I remember asking a friend, “Where do I start with indie games?”
I couldn’t tell you the exact date I asked that, much like you couldn’t tell me the exact date you bought your Xbox 360 (unless you’re hoarding the receipt somewhere, in which case we have more important things to discuss). I can only tell you it was a warm day and it must have been around 2009. Having just graduated college I finally had disposable money to feed my hunger for video games and was searching for something new and refreshing.
My friend didn’t tell me about Summer of Arcade, though he should have. For years, the Xbox Indie promotion has been a video game event, something eagerly anticipated and widely heralded for taking unknown quantities and bringing them to the forefront of the video game conversation. It established Xbox as a place which not only had the biggest titles and best network, but also a place where developers of all stripes could come and make a name for themselves.
I don’t have to recount Xbox’s recent slipups with indie developers for you, if you’re reading this article I’m sure the news has reached you in some form or fashion. While you can take the reported Microsoft vs. indie troubles as you will, it is safe to say the Xbox One does not have the same independ clout as the 360 did only a few years ago. It is what it is, and it can that “it” can be whatever you make up in your head. Games come to many different platforms for many different reasons and so I am not here to point fingers, I am not here to wildly flip alarm buttons like a child in a nuclear power plant, I am simply here to say it sucks that Summer of Arcade is no more.
You might be having a reaction similar to this: “Wait? No more? Who said that?”
As you start pulling up wiki articles and comparing dates of previous Summer of Arcades to where we are now in the year, let me assure you that no Microsoft Executive stood in front of microphone or reporter and said, “Summer of Arcade? Fuck that shit.”
They didn’t do that because you don’t generally go looking to find a reporter and microphones when you have unpopular news. The unceremonious death of Summer of Arcade is unpopular. Despite the fact the promotion would elicit a new Reddit post each year, explaining why this year’s collection is undoubtedly inferior to last year’s, it still seemed to garner the attention of the public, and respect of the industry. Taking a look at last year, while Charlie Murder didn’t catch on, Flashback was largely panned, and TMNT: Into the Shadows ignored, the promotion did shine a spotlight on Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which went on to be remembered by many publications during the Awards Season, not to mention it was one of the best Xbox exclusives of the year — don’t you bring of up Gears of War: Judgement, sit down and wait until you’re called on.
There are many reasons why Summer of Arcade was sent the way of Old Yeller, and none of them have to do with Xbox hating indies. The biggest reason for canning Summer of Arcade is because it is an irrelevant service. Indie games don’t need the spotlight of an August promotion anymore because they are able to make a name for themselves in other ways. It is unfair to say indie titles get the same attention as AAA, but they have garnered an audience specific to their work. Summer of Arcade doesn’t hold the same weight anymore because indie games are coming out every week. Xbox’s curation and delivery system is no longer necessary because many audiences are doing the curating themselves. Fullbright’s Gone Home released in August last year and stole the indie spotlight from whatever Summer of Arcade had going on at the time (I think it was Flashback.)
In some ways, the death of Summer of Arcade should be celebrated. Indie games no longer need to pray some first-party publisher is going to come along and help them out. Instead they can simply compete on the market as well as any other game. That is a good thing, something worth celebrating. In many ways, the indie market that exists to day should be thanking what Summer of Arcade did: opening the doors for console gamers who would have never purchased Braid or Bastion or LIMBO without Xbox staking their good name behind the title. The indie market of today, where PlayStation gives E3 time to small teams, where Hello Games has the whole games scene abuzz, might not exist if Summer of Arcade hadn’t dressed the indie scene up for mainstream console gamers.
The failures of Summer of Arcade are many. From Hydro Thunder Hurricane to Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD, there were plenty of games from the promotion which failed to catch fire. But what was really impressive was how every year there was at least one undeniable success. Braid, Bastion, LIMBO, ‘Spolsion Man, Castle Crashers, Monday Night Combat, Shadow Complex, Dust: An Elysian Tale, and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons; in five years, Summer of Arcade presented players with a slew of amazing games, producing a generation of independent developers who became mainstays in the medium.
This August, while you flirt with the alright-but-not-as-good PlayStation PLAY promotion, pour a little out for Summer of Arcade. While the Xbox One has stumbled in its first year, shrugging off the legacy of the fantastic summer promotion seems to be another way in which Microsoft just “doesn’t get it” or doesn’t get it the way gamers wants them to. But again, this isn’t about the dos and don’ts of Microsoft. It’s about how a few years ago if someone asked, “Where do I start with indie games?” You could simply point them to Summer of Arcade. These days, it’s not so simple.