6 ways indie games are finding mainstream success

There is no better time to check in the humble bundle than now

The last decade has shown a herculean spike of independent game development. Beginning from a rare and often free web browser experience, indie games have now become the very heartbeat of the game business. 

Like any crowded marketplace, gaming business is tough. Bestselling franchises are losing steam. New tools and software are now easily accessible to everyone. The barriers of game developments are lifted, and the demand for something new is stronger than ever.

The machinery of gaming has turned its wheels towards indie developers for creativity, and perhaps even the big guys could learn a thing or two from them. 

THE IDEA MATTERS MOST

Many indie developers naturally understand that they are in the business of making people happy and entertained with the games they create. As if the game would be more fun if they came from big game publishers and studios. So they flipped the safety off the creativity gun and pulled the trigger. 

More than often, indie games become a pleasant palate-cleanser after (re)playing what seems to be just newer versions of old recipes (I’m looking at you, Call of Duty). When Ubisoft decided to take a risk, the beautiful Child of Light was born. 

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NOSTALGIC GRAPHICS? CHECK

Imagine Minecraft with realistic models, beautifully rendered landscapes and detailed environments… Why not? 

Small developers tend to run to the opposite end of that spectrum, and truthfully it’s because they really can’t afford such pantheon graphics (and AAA Minecraft will fry your processor). Millions of dollars are spent just to create that virtual world, and it is money that indie developers just do not have. 

So they blow away the cobwebs and get innovative with old-school arcade 8-bits and deliberately crude graphics. You’ve probably had enough of those blocky limbs from the past, but successful end products wear their raw pixels with such distinctive style and appeal that it’s easy to look past the cover.  

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LESS IS MORE (GAMEPLAY, REPLAY VALUE)

If you’re tired of shooting high-definition faces or parkouring through a city and jumping into convenient haystacks, something refreshingly different can definitely be found in the indie games pool. Spending hours being an immigration inspector and stamping passports in Papers, Please, or navigating a bloody piece of meat through a lethal obstacle course in Super Meat Boy is much more fun than you’re willing to admit. 

With big ideas and few resources, indie developers are forced to work with what little they have. Sometimes, that leads to a delightfully serious bang for your buck.

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WORKING TOGETHER

Ever waited for a big game with so much anticipation, after months of teasers and hype, only to be utterly disappointed by the end product ridded with bugs and boring nephalem rifts? 

Indie developers are often very open about their projects with the gaming community, with the help of platforms like Kickstarter and Steam Early Access or Greenlight, and this easily sets indie games a breed apart from the high profiles. Of course, this risks other people stealing their ideas, but in this saturated market, who really is truly free from a spinoff or copy?

This is the way games should be made – games evolve as people play them and give feedback, in which developers update content and troubleshoot bugs. Most importantly, lasting relationships are created in the process, where gamers and developers guide each other to create a game that everybody will enjoy.

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TURN ON THE WATERWORKS

While the big guys are playing it safe and recreating their successes in prequels and sequels, indie developers are going all out, exploring untapped gameplay, touching on controversial themes, and expressing personal issues. 

The Static Speaks My Name is just one of the many indie titles out there that might seem really weird at first, but for those willing to look deeper, the game offers a glimpse into the final moment of a man’s life corroded by depression and darkness. 

There are no fancy graphics or harrowing storylines. Stripped down to create an immersive, and sometimes uncomfortable experience that tugs on your heartstrings, some indie developers are now playing on the very core of the game, and hitting all the right notes.

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NEW MARKETING APPROACH

The Yogscast, a quirky pair of YouTubers, recorded themselves play the humble sandbox game Minecraft, and contributed to its widespread fame. From there, there was no braking this train as millions of subscribers continue to follow Minecraft and all its updates and mods closely through the Yogscast’s gameplay commentary videos. 

Video game commentators and streaming services have become one of the most influential personalities on the Internet, and can expose games to multitudes of viewers in just a matter of days. Indie point-and-click horror game Five Nights At Freddy’s garnered 31 million views on indie game commentator Markiplier’s channel, and was the top-seller on Desura for a week.

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