So, yea, Indie console games. Do they even exist?!
I'm sitting here watching the Disgaea anime (what? It's pretty awesome thus far - even if it can't follow the original story), and trying to come up with indie console games. I suppose they simply don't exist. Blaming the publishers would be too easy - and wrong
. Blaming the developers makes no sense. The only people you can blame are the folks at SCEA, Nintendo, and Microsoft who say what can and can't be put out on a system. You want your game to run on a console, you have to go through them. They quote things like "marketability" and "keeping the quality high across the board." Yet, continually we see shit that exists merely to sell alongside a movie. And most of it doesn't make any goddamn sense - so little in fact that they've started packaging movie tickets into the case so people think of it as some sort of 'deal.' Release the movie game on Wednesday and release the movie on Friday. BRILLIANT. Or is it? it fills the marketplace with an unbelieavable amount of shit. It's only recently that we're starting to see any sort of remotely "indie" presence on the XBL Marketplace and who knows what kind of restrictive controls Microsoft will exert (probably no different than the regular retail sector) and what sort of scum will choose what is and isn't fun and worth putting online. I'm still waiting for a console version of Gish for that matter.
But is any of it truly indie? It's all pretty much distributed by Microsoft. They're walking a dangerous line, do they let the marketplace get flooded like some sort of online gaming candy store? Or do they very carefully control it so it doesn't cannibalize retail sales? Would that be a bad thing? Does anyone really need another X-Men game based on the goddamn movies?
Once upon a time there was a company called Tengen. Rebels, I suppose. "Fuck the Official Nintendo Seal of Approval," they said, "We'll distribute our own carts!" Yea, that went well. Let's turn to Wikipedia. I've clipped the first part describing how they're an arm of Atari:
Tengen unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with Nintendo for a less restrictive license that would allow them to release more than five games per year and that their games would not have to stay NES-exclusive for two years. Nintendo was not interested, so Tengen agreed to their standard license in December of 1987. In 1988, Tengen released their first (and only) three cartridges licensed through Nintendo - RBI Baseball, Pac-Man and Gauntlet. Meanwhile, Tengen secretly worked to bypass Nintendo's lock-out chip called 10NES that gave them control over which games were published for the NES. While numerous manufacturers managed to override this chip by zapping it with a voltage spike, Tengen engineers feared this could potentially damage NES consoles and expose them to unnecessary liability. Instead they chose to reverse engineer the chip and decipher the code required to unlock it. However, the engineers were unable to do so, and the launch date for their first batch of games was rapidly approaching.
In desperation, Tengen turned to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Their lawyers contacted the government office to request a copy of the Nintendo lock-out program, claiming they needed it for potential litigation against Nintendo. Once obtained, they used the program to create their own chip that would unlock the NES. When Tengen launched the unlicensed versions of their games, Nintendo immediately sued Tengen for breach of contract. Eventually Tengen was forced to admit its duplicity and pay damages to Nintendo.
Tengen faced another court challenge with Nintendo in 1989 in copyright controversy over Tetris. Tengen lost this suit as well and was forced to recall what was estimated to be hundreds of thousands of unsold cartridges (having sold only about 50,000). (See Tetris for more.) Later on, Tengen received the seal of approval from Sega, and they began to make games for their Game Gear and Genesis. But this wasn't enough to save them. Tengen, depleted by the costly court battles and defeats, faded into the history books by the mid 1990s. The refusal of many retailers to sell Tengen's games (due to Nintendo's threat to stop supplying any retailer that would carry Tengen's products) also contributed to the company's demise.
Tengen's unlicensed NES game cartridges do not come in the universally recognizable semi-square grey shape regular Nintendo licensed games come in, but instead are rounded and matte-black, more resembling the original Atari catridges.
Now, mind you, it's not exactly "indie" but it is the single most indie-style attempt to get games onto a system. Anyway, point being, there's just no way for a completely independent house to get games published on consoles without going through the creator of a console. I realize the controlling interest the big 3 have in this situation, but what I don't understand is why they don't allow any company to release whatever they want. It'd still be reasonable to have strict rules - a certain amount of QA, proper release candidates to be test, etc. Yes, there is merit in having games be of a certain quality (though that doesn't explain games like Alias, Aeon Flux, Catwoman, Bad Boys: Miami Takedown, a good 50% of the sports market, and probably near 60% of the entire market). I don't understand SCEA's rules against ports, 2D titles, or localizations of old games. I don't understand how that helps them
in the marketplace. All I see is that it's cheap, missed opportunities, and it eventually led to the downfall of Working Designs.
Now, obviously, Microsoft has no problems with ports, in fact they seem to welcome it (YEA, WE NEEDED JOUST AND GAUNTLET AGAIN GUYZ). But if they're going to allow old shit like that, I don't understand why they don't just open the floodgates as long as anyone who wants to put stuff on the marketplace goes through the process
. It seems it would be in their best interest to have games coming out every week and gobble up more and more of the mindshare before the PS3 and Revolution come out. But that doesn't seem like it's going to happen.
So, where are the indie games? Will consoles ever be privvy to some of the gems that never see boxes? Will Sony open up the PSP like folks are speculating? What company is going to take the first big leap and allow a completely new market to emerge from the current one? Because, right now, I'll admit it - the retail market is trash. It's a Hollywood lifestyle out there. Line up early, pay for shit in advance - have our entire buying process dictated by the retail outlets.
One other thing I'd like to mention is Nintendo. What the hell are they doing back there behind the curtain? They're talking about releasing an iTunes for games or someshit. Technobabble aside, their machine is nowhere near as insane as their opponents, perhaps they'll be the first ones to allow indie dev houses (or even single people) to put together games and distribute them.
It really all comes down to piracy worry. People can copy optical discs too easily. So pain in the ass copy protection is put in place that single handedly creates the modchip market. There are a great many people are would have loved to run homebrew shit on consoles but simply don't. Are they being tin foil hatty at the gaming companies? Is piracy that big a concern? Is it even reasonable? How many people KNOW how to copy a PS2 disc? How many people have dual layer DVD Roms? How many people will have blu-ray writers when the PS3 ships? Napster didn't destroy the music industry. Hell, free music by any band ever found easily over the net hasn't really hurt the music industry. iTunes probably did more damage in the long term to the whole retail distribution of CDs and such. So, where's the tipping point? How desperate does a company need to get to allow homebrew code to run? I can already by a GP32 (and it's new child), and that shit is completely open source.
When does the industry wake up and realize hey, piracy may not be that bad if we open up systems. I certainly wouldn't stop buying games, but I'm by no means normal.
Anyway, just thought I'd put that out there. I suppose I could put a list together of indie console game developers, but having thought about it while writing this thing, I just don't know what to say. I don't think there are any. If you have the ability to work a game on the big 3 enough that they'll allow you to release it, you're by no means "indie."