The Death of Mainstream Gaming and the Rise of the Indies

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    The mainstream AAA gaming industry is in a sorry state. Once a bastion of creativity and innovation, in recent years it has become increasingly risk-averse, homogenized and beholden to the whims of corporate overlords rather than the passions of developers and desires of gamers. The latest drama surrounding the “narrative consulting firm,” Sweet Baby Inc. exemplifies this disturbing trend.

    One of the most egregious examples of this creativity-stifling trend is the growing influence of “narrative consulting firms” like Sweet Baby Inc. While ostensibly existing to help game studios craft compelling stories and characters, in practice they often act as de facto censors, dictating what developers can and cannot include in their games. Sweet Baby consultants have reportedly pressured studios to alter or remove content that doesn’t align with their narrow ideological agenda, going so far as to demand the exclusion of certain characters, storylines, and themes regardless of their relevance to the narrative or gameplay.

    Fable (2024)
    The Death of Mainstream Gaming (Triple-A title: Fable)

    This kind of heavy-handed meddling is a direct attack on artistic freedom in the gaming industry. When outside consultants can override the visions of a game’s actual creators to push a particular sociopolitical agenda, the end result is inevitably compromised, sanitized, and far less compelling. As a gamer and proponent of creative freedom, I find the growing power and influence of narrative consulting firms like Sweet Baby Inc. to be deeply disturbing and detrimental to the art form we love.

    As a female gamer myself, I’ve been particularly disheartened to see the trend of desexualizing and downplaying the beauty of female characters in AAA titles, as developers seem fearful of offending increasingly puritanical sensibilities. The strong, alluring heroines I grew up admiring are being replaced with bland, drab, androgynous characters designed to avoid ruffling any feathers. As a result, I feel less invested in and represented by the women in games, to the detriment of my enjoyment and engagement.

    Acting Lessons
    Rise of the Indies (Indie Game: Acting Lessons)

    Sadly, this is just one symptom of a larger disease. Mainstream studios now seem to prize preaching and pandering over satisfying gameplay and innovative mechanics. They’re less likely than ever to take creative risks or deliver the boundary-pushing, edgy experiences that made gaming great in the first place. Focus groups and market research have taken precedence over the actual quality of the games.

    Cyberpunk 2077 stands out as one of the last great AAA titles that didn’t compromise its vision to squeeze into a corporate-approved mold. CD Projekt Red’s opus delivered a sprawling, immersive, unapologetically adult experience that didn’t pull any punches or dumb itself down. The upcoming Grand Theft Auto VI may well be the last blockbuster game to display that same level of unfiltered ambition before the industry descends permanently into the monotonous, sanitized swamp of corporatized political correctness and creative bankruptcy.

    GTA 6
    The Death of Mainstream Gaming and the Rise of the Indies

    However, despite the sorry state of mainstream gaming, there are still bright spots to be found in the world of indie games. More and more, I find myself delving into modest-budget titles that nonetheless deliver rich stories, engaging gameplay, pleasing aesthetics, and genuine artistic vision. And they manage to do it all at a fraction of the cost of their soulless, bloated AAA counterparts.

    Recent indie standouts include Third Crisis, a dark fantasy visual novel with a gripping plot and memorable characters, and Love Esquire, a hilarious and heartfelt dating sim that isn’t afraid to be a little risque. Speaking of risque, Love & Sex: Second Base is a spicy relationship RPG that explores romance and intimacy with a frankness and maturity rarely seen in gaming. These passion projects succeed because they stay true to their creators’ visions without getting bogged down in corporate meddling or political pandering.

    Third Crisis Review
    Rise of the Indies (Indie Game: Third Crisis)

    But it’s not just niche fanservice games that are thriving in the indie space. Family-friendly titles are also making a massive impact, as evidenced by the smash success of Palworld. This Pokémon-inspired open world creature collection RPG is full of imagination, heart, and addictive gameplay. Meanwhile, Lethal Company, a pulse-pounding cooperative survival horror experience, has been praised for its immersive atmosphere and clever multiplayer mechanics. These games prove that outside the stifling mainstream, developers’ creativity can still run wild.

    As game development tools like Unity and Unreal become more powerful and accessible, and sophisticated AI assistance makes solo development easier than ever, the line between indie and AAA gaming is starting to blur. In the coming years, I predict we’ll see more small studios creating experiences that rival blockbuster titles in scope, polish and ambition, all while retaining complete creative freedom and unique artistic visions.

    Rise of the Indies (Indie Game: Palworld)

    So while corporate meddling and a fear of taking risks may have doomed the mainstream gaming industry to a slow, sad decline, I believe the indie scene is poised to rise from its ashes. Freed from the shackles of big budgets and shareholder demands, talented developers will deliver the kind of innovative, unfiltered, unapologetically entertaining experiences that gamers like me crave.

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    The future of gaming is indie, and I for one couldn’t be more excited. Who needs soulless, sanitized blockbusters when there’s a whole world of quirky, heartfelt, boundary-pushing adventures waiting to be discovered? So let the AAA industry burn – from its ashes, a beautiful phoenix of indie gaming will rise.


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