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Forget Innovation From The Indies 98

spidweb writes "RPGVault has an article from a long-time indie game author about how people who want innovation in games shouldn't look to the small developers. It is his view that innovation in games will come from big companies, if at all. From the article: 'Indie developers have a real purpose in this world. They make little niche products for markets too small for Activision. They make many new puzzle games for the casual audience. Or, at least, the same old puzzle game again and again. They rewrite Asteroids... because someone has to.'"
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Forget Innovation From The Indies

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  • Nothing to add to this discussion, really, except that the Exile games are still fun and the author definitely has a point. Thanks for hours upon hours of fun, Jeff... even if you chose to rip off Ultima instead of "innovate". ;-)
  • "The Indies" ? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by sevenoverzero (740419)
    All right, the only reason I clicked this one is because I thought there was something particularly hindering game development in the geographical Indies.

    Guess I need another cup of coffee.
  • what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PixelThis (690303) on Friday March 03, 2006 @01:15PM (#14843394)
    Because some indie game developers don't innovate, nobody does? What a bizarre notion... historically most innovation has come from the little guys who've been in turn bought out by (or turned into) some larger company.
    • Re:what? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      I think there's a difference between small developer and indie. Game companies tend to buy out small developers, not indies.
    • And by the same token, because some of the big company developers don't innovate, nobody does? All the man's saying is that people who prefer "Indie Gaming" because Independent Developers are "innovators," they're sadly mistaken. And when you say "historically, most innovation comes from...", did you acquire this information from means other than direct empirical observation (ie pull it out of your ass)?
      • By glancing down a list of award winning games [] over the last nine years and eyeballing the ones I thought were (a) innovative and (b) come from indie developers. There's no question that innovative games have come from large companies as well, but then that wasn't the point of the article was it?
  • What about... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by marshallh (947020) on Friday March 03, 2006 @01:19PM (#14843424)
    Will Wright? He was just a small indie developing for the C64 IIRC. He made a game back then that was unconventional, where there wasn't a goal except to run a city. That game was called SimCity, and look how it's grown today.

    Never underestimate the ideas that indie developers can come up with.
  • This man seems woefully uninformed at best, a killjoy cynic at worst. Obviously, this man has not heard of the Will Wrights, Warren Spectors, and Richard Garriots of the world.

    ~ Wizardry Dragon
  • I'm sorry but this is as far from the truth as possible and totally laughable. I have PERSONALLY seen more innovative titles get canned due to the inablity to see the vision or figure out how to market it in my time in the videogame industry than I can even begin to write about.

    Publishers and large companies are so focused on establishing themselves and grabbing the biggest slice of the pie as possible right now... innovation is damn near a dirty word when millions could be made on yet another FPS/Homie Sim
    • I have PERSONALLY seen more innovative titles get canned due to the inablity to see the vision or figure out how to market it in my time in the videogame industry than I can even begin to write about.

      How do you know they were innovative if they didn't come out? A lot of games look innovative on the drawing board but when they come out they're contrived and cliched.
      • I was a playtester and the games were completed to an alpha stage and then canned. So they were far from story boards, or mock-ups of any sort.
        • Was that really that common? This isn't a rhetorical question, I actually don't know. I would think alpha games have had most of the hard work already finished on them.
    • I have PERSONALLY seen more innovative titles get canned due to the inablity to see the vision or figure out how to market it in my time in the videogame industry than I can even begin to write about.

      Kind of funny how you bash the guy when your thesis statement supports him entirely. If you'd actually RTFA, you would've realized that.

      • Actually I did RTFA, but I still find it stupid at best. Here's the reasoning:

        He states indie developers are held back to ripping off 30 year old games because they don't have the money or resources to be original... that is TOTAL bullshit.

        Project Offset, Doukutsu, Gish, Devil Dice, Katamari Damacy, are just a few examples. Now especially Project Offset... I'd LOVE to hear his justification for that to fit into his narrow view of indie developers. Oh, and Doom... or about a thousand other indie titles gone
        • Project Offset: Not out yet. Also sounds only incrementally innovative, if the info page on the game's website is any judge. But hey, at least it's pretty.

