2011 glasses don’t work out as well as 2010 (year in review and look to the future: Indy and Download Only)

This has been a really gem of a year for gaming despite some hiccups here and there, but one of the big things is how the landscape of the industry is changing. While downloadable games aren’t anything new per-say especially with the size of DLC, stand alone games have become much more prevalent this year. We saw the release the of amazing puzzle platformer Limbo, the hardcore Super Meat Boy, and even the legendary studio Double Fine coming out with Costume Quest. Really incredible download only games have been on the rise as of late, and these don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the predominantly indy movement bringing these out. I think we’re hitting a renaissance of sorts with the download distribution model in regards to game development. Back in the day (really before my time), a lot of the big guys got their start programming at home; I think Bungie’s first studio was one of their mom’s basement. Instead of the internet then, the game was sold on a floppy in a zip-lock bag at a local game store. Game development is going back into the home now after years of big industry, triple-A, huge budget, production. Without the over heads and over bearing of huge production costs, designers can just go and scratch their creative itches without having to worry about whether or not they can get funding or if the game has to be market-appealing. Coupling that with all the new free to use game dev tools like Game Maker, Unity and the UDK is allowing more people who didn’t have the means previously to make games and get them out to a mass audience. Thanks to the intertubes, this isn’t really new news, Kongregate and Newgrounds have been around for years, but we’re starting to see more and more wide spread attention in both size and scale. Anyone can make a game now and try to get what they see in their heads onto a screen and find an outlet for other people to play it and be able to make some money off it.

The VGAs (not sure if I love ’em or hate ’em… love NPH) had a best downloadable game award this year; though it wasn’t televised Costume Quest won that one, and shows like X-Play are reviewing them right up there with disc games we shell out 40-70 bucks for every day. This group of games don’t need to be legitimized by mass media in the least, they legitimize themselves by how great they are and how much the labor of love of them shows through. But things have gone far beyond viral. Take Minecraft for example, it’s popularity exploded over night and to high acclaim, too. Its no longer the already initiated taking notice, its everyone. Thanks to distributors like STEAM, the games get exposed to players who aren’t looking for them and endeavors like the Humble Indy Bundle make the games even more noticed and for a good cause.

The market and environment is changing, expanding, and its happening quickly; five years ago I don’t think anyone really expected things to evolve this way. What does this mean for the games industry? While Double Fine is about as indy as a big studio can probably get, I think we’ll see more and more big name studios trying out the whole downloadable game thing like Double Fine has. Do I think this will be healthy for the current groups that are part of this space now? I’m not sure. Creativity shines through in this market. Games that are quirky, crazy and mesmerizing and more of all fun find a warm reception here. It makes it so you can just say “Hey this sounds like a cool idea,” do it, and see what everyone else thinks. Do I think we’re on the track to a pure download or indy run environment. No, not even kind of. There will always be a need for the big studios and, as Tim Shaffer put it, the “tainted teat” of the publisher. You can’t have games like Batman Arkham Asylum or Red Dead Redemption without all that. You need all that money. But, the downloadable game is on the rise. Costume Quest in only the first of, to my understanding, possibly 4 download only games that the crew at Double Fine have come up with and Stacking is next coming up sometime soon. Who knows what other gems will pop up like Limbo and Super Meat Boy, but I’d put money that the year won’t end with us not seeing one. 2011 could shape up to be another big year for this indy sector or download games in general, but that’s also part of the fun of it: I don’t know. You don’t get the huge advertisement pushes, and it makes finding the games even more fun and rewarding. The future is looking like an exciting time to be a designer and gamer. Bring it on 2011.

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