged over EA’s newest attempt to cash in on the indie market. But who is more at fault here? The corporate entity taking a cut of the profits, or the indie developer who sold out? I do not particularly agree with some of EA’s business practices, but I can see why an indie developer would want a bigger name attached to theirs.
~Jaz “Hipster” Fusion
“and the smile signals emptiness for me”