Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Indie Games – Gone Mainstream?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 14, 2013

I still think of indie games as the underdog. Taken individually, any indie game not named Minecraft can probably be described as such. Collectively, however, indie games have become a force to reckon with in the industry.  I don’t know that I’d yet describe them as “mainstream,” as Polygon does, but they do talk about the rise of the once-ignored stepchild of the “industry” into the force to be reckoned with it is today:

Polygon: How Indie Games Went Mainstream

It’s true that today, your average “gamer” – the “core” or “hardcore” console player – is far more likely to be aware of titles that are not produced by the big studios / publishers than they first were. I have no idea of the stats, but I’d not be surprised that the “average” gamer today owns a few indie games. It’s virtually guaranteed if they have a mobile device.

Does that make indie games “mainstream?” On the consoles, probably not. While indie games may have finally become the rule rather than the exception, it’s telling that Microsoft might even consider shutting all but the chosen few out of their new console, until apparently backpedaling, with an explanation that the new approach had been their intent all along (I’m not sure I buy that…). If nothing else, it’s clear they hadn’t really seriously considered their relationship with indies until that point. To me, that suggests that indies are only barely crossing a threshold of importance in the industry as a whole. Enough that it’s impossible to ignore them without repercussions, but the indies are still stuck eating at the kid’s table at family get-togethers.

And really – indie games still sell numbers that would be considered dismal failures in the mainstream biz, and sell for ridiculously low prices. While the big publishers might start salivating at the extreme ROIs of the more successful indie games, there’s still a problem in that their structure and overhead can’t easily accommodate the indie business. They’ve focused on creating an infrastructure to support a few big games, with overhead costs that would devour the profits of most moderately successful indie games. The scale is very different, and publishers / console makers wishing to work with small and indie teams will have to adapt with a “leaner, meaner” approach for any indie outreach.

Not that they can’t do this – or aren’t. It’s happening. I would agree that in the last year or two, it’s become obvious that the indie barbarians have not only stormed the gates and invaded, but settled. This will take adjustment on both sides. I tend to focus on how the big players – those to whom the indies are defined by not being beholden  – might have to adjust for relatively peaceful coexistence. But it is a two-way street. Opportunities to cooperate with big players abound, to the point they resemble necessities, and that requires a lot of work and changes to how indies have traditionally done things. The definition of “indie” is as stretched as it ever is. The market completely changes its rules on how to compete every two or three years, requiring constant change and adaptation.

Being “indie” is a totally different experience than what it was six years ago.

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