Over the past few years, indie games have dominated social media. Just this year we’ve seen multiple indie games explode in popularity, the most recent being Genshin Impact. Time and time again indie developers have proven that you don’t need top-notch graphics or millions of dollars to make a popular video game. Indie games are more relevant than ever, some even becoming more popular than most AAA titles. But why do but games like Among Us explode as they do? Here’s a few theories that may explain not just Genshin Impact’s popularity, but the popularity of indie games overall.
Twitch Helps A Bit
It’s no secret that a lot of developers make sure their games are watchable. They do this to cater to YouTubers and Twitch streamers. Add an element of randomness and influencers can upload montages of their “funny” reactions. Better yet, make the game multiplayer and a bunch of streamers can play the game together. Not every popular indie game is made just to appeal to streamers, but there are elements specifically designed to tempt a streamer to pick up and play their game. A popular streamer playing your game is worth more than any ridiculously expensive marketing campaign.
Both Fall Guys and Among Us made it big on Twitch, with the former solely targeting Twitch streamers for their marketing. Mediatonic gave streamers early access codes to play the game and then gave beta keys to random viewers. This feeling of exclusivity coupled with the game’s fun and chaotic gameplay made Fall Guys a smash hit. It’s a similar story with Among Us. A bunch of Korean streamers started playing the game regularly and more popular Western streamers noticed. Now Among Us is one of the highest viewed games on Twitch and is topping sales charts on Steam.
Creative and Family Friendly
This theory kind of goes hand in hand with Twitch. One of the biggest criticisms of the modern gaming industry is that it’s stale. Apart from console makers, a lot of game releases are essentially the same with a different coat of paint. They share the same design, structure, and gameplay. Nobody wants to log into Twitch and watch somebody clear their fiftieth bandit camp in Far Cry. Games from AAA publishers rely on grindy and repetitive mechanics to tempt people towards microtransactions. It might make a game more profitable, but it’s boring to watch.
Compare this with the indie games that have come out over the past year. Among Us, Fall Guys, Phasmophobia, Fortnite, Minecraft, Untitled Goose Game, and Genshin Impact’s popularity is partly down to their creativity. The developers of these games had a great idea and ran with it. Uniqueness is not popular in the mainstream gaming industry, with many opting for sequels and established brands rather than something new. Without the creative shackles of a publisher, indie teams are free to come up with creative concepts.
It also helps that most of these massive success stories are all family-friendly games. Making a game colorful and approachable will naturally make a game stand out more to the masses. Removing all of the barriers one associates with gaming opens the game up to so many more people. More people means more word of mouth, which eventually leads to an explosion in popularity that AAA developers wish they could muster.
Gaming is Getting Expensive
This next theory isn’t particularly insightful, but it’s another big factor as to why indie games will always remain relevant. Gaming is going to get a lot more expensive for everyone next generation. With Sony’s announcement that their games are getting a price increase, it’s only a matter of time until other publishers do the same. Whilst I think that indie developers should also be charging more for their games, their low price points make them so much more attractive to potential customers.
There’s an argument to be made that games like Warframe, Fortnite, and Genshin Impact’s popularity is tied to their free-to-play structure. A free game is appealing to anyone, but a free game that has amazing gameplay will inevitably become a smash hit. These games become more accessible by offering microtransactions rather than a paywall, a decision that has definitely benefitted both games. Among Us also has a very low price tag, but is still outselling AAA games like Star Wars Squadrons on Steam.
There seems to be a perfect recipe for a viral indie game. Creativity, cheap/free, and entertaining to watch. It’s obviously easier said than done, but all three of these aspects are more easily achieved by an indie developer rather than a Ubisoft or an EA. Indie games are outselling popular franchises more than ever before. They’re creative, cheap, and fun to play.
You never know, the rise of indie games may be too much for publishers to handle one day.