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Summer Game Fest reminded us that indie games aren’t going anywhere

Published Jun 7th, 2024 9:20PM EDT
Live from Summer Game Fest at YouTube Theater.
Image: Jacob Siegal/BGR

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It’s an awkward time to celebrate the video game industry — not because there aren’t fantastic games worth celebrating, but because the studios that make them are being shut down left and right, over 20,000 employees have been laid off, and some companies are convinced that they can replace people with AI. All of that was running through my head as I sat down in YouTube Theater on Friday afternoon to watch Summer Game Fest 2024 live.

Thankfully, SGF host and creator Geoff Keighley knew he couldn’t ignore reality. In the opening moments of the showcase, Keighley broached the subject head-on, citing the layoffs and studio closures “which have disappointed all of us.”

But then he pivoted to a more positive note. While larger studios have struggled, smaller teams and independent developers have found enormous success.

Keighley then pulled up a chart that showed the 10 best-selling games on Steam so far in 2024. Eight of the ten PC games were developed by independent studios with midsize teams or solo developers, including Hades 2, Manor Lords, Balatro, and Palworld.

That sentiment carried over to the rest of the two-hour showcase, which spent the majority of its runtime revealing, discussing, and celebrating independent games.

Here are some of the highlights that I’m most excited to check out myself:

  • CUFFBUST: One of the most captivating mods for Counter-Strike: Source was Jailbreak. A group of players would be locked up in the jail cells with a warden and guards watching over them. Every so often, the warden would release everyone to play (often deadly) games, and the inmates would typically stage a revolt. CUFFBUST is a multiplayer prison escape game and looks to have a ton of the same DNA. Plus, it’s being made by one person!
  • Neva: GRIS is one of the most beautiful and affecting games I’ve played in the last decade, but it was not exactly the most involved puzzle platformer of all time. Nomada Studio’s next game, Neva, looks to recapture the painterly beauty and heartbreaking storytelling of GRIS while implementing a combat system that looks more similar to Hollow Knight.
  • Killer Bean: Every time I see Killer Bean, I have to remind myself that it isn’t a gag. In fact, it’s a massive open-world roguelike shooter loaded with missions to complete, weapons and loot to collect, NPCs to meet, and bosses to defeat. The world is procedurally generated, so every time you die, you get to go on a brand-new adventure.

Those are a few games I can’t wait to get my hands on, but my two favorite announcements of the entire show involved collections of games. First up is Blumhouse Games, which is the indie game imprint run by Jason Blum. Just as Blumhouse does with movies, Blumhouse Games is giving small developers the freedom to build whatever creepy, weird, unsettling, or upsetting horror games they want while funding them along the way:

Then there’s Outersloth, which is the new indie game fund from Among Us developer Innersloth. After their own indie game took off and became a record-breaking success, they decided to give back by helping other developers get their games across the finish line:

As devastating as the layoffs and closures have been for the industry, my heart grew at least a size or two as I walked out of the Summer Game Fest showcase on Friday. These are relatively small steps, especially in light of the tumult so many have experienced over the past two years, but they’re steps in the right direction. That gives me hope.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.