          Cave Story: Fun, but not really innovative.

          Gish: Incrementally innovative regarding its physics engine, as Vogel said.

          Devil Dice and Katamari Damacy: THQ and Namco are indie?

          The rest of your post makes it clear that you didn't read the article very carefully, so I'm not going to reply to it.

          • Excuse me, Sony developed Devil Dice (THQ published it in America), but my point still stands.

            • Umm, actually you have just shown your total ignorance for everyone to see and it is you who I don't have time for. Do some real reasearch and you will find that Devil Dice was an idie developed product, on the Net Yaroze, and as a result was picked up by Sony. Almost a similar story to Katamari Damacy, which you have no clue about. Oh, and to dismiss Project Offset just shows you are a total idiot. A 3 guy team has created an entire game engine that is leaps and bounds beyond anything else out there, as we
              • Do some real reasearch and you will find that Devil Dice was an idie developed product, on the Net Yaroze, and as a result was picked up by Sony.

                And if Sony hadn't picked it up, then what would've happened? Surely you don't believe that the game would've ended up just as well-realized without Sony's support.

                BTW, it should be noted that the original build of Xi (the Japanese name of Devil Dice) was designed as an entry for a contest that Sony held. If not for the contest, do you think that the game would h
  • by tengennewseditor (949731) on Friday March 03, 2006 @01:30PM (#14843515)
    Simply because a huge percentage of indie developers produce clones doesn't indicate anything about the potential of indie developers. The fact that most indie games are clones indicates that most people don't really want to do something new. But a good number of developers do.

    Nethack (or, originally, Rogue) is made by an independent group and it's one of the most innovative RPGs made in the past two decades. True and groundbreaking innovation doesn't necessarily have to involve technical innovation. Yes, most of the innovation at this point in the industry will be technical, but there is a large amount of game design space left to be mined.

    VGA Planets was a hugely innovative 4X game in the BBS era that spawned a number of indie clones, but it itself was produced almost completely by one developer.

    A Tale in the Desert is an independent MMRPG with no combat, only a completely new system based on sociology, economics, and politics.

    The reason we see less and less innovation in indie games currently isn't because they aren't being made - it's because the studio games being made right now are so good and are taking up so much of our time. I agree with the author that innovation doesn't necessarily make a good game, and the best games out right now, like WoW, are built on other models. But since this works so well, I don't see why studios like EA are more motivated to innovate than independents, who will keep innovating behind the scenes no matter how many Tetris clones are produced.

    • Nethack (or, originally, Rogue) is made by an independent group and it's one of the most innovative RPGs made in the past two decades

      Innovative??? Innovative??? What the heck makes nethack innovative? Its been the same character based RPG I've known since I took computer classes on a mainframe back in the early '80's. It was based on an even earlier game called Rogue. Lemme guess, nethack pioneered copying computer game themes!

      • What the heck makes nethack innovative? Its been the same character based RPG I've known since I took computer classes on a mainframe back in the early '80's. It was based on an even earlier game called Rogue.

        I mentioned that it was based on Rogue, but it doesn't follow that it isn't innovative. Nethack is groundbreaking because you can do almost anything you can think of with the items in the game. It is innovative gameplay -- you've made the assumption that innovation necessarily requires the game t

        • Nethack is groundbreaking because you can do almost anything you can think of with the items in the game.

          It is not groundbreaking until you can use a flask of oil to light your head on fire and proceed to head-butt a troll. There might not be much tactical benefit to that maneuver, but until that style of actions can be implemented, Nethack cannot be groundbreaking.

          Also, in Nethack, the use of items is still limited to what the developers have thought of. It was a few versions ago where saddles were ava

          • It is not groundbreaking until you can use a flask of oil to light your head on fire and proceed to head-butt a troll.

            Strange criteria...

