Indie Games Are Still Waiting for a Showcase That Does Them Justice

A different type of game needs a different type of showcase.

key art from The Rogue Prince of Persia
Ubisoft/Evil Empire

Indie games got their time in the sun on Wednesday, through a new showcase called the Triple-i Initiative, designed to highlight smaller names that tend to get swallowed up or ignored at larger events like Summer Game Fest or the Game Awards. Spearheaded by the developers behind indie hits like Slay the Spire, Darkest Dungeon, and Dead Cells, the showcase featured 45 minutes worth of the biggest indie games set to launch in the next year or two. But while it gave a home to plenty of deserving games, it also reveals the ways that indie-focused showcases replicate the problems of the industry’s biggest events.

Set aside the quality of the games shown at the Triple-i Initiative for a second, and just look at the kinds of projects that were featured. In addition to Vampire Survivors itself, we also got two games — Death Must Die and Brotato — that are basically Vampire Survivors with a twist. Death Must Die throws in some elements of Hades — a masterpiece whose influence is also all over indie games these days — with its god-powered abilities. Top-down roguelikes were all over the showcase, as they tend to dominate indie-focused events, and familiar genres like Metroidvanias and city builders made up most of the remaining show.

The Triple-i Initiative featured 45 minutes of announcements and updates for new indie games.

That’s not to say that the games themselves were duds. 33 Immortals puts an interesting spin on the roguelike model with its MMO-like battles that award only the top few performers with victory. I’m eagerly awaiting Cataclismo, a building sim/tower defense hybrid with a demo available on Steam now. Laysara: Summit Kingdom is a city builder that’s thoughtful about how the environment itself plays into the life of a civilization. But with those bright spots packed into a 45-minute showcase with trailers that I can hardly distinguish from one another at a glance, it’s hard to feel like the event is giving indie games their due.

Compare that to something like Day of the Devs, an indie event that’s been the strongest of any gaming showcase for years now. The games it features are more experimental, from tea-making simulator Loose Leaf to the lo-fi cryptid hunter Home Safety Hotline. Its slower pace also gives games more room to breathe, with explanations from developers themselves.

I don’t expect every showcase to rise to that quality, especially one that’s just getting started. But the focus of most shows on established genres, sequels, and updates to already-popular games sells short the actual diversity of the indie scene. Yes, I’ll happily play Metroidvanias and city builders all day, but they’re not the games that get me excited when I learn about their existence. I have no doubt that Evil Empire’s The Rogue Prince of Persia will please players when it launches — I just can’t help but wish that games that seem less like surefire hits were given just as much of a chance to shine at one of the few places where they might be welcome.

One of the Triple-i Initiative’s biggest crowd-pleasers was a Prince of Persia game from Dead Cells developer Evil Empire.

Anyone who wants to see the wild variety of indie games can do so with a dive into the Itch.io archives or by reading indie-focused publications. The advantage of showcases like the Triple-i Initiative is that they’re highly visible and packaged in a way that can put games in front of thousands of viewers at a time. That’s exactly the kind of exposure that inventive, overlooked gems like The Banished Vault could have used last year. I went into the Triple-i Initiative hoping that it could be a venue to shine a light on games that will likely fly under the radar in 2024, rather than well-known names and riffs on past successes.

I’m glad that indie events like Triple-i exist, and I’m sure they’re a boon to the games that they draw attention to. But indie games are a broad field, so different from mainstream blockbuster games that they don’t meaningfully feel like they even belong in the same industry. There are countless indie developers working today on projects more interesting and sustainable than anything found at AAA studios. To really show what makes them special will take a similarly thoughtful reinvention of how games are presented, not just a rehash of mainstream showcases with indies substituted for blockbusters. After watching the inaugural Triple-i Initiative, I’m still waiting to see if it can be done.

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