Low fidelity games aren't low quality

Laios, the protagonist of Parallel Pulse
Laios: The protagonist of Parallel Pulse

In the gaming world, there's a common misconception that low fidelity (lo-fi) games lack quality compared to their high-fidelity counterparts. Let me set the record straight based on my own experiences as an indie developer. If you're aiming to create a profitable game, sometimes embracing low fidelity is your best bet. Think of fidelity like the type of road you choose to build: just as you can have both high-quality and poorly maintained dirt roads, so too can you have highways that range from impeccably smooth to dangerously neglected. The key difference lies in the level of fidelity. What I'm getting at is that specific niches in the gaming market don't mind if your game employs low poly graphics or simple 2D designs, as long as the game loop or story captivates them.

Let's first define what we mean by low fidelity games. These types of games typically feature simpler graphics, fewer animations, and a minimalistic design. While these characteristics often stem from budget constraints—common among small or no-budget projects—they can also arise from deliberate artistic choices. Some developers opt for lo-fi aesthetics to harness the charm of older technology, like pre-rendered graphics, or to make a distinct artistic statement. This blend of old and new can yield not only unique and engaging gameplay experiences but also prove quite profitable in certain niches of the gaming market.

Let's delve into a few examples of game developers who have carved out successful paths:

  • Coffin of Andy and LeyLey: This game explores complex family relationships, particularly between siblings, but in a uniquely twisted narrative. The developer uses the game's mechanics and story to delve deep into the emotional and sometimes dark aspects of familial bonds, setting it apart in the indie game space.
  • Chilla's Art: Known for their distinctive horror games, Chilla’s Art employs a unique art style and aesthetic that set their titles apart from mainstream horror games. Their approach to visual storytelling and atmosphere immerses players in a deeply eerie experience, enhancing the traditional horror gameplay.
  • Euphoric Brothers - Garten of Banban: This game proves that even short experiences can be highly profitable. Lasting about 15 minutes, it plunges players into a bizarre kindergarten setting where the MC searches for their children. Despite its brief duration, its engaging narrative and unique setting captivated a large audience, turning a quick playthrough into a profitable venture.
  • Vampire Survivors: I first encountered this game when it was a featured but free title on Itch.io. Its addictive gameplay quickly caught the attention of many, including myself. Vampire Survivors exemplifies how a game with seemingly simple mechanics can captivate a massive audience, becoming one of the most profitable indie games in recent years.

The list could go on with examples like the above, and I'm sure that luck and timing played a role in their success, but my point is that these examples highlight that low fidelity does not hinder a game's success but can actually enhance it by focusing on what truly matters: engaging content.

What's driving players to engage with low fidelity games though?

While many gamers gravitate towards AAA titles, there's a growing curiosity about niche, indie games that break the mold. Several factors are making players to step away from mainstream games and explore indie games, but I'll focus on the most prominent ones:

  • Nostalgia: Gamers like myself, who have a fondness for the past, are drawn to games that echo the retro style of previous decades. These titles evoke memories and offer a sense of familiarity that’s comforting and enjoyable.
  • Creative Storytelling: With fewer resources tied up in high-end graphics and technical complexities, indie developers can focus their efforts into creating rich, compelling narratives. This shift allows for deeper storytelling that often is lost in graphically intensive AAA games.
  • Focus on Mechanics and Gameplay: Many popular low fidelity games prioritize robust, addictive gameplay mechanics. This emphasis on the core play experience rather than flashy visuals often results in more engaging and replayable games.

How does all this relate to my strategy?

Some time ago, I began developing Parallel Pulse, an action RPG inspired by games like TWEWY and Persona. Visually, it bears a strong resemblance to the DS version of TWEWY. As you might expect, the project's scope expanded significantly, posing a challenge given my team's capabilities as well as my own. While creating this game is fulfilling a dream and I believe releasing it will significantly advance my skills as a game developer, I've come to realize the scale of such a project isn't something I plan to undertake again soon—if ever.

University: The main location of Parallel Pulse

Moving forward, my strategy is to focus on smaller games that require fewer team members—just a composer and an artist, and perhaps someone to handle UI art. This approach will not only shorten development times but also reduce the overall time and resources needed. This shift aligns perfectly with the advantages of low fidelity game development, allowing me to leverage the benefits of simpler, more focused game creation while reaching a niche audience that can bring back profits that can sustain me.

There's a foundational reason why I'm adopting this new approach moving forward. Many indie developers find themselves locked into multi-year projects—imagine spending five years developing a single game then see it flopping. The primary challenge with such lengthy timelines is the inability to predict market trends and shifts. This unpredictability is a significant risk, I'm not willing to take moving forward, especially with the way the gaming market is right now.

That's why I aim to limit future game development to a span of 3-6 months. This timeframe is not only feasible; it's strategically sound. Within a few months, indicators such as wishlists and coverage by YouTubers can provide early signals of a game’s potential success. If a game isn’t gaining traction or outright flops, the loss is confined to just a few months of effort, rather than years.

By reducing development time, I can adapt more swiftly to the gaming market’s dynamics and avoid the heavy costs associated with longer, uncertain projects. This approach allows for more experimentation and frequent releases, increasing the chances of hitting on something that resonates well with players without the commitment of a multi-year development cycle.

How am I planning to implement this new strategy?

As you may have noticed from the games I’ve been involved with, I have a strong affinity for narrative-heavy games, particularly those that incorporate elements of horror. My plan is to initially create a game during Spooktober game jam, to gauge interest and traction. If this prototype shows potential, I'll proceed with full-scale development.

 Interestingly, I’ve observed that many people who typically don't play visual novels become engaged when simple gameplay elements are introduced. For example, adding a navigation system with sprite sheets can significantly deepen the player's experience. This gives players the illusion of choice, allowing them to decide which rooms or areas to explore, despite the story's linearity. It’s a subtle yet effective way to enhance engagement in a narrative-focused game.

For my upcoming project, I’m considering crafting a horror game that explores the complex dynamics between children and their parents—but with a dark twist. The primary game mechanic will involve a character moving in four directions within the confines of a house, attempting to escape. While the game will feature minimal mechanics, the narrative will take center stage, driving the emotional impact and hook of the game.

I plan to develop the initial version of the game within about a month, during Spooktober Jam. This swift development cycle allows me to quickly get the game into the hands of YouTubers and streamers, which is crucial for gaining early exposure and feedback.

The prototype will feature around 10,000 words, providing a solid foundation for the narrative without overextending resources. If this initial version gains the traction I'm hoping for, I will commit an additional 3-4 months to fully develop the game. This extended development phase will expand the gameplay to a target of 5-7 hours, ensuring a more complete experience for players.

Hopefully, this approach not only will keep the development process lean and manageable but also aligns with the goal of validating the game's appeal before investing significant time and resources.

The journey through game development is one of constant learning and adaptation. It’s about finding that sweet spot where passion meets market needs, and where creativity can flourish without being overshadowed by commercial pressures. As I continue to go through this path, I remain committed to bringing engaging, thoughtful, and resonant experiences to players, proving that in the world of gaming, sometimes less really can be more.

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