            Also, in Nethack, the use of items is still limited to what the developers have thought of. It was a few versions ago where saddles were available but you couldn't use them on Centaurs as they were "humanoids".

            Almost every game is limited by what the developers think of, the only exceptions are truly successful simulations that have AI's that create situations the

          • It is not groundbreaking until you can use a flask of oil to light your head on fire and proceed to head-butt a troll. There might not be much tactical benefit to that maneuver, but until that style of actions can be implemented, Nethack cannot be groundbreaking.

            If you're saying what I think you're saying... well, you have rather high expectations, don't you?

            You say Nethack cannot be groundbreaking at all, unless you have total and complete freedom of action, and arbitrary combinations of objects interact r
  • Personally I found Gish to be very "innovative". Just because it's a side-view 2D scrolling game like many before doesn't exclude it from that title, to me -- how many ways to present something in 2D are there? A "platform game" whose fundamental basis is a very sound physics engine (and abilities which involve modifying said physics) seems like a truly unique approach to me.

    But yeah, it isn't "truly innovative" in the sense that isn't similar to something we've seen before in some way. Black and White i
    • It should be pointed out that he didn't say that Black & White et al. were truly innovative, just that they were the most innovative games of the past few years. (I assume he's talking about PC games, because I'd say that Katamari Damacy beats all three of the games he listed in that respect.)

  • by Zork the Almighty (599344) on Friday March 03, 2006 @01:33PM (#14843546) Journal
    This guy is out to lunch. He mentions Gish, but how about games like Darwinia ? The reason people look to indie developers is that there are so many of them, and 90% of of everything is crap. So if I had to choose between looking at five big companies and 1000's of small ones, where would I look ? Well I guess it depends on how many games the big companies crank out, which is not many, because they cost so much money. So even though there are 100 tetris clones the indie scene is the place to look to find quirky, original games. Very much like open source and it's thousands of text editors. There's got to be one good program in there, right ?
    • As an indie game developer myself, working on what we (and most of our players) believe to be a *very* innovative MMOFPS/RPG, I was seriously annoyed to read the blurb (no I didn't RTFA), and quite pleased to see the post I'm replying to was at the top.

      Vendetta Online [] is our game, and it is already an excellent twitch-combat space-sim. It's also already a decent RPG (solo and group missions of various sorts, character-building, etc). Unlike most game's, though, VO will not reach its intended feature-se
      • Our game runs on Linux/x86 and Linux/amd64(native), MacOSX/ppc and MacOSX/intel... oh.. and Windows.
      • I'm not going to go to your site and check out your game, just like you aren't going to RTFA, but I'm still going to ask you why you think your game is innovative. The fact that you can already describe what established genre it fits in already means it's *not that* innovative as opposed to *very* innovative.
    • Of why he is right in saying that minor players will not make a big difference in the world of gaming. It was a great concept, the kind of great concept that gifted game developers have the creativity to develop and the courage to pursue to the finish. But alas, it fell WELL short of many standards. It was well liked (by the few that played it). It was buggy. But none of these is as important as its greatest flaw: It set a lofty goal and then fell way short of it.

      Let's get into specifics. The fir
  • try the inverse... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by spyrochaete (707033) on Friday March 03, 2006 @01:35PM (#14843565) Homepage Journal
    Mutant Storm and Space Tripper by PomPom, Uplink: Hacker Elite and Darwinia by Inversion Software, Tetris by Alexei Pajhitnov, Alley Cat by Synapse Software, .KKreiger by Kreiger demo group, Legend of the Red Dragon by Seth Robinson, etc etc etc etc etc

    No innovation by indies?! What utter BS. Seems to me indies have the most potential to innovate since they don't have to convince a room of 70 year old suits how great their wacky ideas are.
    • KKreiger by Kreiger demo group

