Recently, I have been made aware of a game called Bibz, an indie game available for Xbox Live Arcade and the PC. Bibz is a totally non-profit game with all of the proceeds going to children in Ethiopia as part of Beyond The Orphanage. This made me think long and hard about the potential for good in much of indie development. For the most part, indie development is the same as regular development, but on a much smaller scale. The big advantage with indie games is that they are free to take a lot more chances and gamers are more likely to see something totally unique. On the other hand, indie development is perhaps even more plagued by clones than regular development, and one hit such as Angry Birds, can invite an obnoxious amount of copycats. Today we are going to look at the potential for indie games with Bibz serving as our example of what to do correctly.
|Not to be confused with Grand Theft Auto V|
Bibz’s non-profit model is actually really exciting. PSN, XBLA, and small PC games don’t cost as much to make as major PC or retail games. As such, the potential for good works is actually quite astounding. Whether they are made by a single person or a large studio, these small scale games can, and should be used to help people. It has been done here and there, but the practice could be more mainstream than it is. Imagine Media Molecule selling a minor add-on or related DLC game as an attachment for Little Big Planet, but with all of the proceeds going to help the underprivileged. It just seems like a smart idea that would firstly bring a lot of positive media attention, and secondly, help people for comparatively little cost. Indie games are a little tricky as many of the creators desperately need the money, but, this line of development is also far more open to conscientious citizens who want to make a difference like the team behind Bibz, so it balances out.
|We all knew Sackboy was evil, and now we know why.|
Of course the game’s content is really important as is the audience it hopes the reach. Bibz is a combination of a family game and an education game. There are five million and one education games on the market for PC (Far fewer for other platforms), and they all share one thing in common: they are terrible. The problem with most educational games is that they don’t understand how gaming works. Most of them still rely on the Arcade model, which tries to push gamers to play based on meaningless scores and rankings. The other major problem is that, no matter what the gameplay, they are educational first and games second. This is a problem and few makers of educational games are willing to change, as they have been targeting parents, who, traditionally, don’t know anything about video games. Unfortunately for them, this fact is changing as gamers are growing up and maintaining their hobby. Therefore, a newer model should be adopted and Bibz did just that.
|This is not a fun game!|
The major aspect where Bibz succeeds is in their gameplay. As mentioned, gameplay is often a secondary feature to educational games. Bibz puts it to the forefront. It isn’t rocket science. The game emulates a very basic Mario/Little Big Planet/Super Smash Bros. model. Your character is put into an arena with three other characters controlled by friends, family, or bots and the goal is to simply jump on the heads of the opposing players. It is a basic game structure, like the majority of indie games, but it works well. The educational aspect comes before the match starts. The players will be given a series of questions based on social issues such as gender. This sounds rather boring, but the hook is that answering the questions correctly will unlock new customizable options and awards for your character, as well as certain advantages during the match like invisibility, which is a major motivator for the competitive. This is what will get people answering the questions.
|In space, no one can hear you scream.|
The one thing that is critical to all new games is the addition of trophies or achievements in some way. Many gamers will protest this practice, but these digital rewards push a huge number of gamers to continue playing a game, long after they would have normally done. By connecting awards and customizable features to the questions before a match, the creators of Bibz have successfully implemented a feature that will get kids excited about answering the questions correctly, instead of just skipping them to get to the game. Without these constant rewards, Bibz would just be another game trying to half-heartedly implement a quiz into their game. By tying these elements together, Bibz has successfully tapped into the addictive elements of video games for good.
|That’s right: Zombie wins.|
Of course having basic, but solid, gameplay, and a working educational framework isn’t enough for any game on the market. This is where indie games can really shine, as they are often filled with unique and charming ideas. Bibz is no exception in this regard. The entirety of the art, from characters to levels, was hand-drawn by children around the world. This gives the game a very unique look and style, which is rare for video games these days. This also synergizes very well with their charity, as they can claim the game is made for kids, by kids. Every game needs some kind of hook or unique feature to sell, and, unfortunately, “helping the underprivileged” is not such a hook. However, a unique art design is, which is why indie game development is ideal for this kind of work.
|You wouldn’t say “no” to these kids, right?|
Indie development has a real opportunity to do some good in the world. Games like Limbo, or Bastion are major seller and critically acclaimed. There should be more indie developers who donated all or even a portion of their profits to charity. Small scale games development could be undertaken by various charities as a way of raising money, and could provide work and experience to many game developers and students in the field. Bibz just happens to be an excellent example. The game understands its market of families with children very well. Its straightforward gameplay makes it very easy for people of any age to jump into and play, and its quirky style brings the entire endeavour back to its worth cause.
For anyone reading with children who wants a socially conscious and responsible game, I don’t think you can do better than Bibz right now. Yes, I realize I’m shilling here, but it is for a good cause and the game is impressive. It is unlikely to capture the Call of Duty market any time soon, but for its price point (400 MSP, or $6 on the PC), it is an excellent family game.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer