By Graham Taylor
Generally speaking, indie games come and go. Sure, some stick around every once in a while, but for the most part, they get their fifteen minutes, then fade back into their respective niches. When the let’s plays are over, many of us forget they even existed.
There isn’t anything wrong with this; it happens all the time: Slender, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, The Stanley Parable, Surgeon Simulator, and Goat Simulator, just to name a few. Recently we have been graced with Five Nights at Freddy’s, continuing the trend.
First released on Aug. 8, Five Nights at Freddy’s brought something unique to the indie-horror genre, and, rightfully, it gained popularity fast. Players assume control of a night watchman at the titular Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, a Chuck E. Cheese-esque arcade and eatery. Given a limited power supply and zero movement, players are tasked with surviving while the pizzerias mascot characters roam the restaurant freely.
The simplicity of the game and the surprising amount of horror it generated lead it to becoming an instant hit with the Internet. Popular YouTube personalities (Markiplier, Achievement Hunter, Cr1tikal, and many more) further propelled the game from its obscurity. Before long, everyone was playing Five Nights.
Just as the game was coming off its peak, the developer, Scott Cawthon, made two announcements. One, the game would be making the jump to mobile devices, both Android and iOS. Two, there will be a sequel.
Now, sequels have almost become a staple of gaming. If a good game is made, especially if a big name studio makes it, a follow up is almost expected nowadays. But when it comes to indie games, the story is a little bit different.
There are a handful of indie sequels—Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs is one recent example— and they are usually few and far between. For the most part, after one of these games hit the big time, the developers will either focus on improving and updating the game, or go straight to working on a new IP. Interest in sequels is not often expressed.
The growing popularity of indie games, has lead to some new trends emerging. Porting games, for example, has become wildly popular, but just a few years ago, it was something that was done sparingly. It would seem that indie game sequels could also start following this pattern: starting slowly at first, and then becoming the norm. But what is causing these changes?
To answer that, we must look to gaming as a whole. No longer are games just meant to be played. With the rise of let’s plays and streaming services like Twitch, gaming has also become a spectator sport. In an effort to be fresh and timely, many let’s players and streamers seek out little-known games that others haven’t played before. Consequently, this has led to the followers of these personalities to purchase the same games. This has made indie development seem more lucrative and has led to the spike in indie games and sequels.
Gaming channels on YouTube produce weekly, if not daily, content. And with these many games being played for the entertainment of others, seeing the same AAA games across different sources would get stale quickly. This is where indie games come in: in order to broaden the channels’ horizons and keep viewers interested, content creators had to branch out, and look towards the indie scene.
With millions of unique viewers watching their favorite gaming personalities play these indie games, the games now become mainstream. Small-time developers start getting noticed, and with the spotlight on them, they begin to create more and expand (as in porting the game to different consoles). If the demand is high enough, as we saw with the first Amnesia’s popularity, then a sequel is made.
So could this lead to us seeing Freddy and other indie titles releasing yearly entries, a la Call of Duty? We won’t know that for sure until it happens, but we do know that a shift in the indie dynamic is around the corner. Indie games don’t usually spawn franchises after they make it big, but that could change. From here on out, the fleeting fame that these games may amount to more.