Independent game designers and developers have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the gaming industry. Both lovers of the gaming industry and students of game design, these independent developers have taken it upon themselves to make the next big hit without the support of major publishers. When you consider that a team of 500+ can take three years to make a game that may meet mediocre sales while a group of three friends can develop a simple mobile game in a month and make millions, it is hard to ignore the appeal and success of the independent scene.
Some of the best examples of this incredible success are Mojang Studios’ Minecraft and Thatgamecompany’s Journey.
On Christmas Day 2012, independent gaming studio Mojang reported that their mega-hit Minecraft sold 453,000 copies over the two-day Christmas period. Those numbers brought the company’s total expected sales up to near 18 million copies sold across all platforms. Minecraft, a game initially developed by a single man has sold 18 million copies. Compare that to Assassin’s Creed 3, a game developed by 2,000+ at Ubisoft Monrteal, only breaking 7 million.
Minecraft is a “block-building survival exploration” game that places gamers in the middle of a randomly-generated world with little direction other than to venture forth into the world, which is made up of blocks, not completely unlike LEGOs. This promotion of creative thought and exploration took to gamers quickly and despite being in beta for years, people were willing to lay down the money to play this game.
Minecraft was initially created and developd by a single man, Markus “Notch” Persson, dabbled in game design as a child. As the years passed, he moved on to designing flash games for King.com and programming for Swedish photo gallery jAlbum. It was around 2009 that he began work on Minecraft. Three years and 18 million dollars later, Markus “Notch” Persson stands as one of the stars in the independent game design scene.
Two other developers on the other side of the world, Jenova Chen and Kelee Santiago, have also seen some success with their “indie” work. Students of USC’s Interactive Media Program at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Chen and Santiago were major proponents of showcasing ideas and feelings that gaming hadn’t explored in the past. It was that motivation that led to them founding Thatgamecompany in 2006 where, rather than focusing on traditional game design, they would focus on invoking the player’s emotion.
That mantra followed them through the development of three full titles each with exponentially more success. First, Jenova Chen’s flash game turned Playstation 3 title, Flow, then Flower, and most recently Journey. While Thatgamecompany had been heralded as independent game design masterminds with the first two gamers, it wasn’t until Journey was released that the gaming industry as a whole really took notice.
Journey puts gamers in control of a cloaked figure in the middle of the desert with little direction other than an initial button prompt. You are set off to explore the world alongside various other players with no means of identification and only a simple chirp used for communication. This lack of knowledge allows for a more intimate experience and a more touching… journey.
Beyond critical acclaim and becoming the fastest selling digital game on the PS3, Journey represents a major step forward for gaming as its score was recently nominated for a Grammy. An independently developed game with unorthodox game design receiving a Grammy nomination? Unheard of.
With independent mega-hits like Minecraft selling in the millions and with games like Journey receiving a Grammy nomination, little evidence is needed to showcase that fact that now is the time to study game design and bring the next hit to the table.
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