When I was young, video games were made by professionals – large groups of developers with specialized equipment and a large budget. There was a small selection of independent works on the PC, but never on a console.
There was great reason for this barrier. Coding was difficult. Coding required specific skills and hardware. And distribution was problematic. Software had the same issue as movies and books, creating the physical media was expensive. Getting that physical item to retail outlets around the country was also expensive. The whole system was clunky. Now, this is not to imply that there weren’t indie developers – there were plenty. They were just a very small percentage and the work that they did was never likely to hit a mainstream audience.
Teenagers in the 90s saw the advent of the internet, the rise of the PC and the beginning of the modern console war. They helped spread shareware, which started on floppy disks and ended up as simply clones in a worldwide digital distribution network. The distribution network became stronger and eventually the game development tools did as well.
Klik & Play evolved into Multimedia Fusion, a long-time iD Tech staple. Mod tools, which started as map editors in the Doom era, became more and more sophisticated. These went from allowing users to create new maps (Doom) to creating new rulesets (Half Life) to creating all new games (Unreal). The Unreal engine is the source of thousands of games, many of which are nothing like the original Unreal game.
Console game development, that is creating games for the current Xbox, Playstation or Nintendo machines, has never been easier. Beyond the standard tools, which are easier to obtain than any other gaming generation, there are universal development platforms, such as Unity. Unity allows for anyone to publish a game onto just about any machine and has an incredibly supportive community online that instruct and guide game developers.
The tools exist and the distribution networks exist as well. All three consoles now embrace independent developers. iPhone and Android app stores are almost exclusively made up of software from independent or small studios. It is a safe bet that at least half of the people that has played a game in the year have played at least one indie game.
Today anyone can make a game and potentially have it seen by millions – it has never been easier. One can imagine just about anything and, with some help through instruction online or at some awesome tech camp (hint), that vision can be realized. And perhaps, that game can be the next Minecraft – a game that started with a single developer who made over $101 million in 2012 (wow).