      The group is called das produkkt and kkrieger was in no way innovative. It was a tech demo but not a good or innovative game.
  • Wrong (Score:2, Interesting)

    by HunterWare (128177)
    Companies don't set out to innovate. If that process worked then the best way to come up with new ideas would be to close your eyes really hard and try to "think original". If you have enough minds in the room then a few of them will be thinking of something new, and a few of those will have the drive to actually do it. When someone gets a new, strange, and risky idea and decides to implement it themselves, and when that person succeeds, then you get an "innovative developer" (coming as a side-effect not
  • Also, when will indie and OSS developers learn that sharp, angled graphics look like crap ? The only thing worse is dithering. I looked at this guy's games and they seem interesting enough, however the graphics are a turnoff. I understand indie developers do not have gobs of money, but you only need to make one good tileset and then change the pallette :) This game would look 10 times less cheap if it were run at 300x200.
    • This [independent] game would look 10 times less cheap if it were run at 300x200.

      Problem is that the only popular platforms with a resolution close to that are handheld video game systems and mobile phones. Handheld video game systems are under Nintendo's and Sony's lockout, and too many mobile phones in North America are under the carrier's lockout. What handheld platforms are left that are not completely niche?

  • What a load (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Friday March 03, 2006 @01:40PM (#14843596)
    Let's see... Indie developers bring us Darwinia, Oasis, Puzzle Pirates, and Weird Worlds, while Electronic Arts brings us Madden 1994 through 2006 (and, presumably, beyond). Who's doing the real innovation here?

    • I think we can all agree that Madden is the antithesis of innovation, but I would argue that the people who play Madden want incremental improvements. They do not want some crazy Madden 2007 where you control a horde of drug-using mutants using a trackpad in some inexplicable game that almost resembles football. Personally I think it would be great, but it's just not what the people buying Madden expect.
    • Both. And neither. When you're sniping examples, you can prove any point you want.
  • by sstamps (39313) on Friday March 03, 2006 @01:44PM (#14843628) Homepage
    Who's he kidding? The vast majority of innovation in games has come from "small indies". Remember Apogee/id software and Doom/Quake? Remember Valve and Half-Life? As someone else already mentioned, Will Wright and Simcity?

    Then, let's look at the other side of the spectrum: Blizzard/Vivendi and World of Warcraft. Innovation? I don't see it. Sony and Star Wars Galaxies? Yeah, real innovative there. EA sports and the endless rehash of yearly pro sports games? Astounding! (not)

    Big companies with big investors do the forumlaic thing because that is what they do best. They execute well in an area already explored and declared "safe" and "profitable" by the small guys who already took the chance and risked it all on "innovation". Why? Because they didn't have near as much to lose as "The Man".

    Sure, indie developers do a lot of rehash, too; often it is because they are cutting their teeth and playing it "safe" for their first title or two before they jump in and start work on that "dream game" they have always wanted. They also do a lot of niche games. Nothing wrong with that. Indies are often small, and do smaller projects because that's what they can do to fill out their portfolio. However, that doesn't and shouldn't paint the rest of the independents out there currently working on cool, unique games that ARE truly innovative as being without the very quality they are (and have always been) providing to the industry.

    Maybe he is referring to something a little more grandiose, like maybe coming up with a completely new genre. Even still, the vast majority of innovation in that regard has come from independents, not mass corporate powerhouses. There are always exceptions, and I won't say that no megastudio has ever done anything innovative, but it certainly is not the rule.

    Sorry, but this indie game developer isn't buying it.
    • Hey look! I can come up with examples that are loaded to make my point too! Indies created about 1000 tetris clones, about 100 puzzle games, about 1000 different texas hold 'em games. Major developers have come out with things like The Sims, Ultima Online, Half-Life 2, the controller for the Nintendo Revolution (ok, not out yet) and the Nintendo DS. I guess indie developers haven't done anything worth playing, ever. My examples just proved it.
      • I would argue that the only thing innovative about Ultima Online was taking the pre-existing MUD concept and applying graphics/sounds, etc to it and moving it into a 3-D environment...Don't forget the Meridian59 is from around the same era, and I'm sure there's others that I'm forgetting.

