By Nelson Schneider - 05/13/12 at 03:05 PM CT
Last week, I gushed about independent game development and how Indie was the sole hope for the future of a medium becoming increasingly consumed with and motivated by profit. Yet even such a noble pursuit as Indie development can be corrupted by the desire to turn a quick buck. One need only look at the ‘libraries’ of smartphones and Xbox Live to plainly see that there is an overwhelming amount of crap produced by nobodies hoping to become the next “Angry Birds” Guys. These Indie ‘developers’ are treating game creation like gambling: If they buy enough lottery tickets, they’ll have to win big eventually, right? Wrong: The House (in these instances, Apple and Microsoft) always wins.
Indie developers need to be constantly vigilant, watching themselves to ensure they don’t act like Big Gaming publishers… because they aren’t Big Gaming publishers. Indie developers don’t have the reputations or the venture capital to release trash, market it to death, and get people to buy it for $60 anyway.
Indie developers need to hold themselves to a higher standard. Because Indie games aren’t covered by the ESRB (and are actually banned in Australia because of it), they can actually make it to market with little to no review. While Xbox Live and iTunes both have a submission review process in place, it’s mostly for content screening (God forbid anything that would stain our Puritan American eyes or break our Sacred American Copyright should slip by), not quality screening. While there are a few stand-out Indie titles on each of these two platforms, the good stuff can easily be buried beneath mountains of crap, crap, crap, crap CRAP, or things that aren’t even games! There are thousands of items in these marketplaces, but only a tiny handful even deserve to exist.
Indie developers need to engage their userbase and work with gamers to issue patches and add-ons. While the smartphone and Xbox Indie ‘developers’ seem content do the yard sale equivalent of pooping on the sidewalk and trying to sell the turd for 99 cents, real Indie developers – the ones who actually put effort into their work and distribute via real digital gaming platforms like PSN, the non-Indie section of Xbox Live, and Steam – create solid games that are actually worth $5, $10, or even $15. But it’s easy for them to mess things up. While the MeltedJoystick staff and some of our leading community members have been playing the Hell out of Trendy Entertainment’s “Dungeon Defenders,” we’ve also been continually frustrated by the fact that Trendy seems to issue at least two patches per week, which screw around with game balance. And “Dungeon Defenders” is definitely a game that needs some balance tweaks. While Trendy did manage to tweak the base game to perfection with their earlier patches, all of the add-on DLC in the “Lost Eternia Shards” expansion pack has been extremely broken. Why? Because Indie developers don’t have the resources to hire dozens of testers, and instead rely on their most fervent players for feedback… players who have been with the game since day-one and hold stables of extremely over-powered characters. As a result of using feedback from just this select group of elite players, the “Lost Eternia Shards” has seen a difficulty jump that has all but eliminated the Easy and Medium difficulties for the DLC maps, leaving only Hard, Insane, and Nightmare. Sure, the lower difficulties are still there in the game, but in actually playing the new maps, Easy feels like Hard, Medium feels like Insane, and Hard feels like Nightmare, pushing Insane and Nightmare into new echelons of impossibility that can only be conquered through mind-numbing amounts of grinding and mooching off of random elite players who were able to blow through the maps when they were brand new – the same elite players whose testing comments of “TOO EASY” caused the brokenness in the first place.
The Big Gaming publishers need to realize that adding the word ‘Indie’ to one of their products does not make it so. When Electronic Arts buys-up Indie developers, they are no longer Indie, but small dev teams beholden to the publishing conglomerate monstrosity that is EA. Under the guidance of EA’s board of directors and shareholders, a purchased Indie team will churn out the same soulless trash as the rest of the company’s teams… only on a shoestring budget with a guillotine hanging over their heads.
But ultimately, the onus falls upon us, the gamers, to keep Indie developers from turning to the dark side. We need to praise and promote what is good, disparage and ignore what is bad, and strive for the ability to tell the difference between the two. We need to give feedback to Indie developers, telling them what we like or dislike and when their games are broken. Game players and game makers need to engage with each other in a symbiotic relationship. Otherwise we will return to the dark days when Atari (delenda est) allowed everyone to make cheap games for their consoles with no concern for quality or what players wanted.