Lots of surprising new things have happened in the realm of downloadable games with services like PSN, Steam, XBLA, and WiiWare. Usually priced at about $10 (give or take $5), these online marketplaces have provided great opportunities for either bite-sized arcade fun or rather fascinating display of innovation, largely from independent gamemakers. Historically, Indie game development had been a PC-centric thing but success stories of games like Braid (XBLA), World of Good (WiiWare), and Everyday Shooter (PSN) has made consoles a good place as any to release an innovative but low-budget game made by one or two people. However, as these online marketplaces grow in size and in importance, I am concerned with one loaded question: will independent game development remain strong on the consoles as big-name publishers like Capcom and EA move into this realm?
Judging by what kind of downloadable games have been released and how they have fared thus far, it is very likely that once gigantic 3rd party publishers move into this arena, their games will crowd out indie games on consoles. I realize that this is an alarming statement since most of you will find it to be either to be too pessimistic or as irrelevant since some of you are probably thinking, “who says that both games from big-name developers and indie games can’t coexist on the downloadable marketplace?” But looking just at Capcom’s downloadable history, I can’t help but think that indie games will soon have no chance of survival in this area and will continued to be released only on PC.
Let’s look at what Capcom has made available for download on the consoles so far: 1942: Joint Strike, Mega Man 9, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Age of Booty, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, Rocketman: Axis of Evil, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo… There is no doubt that much of Capcom’s stuff are quality stuff and I’m not arguing against that here, but anyone can see that most of Capcom’s efforts on this front have been either re-released ports or remakes. As for the new games like Age of Booty and Rocketman, the refreshing innovative oomph of many indie PSN/XBLA/WiiWare games just isn’t there. This isn’t just the case with Capcom but with other big publishers like EA and SquareEnix as well. Huge publishers already have established franchises and all they have to do is make bite-sized remakes or sequels or ports and they have a good chance of being largely successful. An indie game on the consoles can really only survive by being published by the manufacturer like MS, Sony, or Nintendo themselves but even with such backing, with the average gamer less willing to take innovative risks and with large 3rd party publisher capable of releasing nearly quadruple the amount of games indie devs could release in a year, the question of to whom the realm of downloadable games belongs to can seem one-sided.
I hope these console-based online marketplaces become more user-friendly and much more profiting to independent developers because as much as I like the thought of re-experiencing Duke Nukem 3D with 3 other online players or seeing an hd version of Marvel vs Capcom 2, I for one do not want to see this realm become as boring and generic as the retail market has mostly become. This realm is the perfect sort of place for risk-taking and crazy out-of-the-box innovation and I hope that this potential doesn’t get squashed by large publishers stepping in to raise more cash cows.