The EGX 2015 event was almost like a microcosm for independent video games. Kim takes us through the highs and lows of indie gaming.
The EGX event’s move from its previous home at the Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre in London to the NEC in Birmingham has had a number of positive benefits for the expo. One of the major advantages was an increase in size, meaning that a much larger area could be dedicated to indie developers in the Rezzed, Indie Megazone and Leftfield Collection sections. These made up around a third of the space available and with over 150 independent video games on display – at all stages of development from crowdfunding campaign, to early access, to released – there was plenty to choose from.
As you can see from our videos and photographs, the indie areas were constantly busy; from my arrival on the Friday morning until the time I left the event, staggering out of the NEC with tired feet and a folder full of flyers. There were a number of stands that were extremely popular with the crowds: grid-based dungeon-crawler Crystal Rift attracted a lot of visitors, the associated Oculus Rift headsets likely being a big draw. These always garner plenty of attention as previous EGX and Rezzed events have shown and being one of the only indie stands to make use of virtual reality (VR) at the expo, developer Psytec Games Ltd were certainly onto a winner.
Other titles worthy of note include party game Gang Beasts by Boneloaf – another stand that was continuously populated – which Murr from Geek Sleep Rinse Repeat chose as his favourite game of EGX because it was ‘so much fun’. Eden Star by the lovely lads at Flix Interactive seemed to be doing well also; not only is this a great survival title, the team are always willing to stop for a chat and answer any questions from visitors. The guys from Prologue Games were popular too, telling us that the seats at their stand had been constantly filled when we took a look at the second episode of Knee Deep (you can check out our preview of the first episode here).
It’s amazing to see indie video games take off in such a big way. The first time I went to EGX in 2012, there was only a small Leftfield Collection area featuring perhaps twenty titles at most; but the space dedicated to independent developers at the expo has increased year-on-year. Video game development is now more accessible than ever. With courses available in design and development (such as those offered by NFTS Games), support from online communities, and gaming now widely considered as an ‘acceptable’ form of entertainment, there are plenty of factors helping to bring even more people from all walks of life into the industry.
Crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo have also had a positive impact on indie sector. For some aspiring developers, money could previously have been a barrier to their ideas: do you keep up a day-job in order to pay the bills but then have devote less time to creating your game; or do you make the uncertain move of quitting and take up development full-time without a source of income? Delays in releasing could prove hazardous, with Jake from Grey Alien Games referring to them as ‘the death of the indie developer’ in our conversation. Crowdfunding takes away some of the risk, not only providing funding but also supplying community and marketing (there are negatives too but that’s a subject for a different article).
Publishers have started to take notice of indie titles since the release of the next-generation consoles, realising how much interest gamers have in them (and how much profit can be made from them). As our very own Ben stated in one of our EGX videos: “Indie games, they’re big. They’re popular. People want them, people are making them, and it’s absolutely great.” Microsoft now has the ID@Xbox programme to enable ‘qualified games developers of all sizes to unleash their creativity by self-publishing digital games on the Xbox One.’ People are able to become registered developers with Sony as ‘there’s a PlayStation platform for every game’; and Nintendo has allowed people to become Wii U developers, giving access to ‘an ecosystem that provides specialised software and tools, technical support forums, and robust middleware options.’ Many of the teams we’ve spoken to at recent expos have revealed that they’re working closely with one or more of these companies.
Everyone now thinks they can become an indie developer, regardless of their level of aptitude or quality of idea.
But this surge in independent development has a downside too. There may have been an increase in the amount of space dedicated to indie titles at EGX and similar events over past years but – and it pains me to say this – there has also been a slight decrease in quality. Since the rise of YouTubers such as PewDiePie and Markiplier, there are many out there who think they can become the next internet celebrity and the market is now saturated with over-exaggerated personalities with limited talent. It’s the same with indie development: because it’s so much more accessible nowadays, everyone thinks they can do it (and possibly make a quick buck in the process) regardless of their level of aptitude or quality of idea.
Indie submissions to expos can sometimes be a case of style over substance, but I understand that it’s a difficult position to be in. Your stand is surrounded by hundreds of others – some containing games which have been in development for much longer, or are being created by larger teams, or have more funding behind them – and you need to make an impact to grab the attention of the thousands of attendees at the venue. So how do you do that? Visuals or VR of course! There were several titles we had the opportunity of playing at EGX which looked absolutely awesome; but after sitting down and getting into the gameplay, there didn’t seem to be much behind the graphics to hold our interest.
There was also a game which featured the F-bomb in every single sentence of dialogue. A party game which seemed to have been rushed and had very little substance once you got over the appeal of competition. And one title which involved typing in a word to create a randomly-generated item, and nothing more. Perhaps they may have appealed to other attendees at the event but they won’t be ones we’re likely to follow up on. In addition, there were a number of stands which appeared not to be manned by either the developers, publishers or public relations (PR) staff; it would have been nice to have seen a presence there, someone to direct questions and feedback too.
That’s not to say that all of the indie releases on show at this year’s event were bad, however – far from it in fact! As mentioned above, the likes of Eden Star and Knee Deep attracted a lot of gamers; and having had the chance to play both, we can tell you that they’re well worth a look. Other titles such as Lumo, Sheltered, ShadowHand and Eternal Step – all of which have been included in our coverage – are ones we’ll certainly be keeping an eye on. In fact, the majority of people questioned for our ‘Ben’s mission’ video picked indie titles over the big-budget names for their favourite games of the expo. This was the best EGX I’ve been to so far, and long may it continue.
The factors which are making independent development more accessible, as described above, can only be a good thing in the long-run. Bringing new people into the industry means we’re not limiting ourselves and the community as a whole; we welcome new talent, and new ideas that could lead to amazing experiences. This diversity results in innovative creations which mean there’s a title out there for everyone, regardless of your gaming preferences. The future is bright for gaming and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.