This is an article written on opinion. You may agree, or disagree – either is perfectly fine. The core of and meaning behind my words are simple: indie games play an important role in the gaming industry, and I want to see them improved, specifically on the eShop.
After navigating within the gaming industry for a solid year, learning much from various people over the months, I finally decided to write on something I’ve become passionate about – the indie game scene. I’ve had the privilege of working behind the scenes with developers and studios, learning and observing how the process works. I’ve had the privilege to review various titles, both good and bad; given the opportunity to voice my opinions to better help the developers (and the fine folk who decided to read my reviews). I’ve watched small studios become big hits, and some get prime-time coverage on their upcoming game.
I’ve fallen into this world, and I greatly enjoy it. I think it is largely due to the fact that I was once a small business owner myself; I created my own recording studio that was run from my home. Decent equipment was purchased, the room designed to get creative juices flowing, and an aggressive social media/word of mouth marketing strategy that I thought would surely produce good fruits. In the end, however, I failed. Though the music industry and video game industry are vastly different in many ways, I’m speaking from the perspective of a small business owner who ran his own studio. Both careers produce creative content for consumers to enjoy, not out of necessity, but out of pure entertainment.
Before I explain how I bungled through my short endeavor to fall flat on my face, I want to explain how I view indie games and developers. In short, they are important. Since I am very much interested in music, and almost ended up with a career in it (I use that word “almost” loosely), I will equate the importance of indie games to indie/garage band music. Back in the 90s, grunge was an emerging genre that was freshly raw, and created much dissonance in the music industry. A small group of musicians formed a band in Aberdeen, Washington which would hugely affect the grunge music scene and culture; the band, Nirvana, created waves which still carry on to this day in some ways. However, as I’m sure you know, they didn’t start as some huge band that was incredibly popular.
In fact, the band’s first attempt to form and create music didn’t succeed: it took a while for the band mates to even decide to make music together, and the initial drummer recruited didn’t work out. There was failure, and I’m sure there were people in their lives who gave them criticism, whether constructive or not. As we know, however, the band pressed on, found Dave Grohl, and became quite the iconic band. From this small group of indie musicians came amazing music which would inspire many other bands to form, and would lead to rock band juggernaut, Foo Fighters, led by former drummer, Dave Grohl.
My point in all this? Indies are important to any creative field. They push limits, try new things, and usually work harder to make a name for themselves in their respective career. Indie developers can get away with these creative endeavors because they don’t have “higher-ups” demanding a certain amount of financial return; yes, financial goals are set, but it isn’t like how the bigger companies function. Current indie developers can very well be a glimpse into the future of the gaming industry; whether finding their way into established companies or founding their own studios. Indie studios are the “garage bands” of the gaming world.
This, however is a double-edged sword: there are plenty of creative ideas and solid indie studios developing great titles, but there are also an equal – if not larger – amount creating less-than-stellar content. This is where I bring it back to Nintendo: the eShop is in need of quality control. Both Nintendo and beginning indie studios can take action to help with this aspect.
On one hand, for those developers who are talented but just don’t have any kind of extensive resources, the eShop is a great way to get a game up for people to play. What I’ve heard from many smaller developers is that Nintendo is generally easy to work with and get their title past lot check; thus, getting it up on the eShop. The process should be easy, but it shouldn’t be without filters.
An easy process leaves a good impression upon developers, and helps to get games into the hands of the players. A solid filtering process will help to either weed out shovelware or improve upon titles developers are working on. I’m sure as you read this, you are thinking of at least one indie game you’ve played where you thought, “That game was not complete; it should’ve had some more work done on it.” That is a constructive statement, not a knock on any developer. I’ve had my fair share of receiving criticism, both constructive and destructive, and when I didn’t listen, I failed.
Nintendo does not help developers when they just pass a game through. There are preferences in genre or type of game, and not everyone will agree on what makes a game great; however, there are certain aspects that are – or should be – outside of preference. For example, bugs in games are generally accepted as “bad.” Clunky animations or rehashing previously used artwork are generally accepted as “bad.” Controller mechanics that are confusing/non-functioning are generally accepted as “bad.” You get the point.