        UO coming out was a forgone conclusion considering the types of discussion we were having on the hardcore developer mailing lists at the time (you'd be suprised just how many people cut their teeth on network and games prog
  • A lot of people have already mentioned older games that came from from independant developers, however I think he was speaking of new games with new which he's still wrong. Natural Selection is a great example, a brand new concept and is continuing to go strong. If they ever finish porting it to the Source engine, I think it will be one of the strongest games of the year with some proper advertising.
  • by Perseid (660451)
    Who the hell is this guy? And why is he writing for IGN? Trolls get paid now? Does that mean Anonymous Coward should apply as a columnist for IGN?

    The last innovative game from EA that I can think of off hand was probably MULE. And that was, what, twenty years ago?
    • Last I checked, about 3/4 of IGN's staff were trolls getting paid to praise EA and/or Microsoft.
    • I'm not defending EA here, but I happen to be able to think of a few more recent games that were innovative:
      Mutant League Football - Interesting take on football, i think they should bring it back

      MOH:AA - WWII is tired now, but MOH was the first to do it well (and i guess you could call that innovation)
      Beetle Adventure Racing - This was an interesting take on the racing genre back in the n64 days. I still have a copy and bust this out every now and again, still good times to be had there.

      EA puts out some
  • I agree with the main point, that indie game developers waffle on about innovation, then churn out a bejewelled clone. Its good to see he acknowledges some of the more original games that has given awards to (including my own contribution at [] (yeah im pluggin myself, its an essential habit when you work alone)

    What you dont often hear about is the bitter infighting in the indie-gamer community about the whole 'casual puzzle game clones' and the effect they are havi
  • by Clazzy (958719) []
    No innovation from indie games, eh?
    • Innovation like DEFCON, a game of global thermonuclear war? Come on, that is so 80's... How about a nice game of chess?
  • If he would have said "influence" instead of "innovation" I might agree, after all there are already a handfull of Sims clones around, people are copying different aspects of ResidentEvil4 and so on. Innovation in commercial games often ends up getting copied by other games and thus more or less defines a new genre or gives an existing genre a new direction, so those games have quite a bit of influence. Indy games on the other side are pretty much on their own, I couldn't name a single indy game that had di
  • That's doctah Jones to YOU, lady!
  • The author's right that the majority of indie games aren't innovative...just like the majority of garage bands, student films, and livejournal poetry is crap. But the there's a LOT of it, and even if only one in a hundred indie games are innovative, that's still more indie games that are innovative than there are big-budget games that are published at all.
  • I'm going to list the points that Jeff Vogel made, all of which many of you missed in your kneejerk rush to judgment. BTW, Vogel is responsible for the Avernum/Exile [] series of games, which are among the best indie games ever made, so I think he has some clue of what he's talking about.

    1. He's talking about games made recently, as in the 21st century. Mentioning games like SimCity, Ultima, and Tetris damages his argument not a bit. The reason he focuses on recent games is because his argument is that man
  • by spidweb (134146) on Friday March 03, 2006 @05:23PM (#14845934) Homepage
    The responses to my article weren't surprising. People have a lot emotionally invested in the whole "Indie idea."

    I appreciate the examples of innovative games from Indies. Even if many of them came from the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. SimCity and Doom are not relevant to a discussion about the world Today.

    But I'm still right. A huge chunk of the really innovative stuff is coming from the big studios. I'm thinking of The Sims/Sims 2/Sims Online. (EA) The Movies. (Activision) Spore, if it works. (EA) Guild Wars. (NCSoft) And I didn't even mention any console games. (I should get 2 bonus points for not bringing up Katamari Damacy.)

    Because of space limitations, I regret I couldn't mention Darwinia. (Incremental innovation in quality visuals.) Or Tale In the Desert. (Which is one valid argument against my point of view. I hope one day to see another.)

