I just want to start out this blog with an unrelated shout out. EA recently announced it will be holding a summit for developers to discuss LGBT portrayals in gaming. As a huge supporter of that community I think it is great that one of the biggest companies in the industry has put themselves under fire to support those guys and gals. EA obviously does a lot of terrible stuff, but I have no qualms saying I absolutely admire and respect them for doing this. Gaming has long been one of the most unfriendly places for homosexuals, which is a terrible tragedy. For a demographic that often needs a way to escape from reality more than any other, it is shameful that our industry does such a piss poor job of including them. So thank you to EA for taking a leading role in trying to change things from the industry end. I sincerely hope that gamers themselves can work to make our community more inclusive for all types of people.
Okay, just wanted to get that out of the way, because I do strongly support what EA is doing. Now the topic of the rest of this blog is about the movement of top developers from AAA to Indie studios and the support these Indie teams have gotten from the press. I think it is interesting because if you were to ask the average visitor to a site like Gamespot if they would prefer someone like Cliff Blezinski work on a AAA game or an Indie game I think almost everyone would say AAA. Yet if you were to ask most any developer who has been in this industry for as long as he has which they would prefer to work on, almost all of them would say Indie. Now a lot of people would blame this on the evil publishers who require lengthy hours for little reward. And there is definite truth in that. I think there is a bit more to it than that though.
A lot of the developers who are at the top of the industry today, grew up in the days of Atari or even earlier. To them, games were just that, games to pass the time away. Early game designers were called engineers. At Atari, Nolan Bushnell hired programmers not artists. Games didn't have much in the way of stories. They were "drawn" by a programmer and designed by a programmer. The industry was small and developers made the whole game themselves. These games had no ambitions beyond providing some fun for kids for an hour. Developers designed for a controller that had one joystick and one button. It was a simple time when break rooms were filled with weed and rock and roll music filled the hallways.
The game development of today is anything but simple. Designers at major companies don't answer to a couple hippies but to a room full of shareholders. Content is tightly controlled to appease market trends and rating requirements. The days of just sitting at your desk and making a game seemed gone until the rise of digital distribution through Xbox Live and later Steam and Smartphones. While many gamers look poorly upon many Indie games, especially those on smartphones, to many developers, smartphone games are what they signed up to make 30 years ago. And self publishing from their garage is the business model they planned when they started. For many of them, Indie games, especially smartphone games, are what they think of when they think of the term video game. And making those games either by themselves or with a small team is what they always wanted to do.
I guess that is the interesting split for me. For many designers and many of the older journalists and gamers, Indie games are what they imagine when they think of game. Yet for teenagers or younger, those types of games are trivial or inferior to what they consider true gaming. They call these games casual or describe them as "simple time wasters" or something to that effect, maybe unaware that games are in fact simple time wasters in many cases, and especially were if you go back more than 10 years.
Now I'm not saying that gamers and game designers shouldn't respect the changes and innovations that have occurred in the game industry over the past 15 years or so, but I think it is foolish to look down upon the designers, journalists, and gamers who claim to love Indie games, even of the smartphone variety. For many of these people, these were the games they grew up with. The games they wanted to make or wanted to write about or wanted to play. For many of my fellow bloggers and for several of the journalists on this site, gaming as a kid involved a controller with no more buttons than a smartphone. I don't want to turn this into another pro-smartphone blog, because that isn't the point. The point is that I feel younger gamers just don't understand why a developer or critic would want to make or cover an Indie game over a AAA game and that is sad. It shows a lack of understanding about gaming history and the type of "my games are better than your games" mentality that makes kids hate their parents' music.
In the end a game is meant to be fun. It is meant to entertain and the scale of a game doesn't really effect that one way or the other. But regardless of that, the point of this blog is to merely acknowledge that for many designers, critics, and gamers, games have changed so drastically from what they started out as, that it is very compelling to try and go back to those roots and try to bring gaming back to how it was when things started - a bunch of hippies just trying to have some fun.