I would like to see Nintendo adjust the eShop layout a little bit, as well – add a specific section for “first attempt” indie titles, and one for “veteran” indies. The “first attempt” section would feature just that: developers’ first attempts at making games for the eShop. These games should either be free or very cheap. They would be more of a sampling of what might be to come from the studio that creates the game. The “veteran” section would be for those developers more familiar with the development process and have made more polished titles. This way, it helps to sort indies on the eShop, and when a developer makes it into the “veteran” category, Nintendo should promote them on the front page of the eShop.
The range of game developers is staggering. They come from all over the world, have different skill sets, and can have very different focus from one another. This is a beautiful thing: so many different developers trying to make names for themselves can lead to creative gaming and impressive titles.
Take the 2014 Independent Game of the Year, Shovel Knight. This indie title was an homage to the days of old, blending modern “8 bit” animations with retro platforming at its finest. The title had it all: excellent music, outstanding gameplay, endearing visuals, and massive replay-ability. Titles like this are what make the indie game scene so exciting and awe-inspiring.
However, this is the problem I see: there are far too many titles that aren’t as polished as Shovel Knight, and other quality titles on the eShop. I’m not saying that there should be no beginner developer titles, nor am I saying that every single game on the eShop must be the absolute best game ever. What I am saying is that those intro titles or less polished ones should be aligned with the “first attempt” – or bargain – section I mentioned earlier.
Now, if you are a developer reading this, please do not get upset or angry with me. I’m simply regurgitating what I’ve been given by many who aren’t into the indie scene [yet]. I’ve heard the phrase, “There’s too much to navigate, and I don’t know what is best to try out, so I end up not going to the indie section often.” This is in part Nintendo’s responsibility, as far as menus and layout are concerned. The other part is a clear separation between tiers of titles. This isn’t to say one game is lesser than the other, but rather, to help gamers navigate the indie section and know what they are purchasing.
Minutes (PS4) is a perfect example to create polished content within limitations. Red Phantom Games is a one man studio.
Of course, I will always tell developers to do their best to make the best quality game within their power. I also realize that some are very limited in resources, staff, and time. But it is the developer(s) duty to discern what type of game is feasible with the available resources. No one type of game or genre is “the best” to make, so it is most logical to make a title that best suits the game studio. This is the purpose of intro games – these titles and development processes help the developer(s) to essentially “find their groove.”
Something else I would like to see more of with eShop developers is releasing their first games on Steam as well – if possible, of course. This way, there is a broader reach of gamers to sample the game, and it has potential to help strengthen sales; leading to future titles.
I recognize that I am not a developer, nor will I ever be, so I cannot see it from that perspective. I speak on this subject from a very specific standpoint: I was once a small business owner, trying my hand in the music production field. What’s more, I failed in my endeavor. Why did I fail? Aside from the highly competitive nature of my previous career choice, I didn’t listen to criticism.
I received both constructive and destructive criticism; due to the latter, I ended up not listening to any of it. There were jerks who felt the need to tear me down, go out of their way to tell me my recordings were trash and lacked professionalism. Were these accusations justifiable? Perhaps, or perhaps not, but they did hold some truth to them. There were methods I could’ve implemented, different tones used, and creative production embellishments that could’ve been done to help my recordings reach greatness. But, due to the harsh, malicious comments, I didn’t listen.
I say this to encourage game developers to listen to the criticism given in good spirits. The words may not be easy to hear, but they may very well help to transform a good title into a great one. This helps to polish the game, and thus, build the name of not only the studio, but the place it is sold on – in this case, the eShop. There will be harsh words spoken by malicious people, all thanks to the wonderful world of the internet; those who hide behind words in order to tear people down. But try to sift through the garbage, with the help of other developers and trusted friends, and discern what might improve your title.
Indie games have the potential to pave the way for fresh ideas and showcase new talent. I cannot wait for the indie scene to break the mold and dance the line between financial success and unhindered creativity. Seeing titles like Shovel Knight perform so well financially and critically brings me joy. Hearing the anticipation for indie titles, such as No Man’s Sky, is fantastic. Witnessing how far indie gaming has come since titles like Braid is truly fascinating.
As a Nintendo fan, I hope to see indie eShop titles explode, not just in quantity, but in quality. I greatly enjoy indie titles, being able to see through the eyes of a newer developer and their drive to make a great title is simply fantastic. Perhaps what I’ve mentioned is completely worthless, and perhaps it isn’t, but one thing is certain: the eShop needs a revision. Indie games need to be in the hands of the gaming masses, and competition should encourage quality. Hopefully the eShop will keep up.