Is the indie game scene heading the industry for another landfill?

One of the most infamous of actually-true urban legends about video games, is the great burying of E.T. cartridges for the Atari 2600/VCS en masse. Of late, they are being dug up.

Achievement Unlocked - performed an act of necromancy on a video game grave

The question has been asked (on an indie game developer Facebook group in which I am a part): [does] anyone think that the slew of Indie studios creating similar titles gives a similar circumstance for another market downfall?

I wrote the following response:

No. Since they’re not asking $30 a pop.

I think a lot of the problem was the pricing. Atari games were about $30 each, and it wasn’t guaranteed that a game would be worth it. In fact, when the market was absolutely saturated with games the opposite may have been true.

However, a similar thing was seen in the early ’80s in Europe with the home computer scene, games were picked up from ‘bedroom coders’, anyone who could string together something interactive in their spare time in places. The difference was though, the pricing. As low as a mere £1.99 in places for some games (for 1980’s exchange rate, think $3 or so — about a tenth of the Atari cartridge prices), and the scene thrived.

However, I can’t not acknowledge that the storage media helped this along; games were usually on cassette, which made them incredibly cheap to mass-produce.

Considering the almost-total lack of production costs in indie games (where they’re distributed electronically) and the low price points (appstores are full of titles priced at $1 — I don’t know about you, but I would consider ANY game worth that price, even if only played once and deleted). Hopefully, instead of a crash we’ll see the thriving environment the European ’80s home computer scene saw.

I think this is true, and illustrates where a scene with a phenomenally-high element of user input (since almost all of the 8-bit home computers had their own tokenised BASIC interpreters out-of-the-box, giving very little in the way of barriers to entry-level programming and therefore game creation) and a very low risk factor (as illustrated by the low production costs above) could grow into something quite amazing. After all:

This wasn't always a RARE game Codemasters, my head is spinning.These two developers went on to AAA. Two off the top of my head, Code Masters and Ultimate Play The Game (who later went on to become RARE). We wouldn’t have got the Game Genie, nor Micro Machines or Colin McRae games (for better or worse) if an ambitious startup weren’t selling budget-priced games and offering cash incentives for hobbyist programmers to submit their own titles for release — which Code Masters did, offering platform to those who would otherwise not be able to see their work published. Ultimate Play The Game, on the other hand, would go on as RARE to bring us Goldeneye 007, Banjo and Kazooie and Killer Instinct; favourites of many people.

But where are they now? RARE certainly seems to be in the gamedev equivalent of a rocking chair at the old folk’s home, telling other dead developers like Elite and US Gold tales of its heyday.

So maybe the indie scene isn’t heading the industry for another gigantic burial. I can’t however, speak of AAA…


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