Indie Stuff

“That girl is an indie Cindy, Lego haircut and a polka-dot dress. I don’t care if she thinks she’s indie, how she’s different is anyone’s guess.” So sang Hadouken, a fairly awful band who redeemed themselves slightly through that lyric alone. While they were clearly singing about the age-old tradition of supposed non-conformists conforming to their particular group’s idea of non-conformity, the theory can also be applied to videogames – at least, if it absolutely has to be for this introduction to work.

Indie games are supposedly different somehow. They’re meant to be purer, made for the hardcore that can appreciate gameplay over big-budget graphics. Indie games are the honest hard-working games that are doing good things for the industry. But are they really? Is there actually that much difference between an indie game and one from a major developer, and should we even care about the distinction? Over the past five or so years, probably more now, we’ve been inundated with innovation. Or so people would have you believe. From the early days of Xbox Live Arcade we were being told there were gems to be found, but it wasn’t until a year or two later that Braid and the other first big hits from small teams started to appear. Super Meat Boy was an undeniable classic and Shadow Complex showed how polished these ‘indie’ games could be. For many console gamers it was possibly their first introduction to the idea of buying new releases at £10 price points with instant access via download. There was some element of novelty there. Pretty soon you had all the re-releases of old games, or re-workings of old ideas, making appearances too. People started realising what was possible and consumers gathered online to demand the games they wanted. ‘Release Return Fire!’ I shouted alone.

This online throng with their ‘Take My Money!’ memes were soon to have their metaphorical offers be all too gladly turned into real opportunities to hand over cash through the likes of Kickstarter. In some ways, Kickstarter is a great idea that allows people to create content for those that want it, without having to involve cash-grabbing middle-men who have their own ideas as to what people need. In other ways, Kickstarter can be a massive popularity contest where the personality involved is more important than the project. Sometimes it’s just a bit of a laugh, like the guy that raised thousands for his potato salad, and that’s fine, but are the general public really any wiser about choosing what deserves funding than the faceless corporations who tell us what we want?

No. That’s the answer. The general public, and I can’t stress this enough, are really fucking stupid. Look at the government. We, or at least the majority of the population that unfortunately represent ‘we’, put those people in charge. You can’t trust us with anything and if deciding what videogames get made is important to you, then you shouldn’t trust us with that either. I am, of course, not saying everything that’s crowd-funded is shit, just that a lot of it is and there’s a weird refusal to say so that isn’t there with traditionally funded games. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe people feel more empathy for the Shoreditch-based software start-up that some hipster and his mates put together with their parent’s money before turning to you for a couple of million so they could make their ‘gorgeous’ pixel-art puzzle platformer where you shift time in silhouette, with Oculus support for another 500k. If so, why?

Why, also, should I give a fuck who makes a game? When did these people become celebrities? I want the faceless, dull geniuses back. So often I hear that so and so is involved with this, or that they’ve moved over here to do something else and I just think, why should I care? I came for the games, not the people that make them. This isn’t music or movies where the people involved are actually in the product. When you play a game you’re not watching the programmer perform in any literal way, although I suppose you could make some wanky argument that you are if you’re incredibly pretentious about coding.

In recent years the indie gaming ‘scene’ (which is an incredibly annoying term) has become like a ridiculous parody of itself. One, perhaps genuinely talented, person or company will make a half decent game and then there’ll be another ten or more ripping it off for a quick cash-in. While there is still some true innovation, that a lot of people seem to believe only indies can provide, there is also a huge amount of crap that is somehow finding funding, not through merit, but through the popularity of the person behind it. That cool guy with a million Twitter followers, who has the jovial personality for podcasts, will always get the funds for his derivative piece of pretty whereas the nerdy 14-year-old genius who might be the next Miyamoto won’t be given the chance because he’s not cool enough. This is the danger with these things; it’s all about exposure and the people that are the best at getting it are seldom the people that should.

Those faceless corporations offered a form of curation for the industry that’s slowly eroding. It’s better now that it’s easier for more people to make games but we need to ensure that it’s the right people. There’s nothing wrong with a bunch of hipsters making a game, if it’s good then great and if it’s not it will eventually be found out. Let’s not make it about the people though, let’s make it about the talent and the product. In the old days, when it was hard to get into the industry, all you had was your skill to prove yourself to a company who would judge you accordingly and may or may not give you a job and therefore the opportunity to make a game. It didn’t matter what you looked like or how popular you were. There were many downsides to this but it did mean that we got the best people making our stuff. Now you need to be a ‘self-facilitating media node’ to even get your foot in the door.

People will back whatever they want and that’s their right, all I’m saying is: ‘be careful.’ Think about what you’re giving your money to as much as whom. There are some fantastically talented people who want to make you great games but there are just as many who want you to pay for this generation’s shovelware. Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general can be an incredibly powerful and democratic thing that will provide us with great games we might not otherwise see, but only if we use it in the right way. That means funding what we want, not who we like. At the same time, let’s not forget or ignore those faceless corporations who still churn out some great stuff from time to time. If it weren’t for the Nintendos and Capcoms and Konamis, these cool kids would have no one to rip off.

Now, who wants this tenner to make Return Fire for the Wii U?