The video game industry has accelerated in the last couple of decades, even rivalling Hollywood blockbusters as the highest grossing entertainment medium. Last year, the box office in the U.S. grossed a total of $10.1 billion – hardly a trivial figure, but it pales in comparison to the $14.8 billion recorded U.S. sales in the video game industry the same year. The dominance of the ‘Gamer’ culture is evident through social media, including hugely popular online forums for gamers, and ‘vlog’ channels dedicated to video games. Previously a niche market, now it’s common for the average tech-savvy child or adult to identify with gaming culture – it isn’t just for “nerds” anymore. With accessible programming tools and more complex, fine-tuned options for digital illustrators, video games are often a refined – even beautiful – art form, appealing to both young and old, catering for a huge range of tastes and preferences. With such a widely receptive market, video games are potentially enormously profitable – and with the possibility of making these games from the comfort of your own home, with relatively low cost equipment, the profit margin can be enormous. With the advent of gaming mediums like ‘Steam’, independent game developers can test-run their projects in beta to a large, receptive audience; they can advertise and sell their finished product, and ‘indie’ game developers even have the opportunity to offer previews or promote their work at the ever-increasing number of gamer conventions the world over.
Some of the most successful video games come from these indie developers, and for those in the know creating and marketing a great game is becoming simpler year on year. Many gamers are even moving away from mainstream video games and democratically supporting independent developers on fundraising sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The successes of independent video games are quickly proving that you don’t need the backing of a major production company to create an internationally popular video game.
This emerging indie gaming culture has seen the creation of many ostensibly ‘underdog’ video games, the sort that few would have believed in and that would have most likely been turned away by major developers, but went on to be shock successes. Indeed, some of the most treasured video games of all time were initially perceived as being potentially unsuccessful – what makes a good game seems to be an elusive quality, a quality which sees the roaring popularity of seemingly bizarre ideas. Philosophers, scientists and logicians have often mused over game theory, but the developers on our list have managed to pin down this abstract in an exciting, engaging process in their successful video games.
But with all of the independent and underdog video games out there, which ones have been the most successful, and the most popular? Of course, as in any competitive industry, there are hits and misses. Which videos have the public democratically deemed worthy of your attention? We’ve made a list of some of the most profitable video games that didn’t cost a fortune to develop, but made just as much (if not more) money as the big league video games released by major corporations. Many of these games would – despite a less than promising outlook – garner international praise and enormous worldwide sales.
5. Fez (2012) – 200,000 Copies Sold Since April 2013
Fez is a puzzle game which boomed in popularity in little over a year. It was developed by the Polytron Corporation, an independent game developer. The Independent Games Festival announced the game development in 2007 and early versions began showing in 2008. Fez was also featured in a documentary called, Indie Game: The Movie. During the initial previews and the early version of the game, it was already attracting favourable reviews. Phil Fish, the game’s developer, became an “indie developer celebrity” with nationwide attention. However, Polytron ran into several legal issues due to a split within the organization and it set back the development of Fez for quite some time. However, Polytron still presented a nearly finished version of the game in 2011 to critical acclaim. In April of 2012, Fez was released through Xbox live arcade, and since then, PlayStation has been added to the list. After a rocky few years, and lost momentum, the game succeeded against the odds.
4. Super Meat Boy (2010) – 1 Million Copies Sold in 2 years
Super Meat Boy was independently designed by Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen. The group of developers, ‘Team Meat’, billed this game as a follow up to the Adobe Flash Game, Meat Boy. The game was specifically designed to be reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. and development began in 2009. Super Meat Boy was initially released through Xbox Live Arcade but it ran into numerous release issues with Sony and Nintendo and, as a result, had a limited release exclusively through Microsoft that remains to this day. Regardless of release set-backs, Super Meat Boy still became one of the biggest hits in the video gaming industry. It’s a bizarre game where the player controls a character fashioned like a small cube of (unfortunately bloody) meat. Meat Boy often meets his gruesome death at the hands of sharp blades and heavy objects and the character has gone on to feature as a cameo in numerous other games like ‘Bit Trip Runner’. Current sales figures have not been made available but we know that between its released and 2012, sales of this game hit a million. A surprise success, not only because of production issues but due to the questionably attractive nature of the eponymous character.
3. Bastion (2011) – 1.7 Million Copies Sold
Bastion is an action role-playing game developed by Supergiant Games, an indie developer. It took 7 people two years, between 2009 to 2011, to build the video game in San Jose, CA and New York City. The game was built in a residential property in San Jose, while the music and acting aspects were recorded in New York. Bastion remains as the only game that Supergiant Games has developed and it started life out as an unpromising prospect. In March 2010, an unplayable preview version of the game was presented at the Game Developers Conference where it barely caused a ripple. However, when the game debuted at the Penny Arcade Expo in September 2010 it was well received. It went on to be nominated for several awards in 2011 at the Independent Games Festival and the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Bastion would be picked up by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and was published in July 2011 on the Xbox Live Arcade – then it was made available for Windows PC on Steam, and a browser game was created for Google Chrome. In the same year, over 500,000 copies were sold.
2. Minecraft (2009) – 33 million Copies sold since November 2011
An unusual indie game with pixilated graphics often likened to the popular kids’ toy Lego, Minecraft is a ‘sandbox’ building game, where the player defends him or herself against a range of enemies while building a land using raw materials, mined from the earth. This was developed by Swede Markus Persson, and has garnered not only enormous profits but accolades and praise from the highest echelons of the gaming community. Last year alone, only two years after its official release, the game grossed around $240 million. Minecraft was in ‘beta’ mode for a long time before it was sold as a full PC game, only being officially released as a full-price purchase in November 2011. The shocking thing about Minecraft’s success is the fact that the game has never been officially advertised; its success came through a truly viral campaign, gaining ground via word of mouth and unofficial endorsement from other online platforms. The game has what is now an almost self-sustaining publicity campaign, with popular Youtube vloggers and respected members of the gaming community giving the game consistent airtime.
1. Super Mario Bros. (1985) – 40.24 Million Copies Sold Since 1985
What’s so shocking about the success of this household name game? Super Mario Bros. is the sequel to Nintendo’s Mario Bros of1983: A sequel, whether it be a book or a movie, invariably carries with it the pressure of the success of its predecessor, and rarely would it manage to live up to the original. In video gaming, though, the sequel is – these days – always hotly anticipated and often more acclaimed. Super Mario Bros. was arguably the first video gaming sequel to initiate this trend. As a computer-based game, this was originally released in Japan and North American quickly followed, as well as Europe two years later. The game utilized side-scrolling technology, relatively new for gamers in the eighties. The developers kept the game simple, but made technical changes to the original that increased its usability and popularity. Since 1985, the game has been released in several versions as Nintendo’s consoles have evolved, making the game still as popular as ever amongst new generations. In 2005, IGN polled this game – a sequel – as the “greatest game of all time”, and Super Mario Bros. has secured its position as, shockingly, more popular than its original predecessor.
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