Why Indie Video Games Matter
Steam Greenlight is a way for indie developers to share their games.
Microsoft's new game console, the Xbox One, will have a place for indie games, although it's not clear exactly what or where that place may be. Gamers may have to wait a few more weeks for a straight answer on how Microsoft will sell and advertise indie titles, but they are asking the right question.
Indie games are a bigger deal than ever, and both consumers and manufacturers stand to benefit from the intuitive distribution of small, innovative titles. Indie games are likely to have a big presence on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but as in ages past, the best place to find them is still the PC.
There's no solid definition of what constitutes an indie game, as developers of these titles vary wildly in terms of budget, team size and game scope. Still, gamers know indie when they see it. "Minecraft," a simple construction game with purposely dated graphics, is an indie game; "Call of Duty: Black Ops II," a graphically intense first-person shooter brimming with gameplay features, is not.
Microsoft currently offers two avenues for indie games on the Xbox 360: Xbox Live Arcade (a more expensive platform whose titles resemble disc-based games, but are smaller) and Xbox Live Indie Games (a more "Wild West" store, where cheap, nontraditional, unrated games appear following a peer-review process in which Microsoft has little involvement).
Microsoft has traditionally charged a great deal of money for developers to host their games on Xbox Live Arcade (even distributing a patch can cost up to $40,000), which generally keeps game quality high, but locks out developers with lower budgets. Although it previously stated that indie developers would not be allowed to self-publish on Xbox One, Microsoft has vowed a kind of nebulous "support" for indies.
In March, Nintendo relaxed its previously draconian policies about submitting to its Wii U and 3DS eShops. Now, gamers searching for content need only open the eShop and see indie games displayed right alongside their mainstream brethren.
Although Sony's PlayStation 3 had a number of indie hits, such as "Journey," "Papo & Yo" and "Guacamelee," its indie submission process has been labyrinthine and did not receive a dedicated "Indie Games" section in the online PlayStation Store until this month. [See also: 5 Hit Games Made on a Shoestring]
Sony will not elaborate on its indie plans for the PS4 until the E3 gaming convention next month. If its PS3 Store is any indication, indie games will at least have their own section.
Indie titles have historically been most plentiful on the PC, and for now, the desktop computer still holds the reins. Steam, the most popular digital download service for games, has given players the power to determine which indie titles they want to buy.
Developers submit their games to a service called Steam Greenlight, where users then vote on whether they'd like to see the title available. If a title amasses enough votes, Steam will carry it and even give it an advertising push when it first releases. Game creators can also use Greenlight to gauge audience interest in game concepts and correspond directly with potential users.
Indie gaming is more popular than it's ever been, and players will increasingly have access to a cornucopia of cheap, innovative titles across a variety of platforms. All they'll need is an open mind and a little help from manufacturers.