New console generation challenges indie developers

It’s already been eight years since the seventh generation of game consoles. For better or worse, it was arguably the generation that had the biggest and most lasting impact on the industry, with emphases on motion controls, online capabilities and downloadable content. In fact, it was the generation that lasted longer than any others prior.

Now in 2013, the history is about to repeat itself. With the launch of Nintendo’s Wii U in 2012 and Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 following suit in less than a month, all eyes are on the gaming industry.

No longer are they “just games”; video games now move the world.

Just a couple of months ago, GTA V was released and stole everybody’s thunder. It was as if the game was celebrating the grand finale of the end of current console generation and welcoming the future, grossing $1 billion in just three days. That’s an achievement no other forms of entertainment have ever made. It’s a strong statement that video games have surpassed movies, music, and other arts.

Although it’s clear that games sell a great deal, the flipside is the development cost. Game publishers will likely focus more and more on releasing games from which they could safely expect substantial revenue, break-even at worst. In other words, publishers will find priority in AAA titles from big-time developers and sequels to already-established franchises, shying away from the risks in implementing new ideas.

That doesn’t encourage innovations. It only makes the market stale.

Tech is one of the nation’s leaders in independent video game design and development. VGDev, a student-run game design organization, is very active in creating its own games, applying what the students’ learned in classes. It occasionally hosts demos for other students, and there have been very interesting and impressive results. To encourage students to continue working together, Tech provides strong resources, such as GVU center and the newly-pronounced initiative Games@Georgia Tech. Despite all this, the high development cost may drive away some of the rising indie developers.

The good news is that indie studios are cleverly adapting to the market and finding their ways around the issue. It is no secret that the rise of Kickstarter made funding, self-publishing,and distribution tremendously easier than ever. The freedom and completely different experiences that indie games provide are also becoming more appealing to consumers. They have something for everybody and broaden players’ tastes.

The successes of indie games such as Minecraft, Super Meat Boy and Journey in recent years continue to reinforce the statement that it doesn’t take millions of dollars and thousands of staff to create an enjoyable game. The majority of indie games have been catered to PC since there are not as many creative restrictions and since PC games cost less to develop. However, the first parties are finally catching up. Microsoft, whose strict policies drove some studios to disappear after making a huge splash by hosting numerous indie games, promised an easy and comfortable environment for indies on Xbox One. Sony, who has struggled to bolster its online infrastructure since the release of PlayStation 3, claims that it’s ready to welcome the busy bees and has five indie games in the PlayStation 4’s launch lineups.

Still, at this point in time, nobody is sure what the future of gaming holds. After all, who could have predicted Nintendo’s decisive victory for this generation with successes of Wii and DS back when interactive gaming was not yet established? One thing is clear, though—no matter who comes out on top next generation, gamers are always the true winners.