QQing With Q: The Imminent Rise of Indie

Tim Schafer goes hwaaa?

It’s yours truly again with more knowledge, laid out for you on a silver platter of black and white pixels on a screen.

So, there’s a paradigm shift coming. It’s a doozy. The gaming industry will forever change in the next 5 years, and while we can’t say if it’s for good or ill, it’s definitely happening. The reason for this is, of course, the almighty dollar.

GamesIndustry reports that development costs for next-gen consoles are likely to double, according to sources who are already working with the new Microsoft-codenamed-”Durango” devkits. “I’m having to double my budget for models,” one developer says. “If we want to take advantage of Durango’s capabilities it takes a lot more time for each model.” Even though the WiiU reportedly doesn’t quite push the textures that the other next-gen entries do, the unique features of the tablet are requiring extra concept and dev time.

Now this is likely part of the development reality for any brand new console in its gestation and infancy periods, but the fact remains that costs are rising, as games are just becoming more complex, both graphically and otherwise. Either development cycles will be longer or development staff will grow, but it’s unlikely game costs will rise in parallel fashion. The market simply cannot sustain $120 games. Sure, there will be added ‘features’ designed to maximize a studio’s investment, such as a greater emphasis on DLC, microtransactions, and in-game ads, but it is unlikely even this will even out the budget. Something’s got to give. (With this in mind, it’s no wonder publishers are fighting to ban used game sales!) If we extrapolate this out to its logical conclusion, there is only one truth remaining:

There will be fewer studio-released games next generation.

Studios like EA and Activision will be less likely to take investment risks, more likely to push out tried and true formulas. The problem is, we gamers are an impatient bunch. We don’t like to wait. We like to beat a game, or at least play it to our own personal conclusion, and then move on to the next thing we care about. This leaves a gap, and we all know gamers’ nature abhors a vacuum. We will need something to fill the gap, and that is where indie will rise.

Don’t misunderstand me; indie games are already on the rise, with the manifestation of indie bundles, improved online catalogs on Steam, XBLA and PSN, dedicated conventions and crowdsourcing. The difference in the future, however, will be a future where the ratios have shifted. The ratio of indie games to studio releases will rise, driving the average price of games down. It’s already dropping due to the full-battery-crash-entrance of mobile gaming into the industry, where most games launch at $5 or below, but this will only serve to drop it further. Game manufacturers will have to take notice at some point, but as to whether or not this is sooner or later, that remains to be seen. They could always take the RIAA approach and refuse to acknowledge the future of their industry, the paradigm shift in progress. We may see pressure from publishers for The Big 3 to back off their indie availability, which could cause a schism in the industry (which we already may be seeing with the burying of Xbox Live Indie Games with the recent Dashboard update). We could see Nintendo and Sony move their future handhelds into a more similar pricing structure. We could see an industry embrace the difference and make movements to ensure that their “top-tier pricing” is worth the money, putting greater time and effort into QAing their products. Or we may see none of this.

One thing is certain: indie games are rising now, but their growth will be exponential in the near future. If you’re in the industry, which side of the fence will you land on?