    I'm not saying Indies suck. Obviously. I am one. But I am saying that people shouldn't fetishize them. They're people with small budgets and bills to pay. And that's why they write 50 retro-arcade games and puzzle clones for every one game with any claim to creativity. Because they have to.

    - Jeff Vogel []
    • Please dont say the movies was made by activision. it was made by Lionhead. Activision just wrote the checks. I was the Ai coder for my sins...
    • Jeff; some good points, but I would argue that the game my tiny (3 man) company has been working on for the last 3+ years is a good example of indy innovation. My background is in aviation so I know the power of simulations. I also happen to be a gamer. When I learned to speak Italian a few years back there was no good way to practice, the available tools suck. And I realized one day - as I was stalking someone in a lovingly crafted counterstrike map that looked like a French village - why not make a first
  • Hah. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by RoffleTheWaffle (916980) on Saturday March 04, 2006 @07:33AM (#14849285) Journal
    What a joke, and to think I stumbled upon this gem a day late.

    Before I continue, one of the underlying points Mr. Vogel was trying to make here is definitely true. Independent game developers and studios are by no means a fountain of innovation, and are in my opinion more likely to reproduce a popular model rather than innovate in order to get their foot in the door. That way, their chances of success are much higher, because they've taken something that was already good and at least reproduced - if not improved - it. The big studios don't have to worry too much about money lost to experiments, and are thus more likely to try new things - and damn the consequences of failing to find a niche in the market if they do. Furthermore, he made it very clear that innovation tends to occur gradually, in a sense of evolution, rather than rapid mutation. Most indie studios that are replicating something that's been done before do try to add their own twists to the model - this is what makes them stand out enough for people to pay attention.

    However, Mr. Vogel is quite wrong about a few things, too. This is the kind of commentary I'd expect out of a cynical independent ripoff artist in action, really. You know, the kind of person who is too afraid and closed-minded to try anything new, partly because he doesn't want to lose his money or reputation - a sound judgement - and partly because he just doesn't seem to want to try. You can deny all you want that the Exile and Avernum series aren't blatant ripoffs of Ultima - personally, I loved Exile regardless, if only for the story - but they are. Avernum, a polished up Exile, is Ultima in new clothes. This man and his studio have been responsible for very little noteworthy innovation, and well, like they say, Pot, meet Kettle.

    Huge innovative leaps on both a technical and gameplay level occur in the field of gaming from time to time, and it's really a 50-50 chance of those innovative leaps coming from a big studio or an independent developer. Just like any creative field, innovation can either occur incrementially, as he implied that it always does, or it can occur massively and with outstanding results. (Sim City, anyone?) Mr. Vogel, who clearly suffers from a serious case of cranial-anal inversion - not to mention chronic defeatism - is satisfied to simply replicate the old time and again, and tells us to get used to it. He tells us that only people with money can afford to make new ideas work. He's dead wrong, but you can't expect a man with no other skills outside of game publishing to care about anything besides money when it comes to games, considering that it's the whole of his livelihood. Just because big titles carry big budgets doesn't mean that new ideas can't take root in the independent side of the playing field. Money isn't really the huge factor here, it's the ideas themselves and who has them.

    In other words, nothing to see here. Just near-mindless droning from another cynic with a rather skewed and defeated view of the gaming world. The reality of it is, even if no new and huge genres are going to emerge any time in the near future, significant and more than incremential innovation can, does, and will take place, and it won't just be from the big names. People working for big name studios have more money to throw around - but the big names are only concerned with meeting the status quo, to make ends meet. The independent developers are likely to follow the popular models to get themselves established, or much like Mr. Vogel, they just don't have many good ideas. Big leaps are and have almost always been rare, and it's hard to tell just where they'll come from. Much like Haley's Comet, though, just because you only see it once in a lifetime doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.
  • Oh my god we know everything that has come to pass until know, which is surely all-encompassing of what is to come to be as well. Therefore innovation is dead. We have thought of everything. Sorry folks, game over.

"You must have an IQ of at least half a million." -- Popeye