Usually I find the most interesting movies are the ones off the beaten path. They don’t fall into the tropes that others follow and they offer something refreshing. It’s the same with games. Independent games have some of the most original ideas and are part of the reason I think the game industry is at its most exciting time.
What really makes both movies and games fantastic is when they have a big budget behind them without constraints from the higher ups. As of now, when publishers look for games to fund, they look for ones that will potentially make a lot of money. First person and third person shooter games are usually a sure bet to rake in some cash, but the problem is they usually play it safe. While I thoroughly enjoyed the latest entry of Tomb Raider, I felt the story and combat was more or less ho-hum. It plays it very safe and doesn’t take any chances, making it accessible to a larger audience and therefore making a bigger profit.
Publishers rarely take chances on big budget games with crazy ideas. The only way for this to happen is for a studio to have a proven track record with games. The same goes for movies as well. Inception would have never been made by anyone else, but since Christopher Nolan is a director with a proven track record, a big budgeted movie with a plot more complex than an average summer blockbuster was made.
I don’t think games have reached a point yet where creative ones have access to a big budget. Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us make compelling arguments, but they are still not all the way there. While both of these games tell compelling stories with huge budgets, both have safe gameplay, almost to the point where there isn’t anything different about each one. Take away the skyhook and sound mechanic and you’re left with a standard FPS and third person shooter, respectively. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad a studio’s track record allow them to take more risks with a large budget. The story of both games more than make up for the gameplay, but it’s hard to imagine such games being different genres or having unconventional gameplay.
Luckily, however, independent games don’t need a huge budget to get their point across. Thomas Was Alone is one of the most heartfelt games ever created, but the main character is made up of no more than a few pixels. Imagine what the developer can do with bigger budget and more people on board. What should be taken into account is where these independent developers go after making their indie title. If enough people pick them up, bigger publishers will notice and hopefully fund their next title. Of course this doesn’t always happen and if it does, sometimes the publisher takes too much creative control away from the developer.
Alas, I look on the bright side. Journey is one of my favorite games of all time and the development team, Thatgamecompany, started out with nothing more than a fancy tech demo that was released with the PS3, Fl0w. Eventually, after working their way up and creating quality games, they could afford to expand their budget to the critically acclaimed masterpiece that is Journey. I hope all quality independent developers can reach that level of developmental freedom. Luckily, we as consumers have a choice. At the risk of sounding like a hipster, give money to the independent games that appeal to our unique interests that mainstream gaming unfortunately does not provide. Hopefully eventually they will, but until then, the independent scene will be able to fulfil my needs while I dream of something bigger.