Developing video games was not always as much about risk aversion as it is these days. Who could blame the few billion dollar corporations in the game industry for always playing it safe when it comes to investing up to fifty million dollars on a modern full retail game? No matter how much time and money a developer may spend on focus testing and streamlining game features for a broader audience, they will always lose some of the small yet dedicated group of so-called “hardcore” gamers. Though not entirely wrong, I feel labeling a collective group as hardcore simply because of differing tastes gives those not familiar with more obscure and/or foreign games a misleading and sometimes negative idea about what this group of people is really interested in.
All it takes to be a hardcore gamer is dedication, but you can be dedicated to any game or kind of games you like. Millions of people buy the latest iterations of games like Halo or Call of Duty each year and a good chunk of that audience spends what many would feel is an unhealthy amount of time shooting fellow fools online. These people are certainly dedicated, but I would doubt the games they spend so much of their lives on are of any value to them other than to kill time in the many moments of their lives in which they have nothing better to do. Essentially, what I feel these gamers lack in order to ascend to any higher level of gamer than just “hobbyist” is passion. When you become passionate for something, it defines you. I don’t know of any easy terms that properly describe what I consider to be a passionate gamer, but what sets this group apart from the rest in the gaming community is the unwavering passion to discover and explore the many diverse ranges of emotions and experiences that the interactive story telling tools exclusive to the medium provide.
That was my long winded way of saying the kind of gamer I consider myself to be cannot subsist only on games with high production values provided by development studios of up to three hundred employees funded by crazy rich companies because by nature these games rarely offer the new or unique experiences I desire. The independent game development scene is what I find myself turning to whenever I feel the need for something new. Websites like http://www.tigsource.com or real life events like the Independent Games Festival and Penny Arcade Expo celebrate the exploration of new ideas in gaming by shining the spotlight on independent game developers.
I’m doing a pretty terrible job here of trying to get around to what this blog is actually supposed to be about. This is also admittedly kind of a last minute thing, so I should just get on with it already. The place that consistently produces the most interesting independently developed games is the ill-defined region I will refer to as Eastern Europe. It is a misleading label since what are often thought of as eastern European games can come from anywhere from Norway to Bulgaria to Latvia or to some of the western areas of Russia (not a very European place at all!). One of the largest contributing factors to the development of games in these regions is the fact that computer (PC) gaming dominates the market in all these areas since game console manufacturers take too long or often never even release their consoles in those regions. To have a good gaming PC in the nebulous Eastern European region pretty much guarantees you are serious about your hobby and game developers in the area make games for their serious PC gaming audience. While here in North America game development has shifted its focus to mass market console gaming, PC games still thrive over there. An extra ten or so years of focus on PC gaming development in those regions has resulted in many good examples of unique games with unique atmospheres.
I suppose examples of such games and analyses of their many diverse elements will be for a future blog post.