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Where Are All The Indie First-Person Shooter Games?


Matthew Byrd
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Though the final figure has not been revealed, it's safe to say that the recently released 2016 reboot of DOOM cost publisher Bethesda a pretty penny to make. However, for the sake of discussion, let's just say that the game conservatively cost somewhere around $100 million to produce when the marketing budget is accounted for.

 

If that estimate is even somewhat close to the real number, it really puts into perspective just how far this franchise has come.

 

In 1993, John Carmack, John Romero, Dave Taylor and a few others began work on DOOM as a side project to the Wolfenstein prequel that developer id Software was focusing on at the time. Despite their lack of resources, this small group toiled away at a passion project that was conceptually and thematically more ambitious than the big name game that was being made right down the hall. Even though DOOM didn't even have the simple convenience of a retail release to work with - much less a marketing budget - it quickly generated buzz among the shareware community as the one game that everyone must play. Actually, you could really consider DOOM to be a forebearer for the modern indie gaming scene in that respect.

 

So why is it that we haven't received more FPS indie games in recent years?

 

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Now, to be fair, it must be noted that a shortage of FPS indie games does not mean a complete lack of them. In fact, there have been some truly great indie FPS titles over the years such as Superhot, Heavy Bullets and Devil Daggers that show the genre is still on the minds of some of gaming's greatest developmental talents.

 

As impressive as those games are, though, you can't really consider any of them to be a "traditional" first-person shooter game. Instead, they all use the first-person shooter perspective to lend an element of familiarity to more innovative experiences. Superhot is more of a puzzle game, for instance, while Heavy Bullets is perhaps best defined as rougelike. While that level of innovation is always a welcome sight, none of these games really scratch the itch for a traditional FPS experience that many indie gaming fans may find themselves burdened with from time to time.

 

This is actually a bigger issue than it may initially appear to be. One of the greatest - and most necessary - functions of the indie gaming scene is to provide gamers with alternatives to the AAA game industry while also showing that same industry what concepts and genres may be fiscally viable that hadn't been considered before. Indie gaming shouldn't be viewed solely as a testing ground for the entire industry, but it is a pretty useful secondary purpose.

 

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The FPS genre doesn't really enjoy that luxury. While major titles like EVOLVE, Overwatch, and Titanfall have attempted to showcase that a different kind of first-person shooter can be financially successful - with varying degrees of success - the genre remains the least represented on an indie scene that is so diverse it even accommodates a number of inanimate object "simulator" games every year.

 

If you're looking for the reason why that's the case, ironically you must first point at the original DOOM. While DOOM may have started out with indie sensibilities, its incredible success soon produced a wave of DOOM clones that all tried to separate themselves by upping what the previous hit brought to the table. It wasn't long before this turned into making sure that your game was more technologically impressive than whatever else was out there. Eventually, this led to the modern era we currently enjoy where FPS games often command the highest of development budgets. As noted earlier, that's not a quality that typically breeds innovation and risk taking.

 

Perhaps the new DOOM will prove to be such an incredible success that developers everywhere will feel comfortable throwing a 100 million dollars at a shooter game that breaks the lucrative Modern Warfare mold even slightly, but should that not be the case - or even if it is what happens - I would still like to believe that the first-person shooter hasn't reached such technological heights that the indie developers of the world have convinced themselves that any release in the genre that doesn't look like a James Cameron movie will be met with scorn and low sales.

 

The FPS genre garnered much of its initial popularity by representing a rebellious school of game design that didn't conform to the standards of the industry at large. With the help of indie developers, perhaps it can achieve that status yet again.



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