02-13-09 - Indie Games Suck

I know it's trendy in the current Group Mind to laud the merits of indie games, but I just think it's a load of crap. The fact is, indie games suck. Today is sort of a hayday for indie games, what with the iPhone and XBLA and so on, and if you actually look at the crap people are making, I find it quite depressing.

The fantasy is that indie game developers have lots of freedom and creativity so they can do wild things that the big stodgey mainstream game industry would never do. The reality is that they churn out derivative clones of classic games or whatever format is popular at the moment (robotron clones, tower defense, machine building, etc.). Now there is certainly a perfectly valid place for that, but there's nothing romantic or special about it. Almost all of the significant indie games are boring derivative crap (World of Goo, Popcap Everything, Geometry Wars, Castle Crashers, Alien Hominid, etc.)

Yes, there are a small handful of exceptions, indie games that are actually different and interesting, and I applaud those - but I think you can count the indie games that are novel and also playable on one hand - and the mainstream game industry has made a lot more games that are very creative and also playable. The reality is that people who actually have talent and drive wind up in the mainstream industry, and that's where they make their games (for example, the huge budget Valve stuff is way more interesting and creative than any of the low budget indie junk).

I believe the analogy with Hollywood is also distorted and bogus. People like to compare mainstream games with hollywood blockbusters and indie games with hollywood "indie movies". That's not right. "Indie movies" in hollywood are still multi-million dollar, studio-funded, with big marketting, often big stars, often big directors, etc. They're just 1-10 million dollars instead of 50-300 million dollars. They're still big professional productions. That roughly corresponds with the vast majority of second tier professional game studios. Nowadays I would say the huge game dev productions with 100+ people are like a "blockbuster" (stuff like Halo N, Killzone 2, Warcraft N, etc.). The second tier smaller game deve stuff (Mirror's Edge, etc.) is like a Hollywood "Indie movie".

"Indie games" on the other hand is usually taken to mean a handful of guys with little or no publisher funding, working completely outside of the studio system. That's fun and cool and all (I still dream of doing it myself), but it has almost no analogy to Hollywood ; true outsider movies like that are made but they are very very rare (El Mariachi, Blair Witch, Memento).


MrCoder said...

Totally agree

Emil said...

I agree that there is alot of crap getting away with it because it is labeled as indie, but in what way is world of goo a derivate work?

cbloom said...

"but in what way is world of goo a derivate work?"

I'm more curious in what way anybody thinks it's *not* a derivative work. I think it's a totally acceptable video game but there is just zero new in it.

The entire play structure is basically 100% Lemmings. From the level progression, to counting your guys out, to the cutesy style, all Lemmings.

The building a tower with connections thing has also been done; there are a lot of tower building games out there, though probably the most direct precedent is the classic Bridge Builder line



Again I'm not particularly trying to rag on World of Goo - it's definitely one of the better indie games - but that in itself proves my point I think.

Bez said...

But by that reasoning, every game is pong.

Paul said...

Sure, indie games are derivative, but so is the mainstream. The question is which is more derivative and which is more original.

Zarthon said...

Well, luckily for me, I live in Taiwan so I don't have indie games at all. Everyone rants about how this new indie game is out and tells me to buy it, but I can't. Then, 3 weeks later, no-one remembers it. That's probably near what most of you guys get, too.

old rants