My world and my views on gaming changed tremendously in recent months. Prior to June 17th, I’ve never paid much attention to independent titles. For whatever reason, I always associated indie studios with mobile gaming developers – studios that put out a title that garnered money through gambling elements, pay-to-win elements, or other such features. I’ve admitted played titles like Brave Frontier or Puzzle and Dragons on my spare time, when bored, because they were simplistic, addicting fun. It’s a terrible misconception for me to have had, and an incredibly naive one – that indie titles were low-effort. Until I got the chance to play Steamworld Heist.

For context, here is the opener of my review for Steamworld Heist, developed by Swedish studio Image and Form:

“Steamworld Heist: a turn-based shooting RPG featuring a fractured Earth overrun by steam-powered robots. A title that was born out of a man’s love for chess. Let’s go back to a warm, mid-summer’s Wednesday in June, and to an early morning meeting at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This meeting, quite frankly, changed my world and how I looked at games, because when I was introduced to Steamworld Heist, I saw a title with the immense potential to be something great. It was great in every sense of the word. A truly gripping, strategical game that challenged me even in its earliest levels, daring me to beat it. Meeting with Image and Form CEO Brjann Sigurgeirrson showed me how unique games could be in the hands of independent studios, with a series that began as a tower defense game, and then an action title. Having never invested much into independently developed titles, Heist definitely grabbed my attention and got me to start paying attention to these studios.”

In that review, for the first time in quite a long time, if ever, I gave the game a 10/10 rating. Not only was the game crazy fun, it was accessible to everybody! It had elements of familiarity in the turn-based strategy genre, but it went above that entirely with gameplay that was more skill based, rather than luck based.

People at this point may think that I sound incredibly sycophantic, that I’m merely licking at the boots of Image and Form because they gave me a review copy to play with early. The truth is that I’m not being flowery. I was floored by the way the title was presented to its players – incredibly intuitive, complete, and playable anywhere and at anytime. It also helped tremendously to have met the mastermind of that title, Brjann Sigurgeirrson, at E3 this year. The E3 meeting was what really unlocked something deep down. That day, I saw a developer who truly wanted the best for his fans, a gamer at heart. I can see just how much passion he put into this project; at that point it may as well have been everything. I’m pretty sure it was, including all the profits out of their previous Steamworld Dig. I saw that passion and it crept its way over to me, and in a way, it got me looking at indie games like never before.

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Having been a more “traditional” gamer, it was always about the latest AAA title, how it did in the media, the sales numbers. Indie games never got a second thought. After playing Steamworld Heist, I’ve been looking at those ever since. Games like Divinity: Original Sin, FAST Racing Neo for the Wii U by Shin’en Multimedia, Castle Crashers, the list goes on. As that list continued to grow, I started to observe an interesting role reversal; now AAA games were the titles I was looking at with modest to moderate quantities of scorn.

Now, I’m not saying that I hate AAA games in their entirety. They deserve all the profits that they get, considering the amount that they poured into it. The sales are mostly deserved. It just feels like the AAA industry has run out of ideas though, and has come down to DLC, microtransactions, and episodes. It feels like the industry is cheapening itself with this type of stuff. I do understand the high costs of development, and the efforts needed to render these beautiful titles. What I do not understand is how something that should have been considered an add-on has now become industry norm. The implementation of these ideas is terrible, and only seeks to hurt the consumer. Titles like Star Wars Battlefront, with its $50 Season Pass, should not be excused — no matter how beautiful the game looks.

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While I finish off the rest of this post yearning for the days of old when a complete game could be purchased on launch, without huge Day One patches, or locked content that requires payment, let’s come back full circle to indie games – where they’re starting to outshine and become what the AAA industry used to be. If they can change a person like me, I’m certain that they’ll make things work with you. Titles like Undertale receiving rave reviews and a a rabid following, these are what AAA titles should yearn to be, and what this industry needs to become going forward. So thank you, Brjann, for making such a positive effect on my life. I’ll meet you again soon.