Here at Baxspace we are indie developers and are very interested in the future of indie games. Indie games have had their ups and downs in the past and will no doubt continue to do so. At the moment, we are definitely in a boom time for indie developers but the question has to be asked as to whether this will last. These are my thoughts on answering that question.
Let’s start with a brief overview. My contention would be that indies actually do best when the platforms are they developing for are relatively limited. When computers were young there was no point in getting together a team of 100 people to develop a AAA game because it wouldn’t run on anything. Thus, the best games that could be run could be developed by indies just as well as by large companies. With the improvements in computers this changed. Games could be so much larger and therefore needed much more development time. This pushed the indies into the shadow of the big games companies. All this changed again however with the rise of mobile platforms such as iOS and Android along with the increased popularity of apps and app stores. Initially, smartphones compared very poorly to computers, and apps, by their nature, are small. Thus, the indies once again had a chance to compete with the big games companies. Further, with the rise of the app stores, opportunities for indies to publish multiplied. These have been, I would suggest, major factors in bringing about the success of many indie game developers in recent years.
However I would question whether this can really last. Consider the newly released Samsung Galaxy SIII. This little monster totes a 1.4Ghz quad core processor, 1GB of RAM and up to 64GB of flash memory. In short it’s better than my netbook, or any PC I have owned before my current one. It is certainly better than any of the university machines where I am! As impressive as this is what does it mean for the future of indie games? After all with such powerful machines will surely come high end games to match. We have already seen Infinity Blade; a fully featured 3D RPG for mobile devices. Both the popular Civilization and Total War series have branched out with mobile versions of their games; Civilization Revolutions and Total War Battles: Shogun respectively. Whilst these games are great to see, it is hard to imagine that they will not at least damage the chances of the indie developers who will be trying to compete with such large and polished games.
So what future is there for the indie game and the indie developer? Well personally, I’m optimistic. Certainly I think that the boom years of indie development in which we live will end, and end quite soon, but to my mind that poses no threat to the indie games themselves. For the truth is, the industry as a whole actually needs indie games. Indie games are the best and in many cases the only way of bringing in innovative ideas and game mechanics. Some ideas are just too far fetched and risky to stake the budget of a AAA game on. Big money breeds conservatism. There is too much to lose. However the indies, with their low budgets and small games, can continue to innovate. When an innovation works they will surely still reap some of the rewards. So although I suspect the flow of successful indie games will slow in the coming years there will always be a place for indie games in the future.