Talking Point is a weekly series that posits a question concerning the gaming industry. We encourage readers, as well as our writers, to offer their thoughts on the topic. Hence the name: Talking Point. Feel free to join in below.

It goes without saying that over the past decade, the indie genre has come out of the shadows and defined itself as a viable source of quality gaming experiences.  Starting with games like Flow and Flower, indies began to be the standard-bearers of the belief that video games are an art form. Add to this the success of more heartfelt titles like To the Moon, That Dragon, Cancer, and Journey, and it’s become readily apparent that indie games represented a cornerstone of quality storytelling in the medium.

So, if the indie genre is succeeding so well in this regard, why then is it marred by half-assed imitations and poorly thrown together games that clog the store pages of sites like Steam, Humble Bundle, and console shop apps?  When can the number of exceptional indie titles outweigh the plethora of garbage that overshadows it?

The basis of this topic is one that we’ve actually explored before (in the previous Talking Points article in fact), so I highly suggest that you read that article before continuing on here.  

It’s easy to take a pessimistic stance and see the indie section of any store as a breeding ground for throwaway, small priced games that are made in the basement of some ambitious kid’s parent’s house, but I believe this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Being the dark horse for so long, it’s easy to write off every indie title as another limited gameplay experience from some no name team, but it stands to reason that some of those experiences are much more important than half of what comes out of big name studios.  I well and truly believe that we have come into the golden age of indie games, and that this trend could last easily into the next decade.  

It’s become readily apparent that indie studios that give a damn about the quality of their work have taken notes from previous success stories.  This, in turn, creates a circular pattern of creative development, where new studios are inspired by old triumphs, and create something equally as refreshing and unique.  Take the classic Metroidvania style of gameplay, which had all but faded from existence ten years ago.  Games like Rogue Legacy, Axiom Verge, and Salt and Sanctuary have helped revitalize the genre, and ushered in a fresh wave of like minded, successful titles.

Furthermore, indie games are becoming more bold, and, as a result, receiving larger amounts of funding through sources like Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites.  Absolver, a soon to be released title by Sloclap studios, looks just as fully featured as any first-party title from bigger companies like Sony or Microsoft.  This, in part, is due to the game being published under the wing of Devolver Digital, a studio known for not only supporting indie teams, but also creating quality indie titles like Hotline Miami.

So if the future of the genre looks so promising, why are so many people hesitant to give indie games the respect they deserve?  The logic comes from one simple truth: the market is over-saturated with throwaway indie titles. If you were to go on Steam right now and click over to the indie section, you’d see a haphazard mess of first person survival games, half-baked MMOs, crafting sims, and a slim selection of decent games.  Because people are creating simple, garbage games with little substance at an accelerated rate, stronger standouts are shoved to the bottom of shop screens.  Recent releases like Pyre, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, and Sundered offer up unique and exciting gameplay experiences, but matter little if they’re buried under a mess of Fidget Spinner Simulators, Rust copycats, and RPG Maker-created titles that have about as much vitality as a dead cat.  Even someone as forward thinking as myself can see that this sickness in the indie genre is what’s keeping it from rising to new heights.  

There’s no denying that the indie genre has come quite a long way since its initial conception, and given consumers a wealth of memorable gameplay experiences and beautiful stories.  Despite this, the genre is marred by a market that capitalizes on selling cheap, throwaway experiences or poorly recreated concepts.  So, what do you think?  Is the indie genre hitting its peak time period, or does it still have a long way to go before it comes into its own?  Be sure to sound off in the comments with your thoughts, and check back here at Goomba Stomp every week for more exciting Talking Points.    

Carston is a freelance writer hailing from the always humid Sunshine State. He enjoys RPGs, grand strategy games, 80's New Wave and post-punk, and anything PlayStation related. If Game of Thrones, Mass Effect, or Chinese food are your thing, find him on Twitter @RolandDucant.
  • John Cal McCormick

    Maybe. We’re certainly on the way out of the golden age though, if it’s not already over. We’re now at the point where there’s far too many games being released and oversaturating the market, and studios have noticed that indie games are popular and so they’re trying to cash in on it. Or, if you like, to use grunge as a measuring stick – we’re way past Nirvana but not quite at Puddle of Mudd.

    • Patrick

      Finally someone explains things clearly to those of us who only understand grunge. Thank you, and I completely agree. There are still plenty of quality titles released all the time in the Indie market, but it just doesn’t feel as “cool” as it did a few years ago.

      • John Cal McCormick

        It’s really going to blow your socks off next time, when I explain something via the medium of gangsta rap.

  • Brent Middleton

    I’d say we’re in the thick of it right now. Indies have never been as popular as just a few years ago. Stardew Valley, Owlboy. and Hollow Knight are all fairly recent indies that’ve seen great critical and commercial success. I also think more people are taking indies seriously now as quality games. Of course, not all indies are quality, but that’s the same as a bunch of third-party titles. For every Shadow of Mordor there’ll be a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5.

    On a personal note, this past year has been when I’ve really starting digging into indies. I’ve never been much of a PC gamer, but things like Undertale, Stardew and even Huniepop really started to bridge the gap. So yeah, there’s a ton of trash on Steam, but also a lot of gems.

  • Mike Worby

    Being that at least two or three of my favorite games of the yearover the last few years have been indies, I’m inclined to agree, though I do agree with John that the market has become way overcrowded.

  • Gabriel Cavalcanti

    I think we’ve been there for a little while considering Undertale, Hyper Light Drifter, and Don’t Starve. However, it seems like beginner studios and developers have started to work on their debut titles just recently (Slime Rancher and Streets of Rogue, both successful Early Access stories, come to mind). I think we’re in a time where more capable creators are learning from the mistakes of those who came before, thus the stream of great releases. It’s refreshing to see this happening in the nidustry since triple-A developers and publishers are like an 8yo kid holding momma’s wallet.

  • James Baker

    I think there are a lot more indie games out there, with more developers springing up all the time. But it’s just like music, the industry is saturated and only a few are ever going to stand out. The problem is one of originality, where one idea happens and the rest follows, trying to catch some coins from the recent trend. I think it’s harder to be an indie developer now than it’s ever been, the competition is more frequent and even more global, you have to produce something original and slightly quirky to gain any recognition.