If you look on metacritic (the review site which aggregates other review sites), you will find that one of the highest rated games of 2013 is the re-make of Stanley Parable. The first version was put together in 2011 by Davey Wreden, a self-taught 22-year-old who learned his trade through wikis and forums. He went on to re-mix a second version of the game in conjunction with another independent developer. By then Stanley had acquired high-definition visuals and various gameplay tweaks. In this form – put together by two bedroom developers – it has enjoyed considerable success and the very highest profile. Independently produced games are not consigned to far-flung corners just because they don’t come compete with corporate branding.
Indie games often focus on far more abstract and philosophical themes than big-budget games. Stanley Parable, for example, plays on choice and its consequences. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy these games if you just want to play a game; but the ideas are there if you want to play around with them, too.
Far from being sewn up by multinationals, the games industry is much more multi-tiered than other media industries. There are big publishers, then the intermediate developers who are often hired by the big companies, and then the indie community, which is able to self-publish through digital media without losing a single byte of creative control.
While some of the best games have been made by developers with a budget of millions, eg GTA V, the flipside is that some of the worst games have also come out of the same sort of set-up, eg Duke Nukem Forever, which languished for 15 years in development hell. Similarly, some of the best games are made by medium-sized development studios, who also make some of the worst. I’m sure you can see where this is heading: it’s not the commercial context which determines whether a game is any good, but the imagination and the technique which go into producing it – whether these qualities are corporately funded, or not.
An integral part of the indie-game revolution is digital publishing. Without it, indie-game developers would have to box up their games in order to sell them, and the cost would surely be prohibitive. But nowadays they can publish through digital media such as Steam and the Playstation Store. Better yet, Playstation and Xbox (after a huge u-turn which meant reversing almost every aspect of the new Xbox apart from the actual hardware) have agreed to let game developers self-publish on PS4 and Xbox One.
Bigwigs operating behind closed doors do not have a monopoly on the video game world. It is open to anyone who has the knowledge and effort needed to develop a good game. Neither sweatshop nor penthouse, this is one industry in which social mobility is real rather than virtual.
Freddie Sehgal Cuthbert is a schoolboy.