What Makes Indie Titles Better Than AAA Titles
The gaming market is separated into two worlds: on the one side, there are big names like PlayStation, Nintendo, and Microsoft, which produce big games, played by millions of players all around the world— the so-called AAA titles. Whereas the other side is a more subtle niche, also know as the Indie market. Most Indie games development companies are rather small, unknown, and neither have the resources nor the manpower to produce massive games where a player spends weeks and months playing. Most people would say that the ones producing the best games are usually the “Big 3” named above. But let me make one thing clear: Indie titles are the best you can get. And let me show you why.
Exploring vast, wonderful worlds, packed with action, quests, countless creatures, and personages: AAA titles are great. Or… maybe not? Broken sprites, bugs everywhere you walk, and tons of errors and deficiencies in the design. This is (unfortunately) normally the case with today’s AAA games. Some are even so buggy and unfinished that they have to be patched right away after their releases. In these cases, we talk about the infamous Day One Patches. Luckily, most bugs get fixed after some time or another in general. A reason for these errors is surely the ruthless and unrealistic deadlines that are becoming a bad trend lately. The motto is: the faster a game is finished, the faster the game will raise money. To give a simplified example: Have you ever tried to draw a picture but taking only a few minutes to do it — I doubt it’ll be a good one.
To be fair, there are things in which the big companies are clearly one step ahead: those are hyperrealistic graphics and art design. Only a game studio with lots of employees can create a game with such properties. The process of creating, modeling, designing every single texture, animations, light, and shadow mechanics are really costly and require expertise which not every Indie game company can afford.
Indies, on the other hand, create beautiful worlds as well, just on a much smaller scale. A single developer or a small team of developers don’t have the resources to make enormous games like the big gaming companies, that's why Indie game teams focus more on small worlds that are worked out perfectly rather than on big worlds which will feel vast but empty in the end.
Bugs are quite rare inside the Indie market because Indie development does not suffer any time pressure for realizing ideas. If you find a bug, it most likely isn’t caused by time, but rather caused by inexperience. Most Indie developers are new in the business and just don’t possess the knowledge of a senior gaming developer. Although that might sound strange, Indie games definitely contain fewer bugs than most AAA titles.
Besides, Indies often take you on a trip back in retro times: Lots of Indies use pixel art inspired by the good old classics like Super Mario Bros, Sonic the Hedgehog, or The Legend of Zelda. Indie game developers aren’t only using this art-style but also taking it on a new level: they adjust pixel art to meet the requirements of the modern gaming industry while keeping the old retro flair. The result is a game that feels like a modern AAA-title and at the same time taking you back to the 90s.
AAA titles used to have a huge main storyline that you can spend hundreds of hours in. Sadly, this property is decreasing further and further lately. Of course, there are titles like The Elder Scrolls or Assassins Creed that crushed the gaming world with their seemingly endless amount of quests to do and places to discover. Still, on the other hand, there are other AAA games like Pokémon Sword and Shield which have a story that takes about 20 hours. 20! Compared to other triple-A games, a tiny, unsatisfying number.
This fact wouldn’t be fatal if the story were well worked out at least but sometimes things are going in the wrong direction: some stories are even too long! If a story contains backtracking (or traveling around the map in general) and uninteresting main and side quests that are mostly lacking narrative depth, you can’t call the game a good one. To give an example: The Elder Scrolls Online is a huge game with dozens of DLCs and a nearly infinite number of quests and places to visit - but many quests aren’t really interesting. Many consist of “Please travel from here to the other side of the map, talk there with a person, come back and now go to this place,” and so on and so forth. Such quests are just completely boring for the player and are definitely far away from being fun.
With respect to those points, Indie titles are quite different: they offer extensive and deep stories and try to design them in a way that forces the player to be invested in the world and the situation that evolves around them. An example of this is definitely Celeste: the story is thought-through, although it’s basically only telling the story of a girl, Madeline, whose quest it is to reach the peak of Celeste Mountain. The story deals with the depression of the main character and how Madeline is managing to slowly overcome it. It has a clear message for the players — it shows how bad depression can be, how hard it is to fight against and overcome it but also that it is possible to defeat it and to be cured of it — definitely a valuable lesson for life.
Besides, the story is quite long: there is a lot of additional content that awaits the player after the main storyline like collectibles and secret levels.
$60 for a AAA title is the standard nowadays. What you normally get by the release is, and it really hurts to say this, an unfinished and broken game. Furthermore, game-recycling is gaining more and more popularity: just look at FIFA - they publish (basically) the same game every single year, which then, to all evil, offers additional booster packs for money. So we have $60 for a full-price title plus paid content — or rather, a gamble for content. Incredible! The issue with paid content is the typical pay-to-win problem: Players that pay for extra content actually pay to gain advantages in the game in form of good items, weapons, potions,… honestly, I don’t think this is fair for all the others that don’t want to pay or cannot pay. The result is an unbalanced game where players that haven’t paid have no fun playing and either are forced to pay or quit playing.
Luckily, the world of Indies is completely different. You can get an Indie title for about 20 bucks. For these, you get an innovative game that makes fun to play and says no to any pay-to-win in-game purchases. When you try out an Indie, you’ll see that the developers had a very well-thought-through idea. As an example let’s look at Stardew Valley: it costs $17 and gets frequently free updates. To this day! Another one is Among Us: you can buy in-game skins for your character if you want but that won’t give you any advantages — it’s just for people who want to support the developers.
The final point is how much dedication a game has received from its developers. Indisputable, some games produced by big game companies are made with love but there are indeed those, where the main motto is to increase income while decrease development cost. When I, again, look at games like FIFA… I just can’t understand why people buy a game where up to no effort was put in.
When you then compare AAAs with Indie titles at the worst times of the game industry, everything will light up again: it doesn’t matter what Indie title you play, you instantly realize that the developers really put effort and passion into their project. Everything was carefully designed and created - graphics, story, characters,… let’s look at Stardew Valley again: every character, plant, animal, etc. was made by one single person who really wants to make the game feel alive - and it worked: thousands of players love Stardew Valley and feel a connection to it like it’s a part of their own lives. Eric Barone, the developer, really put a lot of dedication into his masterpiece and still works on it to this day to satisfy the community with new content and further improve the game. Would you work on something you’re not interested in and try to make it perfect? I guess not really.
Indie titles are like little isles in the big ocean of the big gaming companies. They are rarely in the foreground - rather having their own little separated world, enjoyed by players who want to escape the big names out there. I don’t want to say that one shouldn’t play triple-A titles but there is a visible development in the wrong direction which is about to destroy the once good image of triple-As. Indies, however, are just a welcome change for players that can’t stand any mainstream game anymore. If you’re looking for a good Indie title, I can really recommend Celeste, Stardew Valley, and Spiritfarer, they’re definitely one of the best games out there right now.