#105: Coming up for air

Thoughts on this week's flood of indie-game announcements.

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A few years ago, when I was still toiling away on Edge magazine, an indie developer gave me the heads-up on the release date for their game. I tipped them off about a couple of then-unannounced things I knew were happening on the same day. A hotly anticipated indie title was also due to release; the review embargo for some triple-A thing or other was also due to lift. I politely suggested that they might be better off getting out of the way, if only by a day or two. They ignored me, and although the game was good, it launched with little fanfare, and after that, pretty much sank. I think the lesson here is: you should always listen to me. Someone please tell my children and also the dog.

It’s tough out there for indie developers. Sure, the game industry is bigger and more successful than ever. Educated players have long since learned that there is much, much more to gaming life than triple-A bangers. And there are more funding opportunities and routes to market than the industry has ever known. But for every indie game you find and fall in love with, there are a thousand more you’ve never heard of, and likely never will.

Discovery has always been one of the biggest problems facing indies, and in the time it takes for one particular problem to be sort of solved, another three or four challenges will come along. The downside of all the above advantages is that there are more games hitting the download stores and subscription services than ever before. Getting your game noticed, let alone finding an audience for it, is harder than ever. And while the indie developer’s traditional complaint — that triple-A games, with their high profiles and enormous marketing budgets, suck all the air out of the room — still holds true, these days the indie community’s greatest rivals are often each other.

That has been put into rather stark context this week by an absolute avalanche of indie-themed announcements. Microsoft held a Twitch showcase for ID@Xbox; Humble Games did similar, and both the forward-thinking funding group Kowloon Knights and Take-Two’s boutique publishing label Private Division announced a new batch of partnerships. Between them they either unveiled, teased or released over 40 independent games in the space of a few days — and that is before we factor in the dozens or hundreds of new releases that have landed on download stores this week, the daily flood of PR announcements arriving in my inbox, and the fact that the online conversation is still being dominated by recent blockbusters.

The timing of this week’s indie onslaught is no coincidence, of course. This was in many ways the perfect week for it. First, the start of the year has been unprecedented, packed with high-profile, big-budget releases. There has been little space for indies with all these hotly anticipated games, the Horizons and GT7s and Elden Rings and the others I’ve probably forgotten, flying around. And of course it’s GDC next week. Microsoft, Humble, Private Division and Kowloon Nights will all be in San Francisco with their decks and their chequebooks, and this week’s announcements were in large part designed to give them all a bit of a profile boost going into the show.

I expect that, were I an indie publisher looking at the calendar for the best time to make an announcement, I would probably have arrived at the same decision: let the triple-A storm blow through, then make a splash just before GDC. But did it work? I’m not sure. I do this for a living and off the top of my head I can only tell you about the games that most appealed to me; that were most memorable, because they were of sufficiently high profile, or were made by people I know or who read Hit Points (hello friends!). That sort of defeats the point of the thing, surely? These are things I would probably have noticed anyway.

So, yes, I’m looking forward to playing Tunic this weekend, just as I have been looking forward to playing it since it was announced in 1968. I’m excited for Half Mermaid’s Immortality, Pocketwatch’s Monaco 2, whatever Arise: A Simple Story dev Piccolo Studio is cooking up for Private Division, and… erm, hang on, let me just look at the list. There are rather a lot of them. Unfortunately, when everyone jumps in the pool at the same time, it’s kind of hard to tell whose limbs are whose. After a moment marvelling at the spectacle, you just end up fearing for everyone’s safety.


  • I almost did another 800 words on Elden Ring today, this time driven by a patch that, among other things, substantially nerfed a few of the game’s most powerful tools. Perhaps we’ll do that another day, but in brief: I believe fun is more important than balance, and sacrificing the former for the latter often means solving a developer problem by making it a player problem instead. And in a game that challenges its players so fiercely I see nothing wrong in having a few ways to put your thumb on the scales, particularly when they’re things the developer has put in the shipped game. Sour grapes on my part? You bet. My build has been hit hard, and every time I died last night I thought, ‘I’d have won that fight yesterday.’ Just feels bad, really, and premature given how big the game is, and how soon after release the update has come.
  • UK chipmaker Arm is to lay off up to 15% of its global workforce after the collapse of its proposed sale to Nvidia. Almost a thousand staff now face redundancy.
  • Physical events may be back on the calendar — GDC, Gamescom and Tokyo Game Show will all be in-person shindigs this year — but EA won’t be joining the fun, to the extent that it ever does. There’ll be no EA Play this summer at all, after the publisher admitted that “this year things aren’t lining up to show you everything on one date.”
  • The always-online dad-game Gran Turismo 7 was unplayable for over 24 hours after an “issue” was found in the latest patch. Players, already upset over microtransaction pricing, were up in arms after the update appeared to tweak race rewards to make new vehicles even harder to come by. Oh dear. Director Kazunori Yamauchi has apologised for the outage, but not for all the other stuff.
  • The number of games being made in Unity almost doubled last year. The main driver of that growth was the hypercasual sector, with a rise of 137%, and 164% in IAP revenue.
  • The first batch of newly remastered tracks in Mario Kart 8 are now available worldwide. Let’s put this to bed and go and check them out.

You’re all caught up! Kindly do the thing with the button below, tell your friends, enemies and pets about your love of / tolerance for Hit Points, then have an excellent weekend. Catch you soon.