The indie scene is about to ruin a lot of hopes and dreams. Not mine, of course. Probably not yours either. We're getting interesting and surprising games for embarrassingly little money. But for a lot of people the rise of indie gaming is about as welcome as the DVD was for people who made VCR tape rewinders.
I wouldn't claim that the "indie craze" began with Minecraft, but that's certainly the point where the movement started turning heads and shaking up our old assumptions about how this industry worked. A one-person project took off and made more money than most of the really big AAA titles. It beat games with massive budgets, large teams, widespread name recognition, and smothering marketing campaigns.
At the time it wasn't clear if this was an anomaly or the start of a movement. A couple of years later I think that question has been answered about as clearly as it could be. This year we had titles like Antichamber, Gone Home, Papers Please, The Stanley Parable, Don't Starve, Guacamelee!, Surgeon Simulator 2013, and Rogue Legacy. Everyone had indies in their "best of 2013" list last month. Over half of Jim Sterling's year-end list was indie. Yahtzee gave one of his top spots to an indie (and here's my list, if you're curious). It used to be that talking about indies was something just for avant-garde critics and indies themselves. Now everybody's doing it. It's not even a big deal at this point.
This change happened really fast by industry standards. Companies take time to adapt to new situations. It took Microsoft four years to come out with their answer to the Wii. And Microsoft is actually pretty nimble compared to the likes of EA, Activision, and Ubisoft, who are still trying to figure out what this means for them and their business model.
And things are about to get much, much worse for those guys.
The recent rumor is that it's about eight or ten times more expensive to develop for these next-gen consoles. I've been a huge cynic about this generation, but "ten times more expensive" is much higher than I would ever have dared guess. That number should go down in a couple of years once everyone gets used to the technology and the tools stabilize. But still. This industry can't afford it. The publishers were already terrified to try anything new. They couldn't afford to have budgets go up by half. Doubling budgets would probably destroy them. But increasing them by ten? That's financial suicide.
Now, all this is coming from Capcom, and while Capcom has many virtues I can imagine that they're foolish enough to blindly escalate their graphical fidelity not because the game design calls for it, but simply because it's a new console generation, and that's what you're supposed to do, right? I've said in this space before that publishers should dictate their budgets using anticipated sales, not CPU power. This console generation might be the one that finally kills off the companies that keep making that mistake.