Game of the Year lists tend to be dominated by big AAA titles. They’re the games that everybody plays, so it makes sense that they’re prevalent. But 2018 had a lot of incredible indie games that made a big impact — while still clocking in at under 10 hours.
Return of the Obra Dinn and Celeste each take about eight hours to complete. Donut County is only two hours long. Florence is a brisk and perfect 40 minutes of gameplay. These four games can be completed in same time it would take to get through just the main story of God of War. Plus a lot of them are Switch or mobile games, making it easy to slip in a few rounds of Into the Breach or Minit during lunch.
That minimal commitment stands out in a year when one of the biggest gaming trends was open-ended experiences. There’s nothing wrong with big games — but playing them means playing them a lot. As the games-as-a-service model becomes more popular, self-contained experiences stand out.
These indie games play the same today as they will next year or the year after. That isn’t always the case with modern games, between the creep of early access and the increasing frequency of older games getting radical updates. It’s harder than ever to judge games on a yearly basis without adding asterisks to the nominations.
But that’s not the only thing these games have going for them. Many of them turn their brevity into a strength by using gameplay to emphasize character arcs. In Florence you piece together text bubbles as a metaphor for getting to know someone. The more you do it, the simpler it gets — just like the real process of building intimacy.
Donut County has the player swallowing communities piece by piece so that another community can take its place — an extended and thoughtful metaphor for gentrification. Celeste is a practice in anxiety, both in plot and in gameplay. But it’s not hard for the sake of being hard; it’s hard because that’s what Madeline’s character arc calls for.
The core design of all these games isn’t about extending the life span, so the story can simply be the story. The narrative doesn’t have to stretch to accommodate detours or side quests, allowing them to have an intimacy that larger games simply can’t manage. Watch the video above to learn more about why indie games were so big this year.