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Why Indie Gaming is the Next Generation of Video Games

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It’s hard to believe that this console generation began back in the year 2005 with the Xbox 360. Microsoft’s second coming of the gaming juggernaut known as the Xbox series of consoles had a rough start, but became a powerhouse in its generation, with high-quality exclusives like Gears of War and Halo 3. A year later, Sony brought out the Playstation 3, a monolithic beast of a console whose intense graphical fidelity was only trumped by its hefty price tag. And we can’t forget Nintendo, who shocked everyone with its successful motion-based Wii system who sacrificed horsepower for approachability and high-quality first-party games. Console gaming had reached a mighty high, both in presentation and gameplay.

But things are not as they were back in 2005. The gaming climate is not built on power anymore. Mobile gaming, tablet gaming, and social gaming are the trifecta of mainstream video games now. With retail game sales beginning to reach a sickening low, that hasn’t stopped the original Big 3 (Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo) from continuing on. Nintendo’s Wii U turned heads with its focus on its GamePad, a tablet-esque controller, while Sony and Microsoft keep dropping subtle, but captivating hints on the future of Playstation and Xbox respectively. But even as Nintendo keeps its head high in the coming Wii U launch period, as Sony continues to grow Playstation as a brand beyond gaming, and Microsoft gathers more third-party support for its 2005 sophomore hit, the gaming world isn’t standing around stagnantly. It’s changing. So what’s the future of gaming? Where do we go from here?

To answer this question, always remember this: risks are the bane of a successful mainstream game. Annual releases like Call of Duty and Madden, HD re-releases, and resting on the laurels of established franchises have become questionable practices across all three console creators, but they’re there and that has made optimism toward those practices in the gaming world a rarity. Developers are hesitant to step outside a comfort zone when so much time, money, and resources are on the line. We’ve seen re-releases from all three major consoles, massive publishers pushing their franchises through ports and remakes, and original IP’s (especially as first-party titles) are few and far between.

That’s why the indie crowd is so valuable to gaming. They have nothing to lose. Look at Braid, Super Meat Boy, and most importantly, Minecraft; they were simplified, conceptual works that took the accessibility and straight-ahead approach of mobile gaming and made it palatable to the long-time gamers. They bridged the gap. There wasn’t anything in those games that a AAA title couldn’t possess. The graphics, controls, design, they all were nowhere near impossible. So why did these indie sprouts succeed? Because they took risks as original titles.

The original IP is the most pristine diamond in the rough. Think about it: when a new Call of Duty comes out, what is it instantly compared to? The last Call of Duty. But comparing a game like Minecraft, a risk-taker in every sense of the word, that takes some real eloquence. You could say it’s like a management sim like Sim City, an adventure game like Zelda, an action-RPG like Skyrim. And quite frankly, you would be right on all three. But there’s something in a game like Minecraft that is absolutely incomparable to any other game before it. That spark of originality is not something that a sequel or re-release has: Minecraft has an immunity to comparison.

But how can this originality be transferred to a future of video gaming? To be honest, it doesn’t need a future. It can happen now. In fact, it has already happened. The next-generation of gaming guts began when indie stopped being indie. When indie games like Super Meat Boy and Minecraft hit a mass market (possibly around the same time that Indie Game: The Movie was released), that’s when the true new generation began. You see, generations aren’t limited to physical horsepower of a technological product; they are also a transfer of ideas, of “genetic material”, of beliefs and philosophies. Indie gaming has slowly begun to shed its skin of obscurity and has become a mainstay in gaming culture. These ideas of new IP’s and creation-based philosophies, they transcended the physical state of video game consoles’ technology. When it comes to the next generation of GAMEPLAY, the indie crowd is the tipping point, with Minecraft being the progenitor.

But where does this leave the Big 3? While all three consoles have their share of independent titles on their downloadable services, they pale in comparison to the sales of their AAA brethren. For every Limbo, Dishwasher, and Bit.Trip, you’ll find a Halo, Uncharted, or Mario game to shove them aside. While many of these AAA titles are quite good and benefit from the increased funds and manpower invested in them, do they have that spark of originality, that sense of progression and evolution? The answer is no. Gameplay is still bound to the series and the genres built from them. Mario is still a platformer, using the same platformer controls and the same inventive, though familiar level design. Independent developers have seen this stagnancy and have reacted accordingly. The radical motions of the indie developers are in response to something that they believe is unfulfilling to the gamer and to gaming not just as a hobby, but an art and a science.

Technology, despite what the console developers believe, is not the future of the video game world; reformation and new gameplay is. If anything, the independent development crowd has been going in the opposite direction of technology. As tech gets bigger and more complex, indie gaming is reinventing itself into something simpler and free from the corporate constraints of AAA development. When Steam, XBLA, PSN, and the Nintendo eShop discover that, then we might see another generation appear in the next year or so, maybe sooner.

So all in all, what does the future of gaming consoles hold? Will AAA titles disappear under this ideal umbrella of concepts? Of course not. We live in a world where we draw comfort from familiarity. But no amount of technology is going to change a generation, at least not in this way. If games are to evolve fundamentally and make that next big step beyond their established template, there needs to be a freedom of development focus. The next stage of evolution comes from a lack of hindrance, where originality can blossom and new ideas can flourish, all without the pressure of corporate overwatch. That can’t happen in an annual release that is constantly being compared to its predecessor. The next generation can’t be compared to others; it must stand on its own two feet and try new things itself.

It began with a hand-me-down Sega Genesis from his cousin and since then, he's been fascinated with video games. He enjoys the blissful platforming of the 16-bit era and the rich adventures of the 64-bit era. Favorite games include Metroid Prime, Banjo-Tooie, and practically every 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog title.

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