I have found out what I despise most Indie games. It is because they are not Indie games.
I remember the computer revolution. I remember the original game makers crafting the first video games which we place in museums today. The game designers had the intelligence of a rocket scientist but approached their game with the craftsmanship of an artist.
The problem with Indie Games today is that they are not ‘independent’ games in the same way the first game makers were. They do not try to shoot for the moon. There is a seemingly lack of ambition with the games.
They are Ghetto Games. The ‘ghetto’ is a term meaning ‘very cheap’ coming from impoverished areas. But it also means a ‘pride’ coming from those impoverished areas. It is like ricers who put fins on their cars because they cannot afford a fast sports car.
Indie games is gaming in the ghetto for the most part. The original game makers had to program a computer. Most indie game makers use kits. And have you noticed how they all look like they have the graphics of a flash game? It is terrible.
Now you might say, “But isn’t disruption crappy products for crappy customers?” Are disruptive products ‘ghetto’? No. Disruptive products tend to be cool even though they don’t make much sense to the traditional audience. For example, the Wii was cool even though the PlayStation 3 audience had no idea why people were buying it.
As a game consumer, one thing that attracts me to games is its level of ambition. Ever game needs some sort of ambition. Minecraft may LOOK ghetto but the actual world within the game is vaster and more interesting than most games out there.
Consumers will not accept mediocrity on all levels. With Minecraft, gamers were willing to accept the mediocre graphics because it allowed a much vaster world. By the same token, some gamers are willing to accept a small world for fantastic graphics. But they will never accept mediocre graphics and mediocre world.
The difference between Indie games and Ghetto games is this: Ghetto games are mediocre on all levels while Indie games strive to be ambitious somewhere.
Let us pretend I made a game like Legend of Zelda (Classic Zelda without the Aonuma). It would be seen as a Ghetto Game and would never sell. People don’t want to buy a game that looks and plays like it came from the 1980s or 1990s.
But let us say that I used some of that primitiveness to leverage an ambitious new undertaking. While the consumer may have to face 1990ish graphics, the world itself is 50 times larger and more interesting than anything we’ve seen in a Classic Zelda game. That would get gamers’ interest. Or perhaps it is all randomly generated. And what if it had a massive multiplayer component to it as well?
I remember even with the old Shareware games they were ‘bad’ at some parts (maybe the graphics or something) but they were ambitious in another area.
The above is from Epic Pinball, a shareware game in the early 90s. Yes, it came from Epic who would eventually make the Unreal and Gears of War games. While this is just a simple pinball game, it doesn’t sound like it. That is the most interesting music! And you have to play the game to get the full effect such as the title screen exploding all around you. As a small company trying to claw its way to the top, Epic was not just making ghetto games but truly ambitious games. That little pinball game has some ambitious production effects such as the music.
Above: Damn. You can just feel the ambition oozing from your speakers as you play it. This little shareware game wanted be noticed!
Above: It’s like Metroid level atmospheric music…
Indie game makers need to stop thinking they are in the gaming market and start thinking they are in the entertainment market. Let me try to illustrate:
You pitch your Legend of Zelda type game:
“It has near similar tried and true gameplay of the classic Zelda games. I have spent much time trying to balance the game. It is very fun.”
Where is the AMBITION? Where is the PASSION? Forgive me, reader, for I have become Orz: “Where is the *SAUCE*?”
“A Zelda clone? No. Imagine exploring with no end. Imagine not going outside because you cannot stop playing. Imagine the sun creeping up because you played all through the night. And imagine that when you are done, after months of playing, you want to play it all over again and have a different experience. Zelda is a pre-school experience compared to the awesomeness that awaits you in my game.”
Now that sounds far more interesting. It doesn’t come across as a Ghetto game. There is ambition there.
People say gamers are mean and unforgiving. This isn’t true. Gamers appreciate all ambitious games and realize that sometimes the souffle doesn’t rise. Where gamers are mean and unforgiving are with games that have no ambition. They are often called ‘clones’ or ‘retro games’ but are seen as GHETTO GAMES. They are the poor man’s version of a better game.
Don’t tell me about the game, tell me about the entertainment. When your mind is thinking about making the better entertainment experience, you think about walking around the street in a clown suit or something radical and amazing to attract attention. But when your mind is thinking about making the better gaming experience, you think about how to ‘walk better’ and ‘look better’ but the crowd doesn’t notice you.
To fail and be ambitious is an oxymoron. The only way to fail is to not be ambitious at all.