2011 will be a year of turbulent change in the video game industry. As we all know, and can easily tell by the comments section of many news articles here on gamespot, many gamers are becoming fed up with the gaming industry as it stands. Anti-corporate sentiment is strong and lawsuits are flying back and forth, leaving the gamer with not much more than a repackaging of the same game they played last year. Not to say all games made by EA or Blactivision are terrible, I have enjoyed a lot of Starcraft 2, and at a friends house played a lot of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. But even these games are surrounded by corporate controversy, and that is the first reason why things are going to change in the coming year.
What will gamers turn to after they tire of these large companies charging high prices for re-packaged content? The independent game development scene, of course. It has become obvious that this is the direction the video game industry is headed, and 2011 will be the year that it explodes. Lets start with a definition of an indie game, and then analyze exactly how we can tell that we are entering the year of the indie game.
While most people have heard of and probably played indie games, it can still be confusing exactly what an independent game is. The most concrete way to define it is any game not published or developed by a major game developer, such as EA or Blizzard Activision. So technically, anything not by one of the major publishers is independent. However, the smaller the company gets, the "more independent" the game becomes. When the company is smaller, there is less pressure to meet deadlines, and less pressure to make the game adhere to whatever guidelines the big companies have decided makes a comercially viable game. This gives independent developers a lot more space for freedom and creativity, which can result in some unique, and often some incredibly fun games. Independent can range anywhere from a 50-man team working in an office to Cousin Steve working out of Auntie Ann's basement.
I have made the bold statement that 2011 will be the year independent games take over the scene. How can I back up this claim? There are several trends I have recently noticed that all tie together:
1. Higher sales of downloadable games: With online platforms such as Steam, downloads have risen dramatically. In fact, 2010 was the first year that more downloadable games were sold then retail games(I singlehandedly led this push). However, not all games downloaded are independent. In fact, most are probably major games(though no one can be sure). However, this does prove that, as gamers start to download more and buy in a box less, that independent games will have a lot easier time selling their games, as it is much easier to simply sell a game through Steam, or through your own website then in a store.
2. Dramatic rise in sales of Xbox indie games: Most xbox 360 owners have seen the indie game section of their game marketplace. And statistics show that in the past year, more of them have actually been purchasing these games, possibly due to Microsoft's implementation of a ratings feature for these games. Arcade games have also been on a steady rise since the release of the xbox 360, and while not all arcade games are independent(such as Battlefield 1943), many of them are.
3. Massive success of recent PC indie games: While Xbox has its way of distributing independent games, PC is where indie games will have their greatest growth. Or I should say, are already having their greatest growth. The best example of this is the ridiculously high sales of Minecraft, the java-written cube shaped sandbox sensation(minecraft.net). Since the release of a paid version last June, nearly 900,000 purchases have been made, making Notch(minecraft's creator) one of the richest men in independent game development. He has since started up a company to help with the development of minecraft and other projects. Another example I just recently have heard about is haxball, a free online flash soccer meets air hockey game(haxball.appspot.com). In 4 short months, haxball has spread across the internet like wildfire, and despite its ridiculously simple controls has consumed thousands of man hours(and many hours of my own). This trend will surely continue, and don't be surprised when more games such as minecraft sell hundreds of thousands of copies.
While the success of notch may make it appear otherwise, indie game development is a poor career choice. Even the most succesful Xbox Live indie developers can hardly make a living for one person. However, the low prices attract a lot of players, and as more and more people discover the wonders of indie gaming, those sales numbers will continue to grow, and more and more indie games will be produced as more people realize they too want a slice of the pie. While they will never break the sales records of Black Ops, indie games are definitely the thing to watch(and play) in 2011.