Looks like someone just burst our little independent bubble.
For every big budget game like GTA or Titanfall, you ‘gotta hand it to the little guys. From the ridiculously popular Angry Birds to the multi-million dollar Candy Crush Saga, these huge money making franchises all started out as the little engines that could. Thanks to the explosion of the indie scene on the last generation of consoles (specifically with platforms like Xbox Live) unknown game developers have been given the tools that provide a much needed foot in the door. As a result, many have been able to take their concepts from simple sketches in a loose leaf notebook to success in an industry otherwise dominated by conglomerates like EA. It has truly been an exciting few years!
And now…that’s all over.
Maybe not today or even tomorrow, but it will happen soon. This is according to legendary game developer Peter Molyneux. While he touts the importance of the indie scene’s contributions to today’s gaming landscape, Molyneux has been around the industry long enough to understand its trends. Unfortunately, he feels the popularity of the indie scene is simply part of a cycle that he predicts will soon run its course. When speaking at this year’s GDC, he advised us to “…enjoy this time, because it won't last.” He states. “Don’t think we're going to be all indies for the next five years; these things go in cycles, just like in the music business. You have a time where punk is big, and then you have times like now where everything is manufactured. Enjoy this time, because inevitably it will only last a short period.”
And while I would like to spend the next few paragraphs completely disagreeing with Mr. Molyneux (pointing out all the reasons he’s wrong) I can’t. Because he’s not.
The simple fact is this: the indie scene (a wealth of fun and creative ideas) simply never had any real staying power from the start. I’m certainly not ringing its death knell just yet (as I feel it will always have some place in the market), it’s apparent that its 15 minutes of fame in the forefront is soon to burn out. The first reason is that gamers, as a whole, just don’t give a shit. Now, I’m sure some of you are already typing your responses in the comments box below (touting the cultural significance of this indie title or that), but I would first recommend taking a step back to think. It’s one thing for game journalists, game developers or even informed gamers like yourselves to understand why the indie scene is great; it’s quite another for the mainstream public to “get it.” Frankly, not one person browsing the GameStop at the mall or trolling the aisles of Wal-Mart’s electronic section is likely to name a single indie game they’ve even heard of; let alone played.
Secondly, those who back indie titles financially are more interested in turning a profit than they are seeing out the “vision” of the game maker. Molyneux rightly points out that partnering with eager investors usually leads to “board meetings,” and that, “…in those meetings they'll be told, 'no, you shouldn't do that; look at this game that's making money.”
It’s really no different than the film industry’s summer blockbuster period. No matter how great an unknown director’s low-budget film is (or how many awards he wins that Oscar season), it will never garner the same level of attention as a big budget sequel like Die Hard 18: McClane Blows up a Cinnabon. While Molyneux does state the indie scene did spur creativity which helped break the industry out of their tried and true formula of just making games like Halo or Call of Duty, I have to agree that the countdown clock has already begun to tick.
As much as I love artists having a mainstream platform to express themselves, I hold no real hopes that we’ll be wrestling the average Joe’s attention away from the huge AAA titles anytime soon. Just talkin’ reality here people.