“The Witness” is a game that puts players on a carefully crafted and beautifully rendered island with hundreds of thoughtful, intricate puzzles. The game takes upward of 40 hours to complete, a long game by any measure.
Then why is it called an indie game?
“Call of Duty” is a game series that features recycled gameplay, swift campaigns and stale plot progression that can be completed in an afternoon.
Then why is it called an AAA game?
An indie game is defined as a game with little funding, a small team, an online-only release or a combination of the three. An AAA game, on the other hand, is described as being a big blockbuster production, similar in scope to movies in a theater.
These descriptions, though, are woefully outdated.
Before the 2000s, video games of commercial success were created by teams of people working on advanced computers over the course of years. The degree of difficulty in programming and computer engineering required to make games economically viable kept many people out of the industry, isolating ideas from the public.
In the last 10 years, however, the power of personal computing and the licensing of game engines has provided a software framework that removes the significant programming knowledge barrier to make games. Now, anyone with a computer and a passion can make their own game.
These new games were small in scope and not very impressive. They were called indie in reference to indie bands and movies that fill the same role of a smaller, more personal product.
“Minecraft” is the perfect example of an indie game.
Created by one man with simple textures, basic physics and rudimentary crafting mechanics, the game was hardly impressive. It was certainly a game that would have gone unnoticed 30 years ago.
But because Minecraft was able to be sold over the internet, it began to gain popularity and thus, bring in more money. This money was used to improve and expand the gameplay mechanics and crafting elements – eventually becoming the game that Microsoft acquired the rights to for $2.5 billion.
For comparison, Disney bought the rights to Star Wars for $4 billion.
This overnight success isn’t typical of an indie game, but shows the potential power of those deals.
The reason Minecraft is so popular is because it is so different from traditional AAA games. It offers something that no big name developer or publisher would dare create.
This is the true strength of indie games: the ability to create unique experiences that AAA games cannot deliver. This is why they have become rapidly popular in the last few years. Indie developers can get their games out to market without having to pay the traditional fees of publishers, and as a result indie games can be made more technically impressive and larger in scale.
This escalation of scale in indie games is what gives us “The Witness” and “Life is Strange,” games that are quite possibly the best ones of the year. These games make players feel emotionally moved and deeply engaged much more than “Call of Duty,” yet are dubbed “indie.”
How can something so special be compared to those simple publicly made games that first coined the term? It is simply unjust.
Indie games are not just here to stay, but to thrive. As the differences between indie and AAA go away, so too will the differentiation between the words.
A term that was once lovingly given to aspiring game developers is now branded on projects to diminish their prestige. This needs to stop.
Hebert, a junior journalism major from Greensboro, is an A&E reporter.