We hear a lot of stories about how much money the big-name publishers have to throw around these days, but it seems that successful independent development is becoming something of a money-spinner these days, too. With the news that the Humble Frozenbyte Bundle has so far grossed over $500,000 along with Notch's $11 million plus fortunes from Minecraft, it's clear that there's money to be made, even when making digital-only titles that aren't attached to a big brand like EA, Activision, THQ or Ubisoft.
The industry as a whole is taking independent development much more seriously, too. Valve's unprecedented show of support to indie titles through its Potato Sack Pack Portal 2 promotion is a sign that these former underdogs are growing in importance and relevance, not just to hardcore enthusiasts, but to the community as a whole.
The secret of indie games' success is not in big marketing budgets, publicity stunts, review embargoes and ill-advised campaigns relating to gamers' mothers. Rather, the most successful indie titles in recent years have gained their popularity through word of mouth -- or at least the online word of mouth-equivalent. Social networks, online video and podcasting provide a means of viral marketing which many of these indie developers take full advantage of.
It's rare you'll find an indie title that is "just another [insert genre name here]." There'll pretty much always be some kind of twist on the formula which will pique someone's interest. Take some of the most recent indie successes as examples. Amnesia? Survival horror, but with no weapons. Super Meat Boy? Platforming, but super-hard in a good-natured sort of way, and with little to no penalty for inevitable and repeated failure. Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale? An action JRPG with an excellent translation and a surprisingly deep social/business simulation angle as its main focus. The list goes on, with pretty much every indie title offering at least one of these "twists" on an established formula -- or in some cases, trying something highly creative.
Whether or not these creative ideas and interesting twists are 100% successful in their execution, one thing that they do consistently achieve is getting the community talking. That, to many of these developers, is worth far more than expensive PR campaigns, all expenses paid trips for reviewers and an occasional TV spot during a high-profile show. And for gamers, it's pretty much impossible to see a downside to the growing success of independent titles -- so long as the developers in question manage to keep that independence and remain in control of their own destinies.
I also know that given the choice between, say, Call of Duty and Amnesia, what I'd rather play, personally speaking!
This story, "Indie Games Not So Humble" was originally published by GamePro.