Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo Directs | We Should Be Excited About Indie Announcements Too

All games are good games.
September 4, 2020 1:15 PM by Morgan Shaver

It’s been hectic in the world of video game development, largely as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. It’s hard to say whether companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo would’ve had “more” to show this year if we weren’t suffering through a pandemic and an economic depression.

I don’t have any “Uncles Who Work For Nintendo” to consult about the matter, but I’m leaning towards “yes” for all three.

In an alternate universe free of COVID-19, we could’ve had an all-encompassing Microsoft Press Conference at E3 with all of the announcements that have been spread across numerous digital directs this year packed into a single presentation.

If Microsoft had shown their third-party games equally alongside their upcoming AAA games with a little action and flair added in (I can’t help but think of the surprise appearance of Keanu Reeves at Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference), maybe gamers would be happier.

© Microsoft, GamesRadar

It’s true that you can’t make everyone happy all of the time, but I’ve noticed a growing uptick in the amount of discontent and dissatisfaction people feel after every single digital direct event this year whether it’s from Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo.

After a digital direct comes to an end, gamers flock to social media to complain about what was shown and what wasn’t shown.

Being disappointed is normal, especially when we don’t see what we were expecting and hoping and praying to see.

The thing that saddens me is that indie games are often in the crosshairs of these discussions and are typically used to deride the quality of the digital direct, implying that indie games are bad or of lower quality than the AAA titles they were hoping to see.

“No one wants to see indie games…”

“No one cares about indie games…”

“I’m sick of seeing indie games…”

On and on it goes. It’s frustrating for someone like myself to think about as a fan of indie games big and small. I love them all, and I’ll never be unhappy seeing them shown in any capacity, especially in a large digital direct from a company like Microsoft.

© Bloober Team

One of my most-anticipated games that Microsoft has shown this year is being developed by Bloober Team, an indie studio from Poland. I’ve loved them since Layers of Fear, and I can’t wait to get my hands on The Medium.

Getting back on topic (because I could talk about The Medium for days), I will say that the “disappointment” expressed by gamers in response to indie games as a whole isn’t exactly something new, or something that’s solely related to the chaos of COVID-19 either.

Yes, I realize everyone is ten times more miserable now than they were pre-pandemic, but indies have had this same sort of bad wrap ever since they started receiving more attention with games like Spelunky and Braid (both amazing games by the way).

There are a lot of people who have an unintentional, internal bias that tells them that indies are not as good, or exciting, or worthwhile as AAA titles.

Everyone has their own personal preferences, and these preferences are valid. If you’re someone who eagerly awaits the next Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed title every year and has no interest in indie games whatsoever, that’s totally fine.

The main thing I’m getting at is that indies deserve less stigma and more respect.

Smaller budgets and smaller teams have no bearing on the quality of the games they produce. A company like Activision could create something off the backs of a large team, pour buckets of money and time into it, and still have it turn out bad.

On the flip side, a game made by two people with a microscopic budget could become a GOTY contender.

Just because a game is indie doesn’t mean it’s bad. I wish I could just copy/paste that sentence throughout this feature because it encapsulates everything I’m trying to say.

Just because a game is indie doesn’t mean it’s bad.

© Crema

Over the years, there have been some impressive breakout games from the indie game scene that highlight just how incredible indie games can be.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout? Made by UK indie studio Mediatonic. As a side note, one thing I found interesting is how the Fall Guys team suffered similar server issues to the Pokemon-inspired Temtem from Crema.

Apparently, so many people wanted to jump in and play each game when they released, their servers crashed from the weight.

It’s a pretty big compliment in and of itself to see way, way more players jumping into your game than anticipated, that’s for sure.

Speaking of Fall Guys, the battle royale genre itself saw a huge boost in popularity back in 2016 with the release of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

The battle royale genre existed before PUBG, but indie developer Brendan “PlayerUnknown” Greene helped create the formula that others would try to replicate to death in the years that followed.

There was even a legal debate between Fortnite and PUBG over whether Fortnite had stolen some of PUBG’s battle royale concepts.

It’s not hard to see similarities from parachuting into a map with a ring that reduces the playable areas of the map, pushing people together, and things like 99 players entering and 1 player emerging victorious.

The matter was eventually settled, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.

© PUBG Corporation

Fortnite is undoubtedly one of the hottest “AAA” games on the market right now and it came after the initial surge of battle royale success that PUBG garnered. Would Fortnite have been as successful as it was had PUBG never existed? Maybe, maybe not.

The one thing I do know is that even though Fortnite took over the battle royale conversation in 2017 and 2018, the legacy and popularity of PUBG lives on to this day. People still love PUBG, myself included.

It’s a fun game with a sharp, competitive edge to it. Another example of indie game success is Minecraft, a game developed by Mojang released back in 2011.

Microsoft ended up purchasing Mojang in 2014 and it’s certainly not an indie game now, but there’s no denying that Minecraft started out as an indie game. The original idea was indie, and that core idea was massively, overwhelmingly successful.

© Mojang

You even have indie developers like Undertale’s Toby Fox having Sans added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Scott Cawthon selling Five Nights at Freddy’s merchandise in retail stores.

All are great examples of how indie games are more than capable of matching, or even surpassing, the success of AAA games. Reflecting on this, I strongly believe that indie games are the backbone of the video game industry.

Even though we’re seeing the lines continue to blur between indie and AAA nowadays, indies continue to act as inspirational sources of innovation for larger companies that are hesitant to take risks.

It says something that so many major companies want to support indie games now. Maybe they’re looking for the next Minecraft, Undertale, FNaF, or Fall Guys. Maybe it comes from a more wholesome place. It’s hard to say.

The important thing is that their support of these games grows with each passing year, and we’re seeing that support demonstrated in the increased focus on indies in digital directs.

When you see an indie in one of those digital directs, you don’t know if it’s going to be the next big thing or not. Wouldn’t it be better to assume the best for a game, rather than the worst?

Instead of feeling disappointment to see a show chock full of indies, maybe there’s room for optimism in the idea that we’re getting all of these unique games to try out.

© Toby Fox, Nintendo

It’s true that few of these indies will effectively demonstrate the capabilities of next-gen consoles in the same way that games like Ratchet & Clank and Horizon Forbidden West will, but we know those games are coming.

We know a new Dragon Age is coming. We know that Halo Infinite is being worked on and polished in order to make it the best possible experience for the Xbox Series X.

We also know that many of the indies shown during Microsoft’s digital directs for example will be available on Game Pass.

If you have Game Pass to play bigger games, you can use it as an opportunity to try out some of these indies without having to buy them. Hopefully in 2021 we’ll get more of the big game announcements we’ve been yearning for.

If we do, I still hope we give indies fair credit when they’re shown as well. I want to play Horizon Forbidden West and new indie games like The Medium.

I want to play it all because games are awesome whether they’re AAA or indie or somewhere in between. The only downside is a backlog that never ends. There are so many games out there, it’s crazy.

Anyway, with all of my rambling complete, I hope you have a safe, happy, peaceful, positive rest of the year!