Playing Outside The Sim Box – Independent Video Gaming
Once the economic analysts and social pundits got over the shockwaves from the assault of video gaming on our culture, they began to look at the nuances of the industry. For several years, there wasn’t much product variation to see outside of shooters, fantasy role playing, and sports games. The Sims brought some variety and expanded the player base to more mature “casual gamers,” but for the most part gaming has been for the young.
That’s beginning to change. Independent game developers who cater to a more dedicated gaming community have functioned under the radar, for the most part. They are beginning to get the recognition they deserve and that, in turn, is expanding the number and complexity of game genres that are finding their way to the marketplace. The big game companies such as Electronic Arts and Nintendo continue to turn out sequels to their big money-makers such as Madden’s NFL Football and Zelda. Their sales remain huge, but as their audiences mature, the market is finding room for games that go beyond sports, war and wizards.
“Indie” games are developing their own distribution channels. Valve, the company that had a huge mainstream hit with Half Life, now distributes its games over its own online service, Steam. It sells directly to the gamer, and provides the servers for their game users to play either singly or in multiplayer format via the Internet. Their games come from an assortment of developers and range from cartoon-noir mysteries to empire building to more standard fare. Steam provides an outlet for some independent games to reach a wider audience.
Manifesto Games is a website dedicated to the support, promotion and distribution of independently produced video games. The site has game reviews, provides a sales mechanism for the various producers, provides a “top ten” list of current indie games and has a Soapbox forum for comments, recommendations, gripes, etc. from active gamers.
Manifesto’s game review categories include some standards such as Adventure, Role Playing Games and Sim/Tycoon games. But there are also categories such as Schmup and Turn-based Strategy, categories the major producers don’t promote – and in the case of Schmup, probably don’t understand. It’s a term that seems to refer generally to games that recreate the early space-ship shoot-em-ups but with far cooler graphics and actual plots to them.
Many of the games found on Manifesto follow mainstream game profiles such as war games and role playing wizardry, but they interject some element of reality or human complexity that isn’t readily found in standard game fare. There’s a sim game available on the site called Democracy. Not a concept that matches the testosterone-based video game standard.
By virtue of distribution channels such as Manifesto and Steam, indie developers have a shot at commercial exposure and hopefully, some commercial success. This foot in the door of an enormous commercial monolith has generated some outrageous creativity in expanding game genres into more original and complex formats.
It’s like good new bands that blow past the record companies, introduce themselves through YouTube and MySpace and sell their CDs online. The indie game producers have created a market that allows for creativity and product honesty.