What are Indie Games? Like really?

Exploring the Definition of the Indie Title

What are Indie Games? Like really?

Photo by Carl Raw on Unsplash

Indie games have been gaining popularity for several years. Well known representatives are Super Meat Boy, Minecraft, Firewatch, Bastion, Limbo, Cuphead, and one of my all time favourites, Ori and the Blind Forest along with its sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps. I'm sure many of you have heard the term, but what exactly categorizes something as an Indie Game? Is it a genre? What makes it special? At what point can titles like Minecraft no longer label themselves indie? How independent or how small does a development team need to be?

Walk with me as I explore and explain some of the maaaaany definitions that currently exist and attempt to cut through the ambiguity of the term... trust me, it's a bigger challenge than one might think. It's a real nut to crack.

Indie Games: New Flowing Winds to Genres

The origin of the word "Indie" might go without saying: it is an abbreviation for the word independent. This is not, per se, a genre, but a paradigm of producing and publishing (in this case, games). However, there is some common qualitative theme that could be used to categorized them into a genre. That is, they are generally wildly innovative and unique; deviating from the traditional "proven" game designs concepts that most large development companies like to bite on to. At the same time, indie games aren't all different from Triple A giants as they can also follow tradition. Indie is actually quite broad in regards to the types of games produced. Some are indeed not in any genre one can categorize easily.

Furthermore, these games are projects realized by individuals or a comparatively small team of developers without much budget for resources or support from publishers. I believe most people see an indie team of no more than eight developers. However, many larger teams of sixty or more still label their games as indie.

In terms of distribution, most indie games tend to be sold as a digital copy via the Steam or Nintendo platform, for example, and not in stores. Maybe due to financial limitation and lack of knowledge in the business. However, there honestly isn't a need to physically distribute a game in current times. It works just as well to sell digitally now, thankfully. There are certainly exceptions - such as Nintendo's "Nindies" or Bastion, which was supported by publisher Warner Bros. Interactive in distribution but not in development.

Overall, the historical and classic image of an indie developer is still that of a small (maybe one to eight members), ambitious team with limited financial resources and big visions. In the meantime the "indie scene" has become more professionalized and also produces larger projects that at first glance can hardly be distinguished from large blockbuster productions from the AAA sector. On the one hand, publishers are marketing more and more small indie productions. And on the other hand, well-known indie games (or well-hyped) can have quite large budgets through crowdfunding to achieve financial successes - platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo.

Transitions from Indie to Large Company are often Fluid

As stated, an indie developer team is very limited in time, human resource, and with budget; however, they are more flexible, self-guided in their development, and more open to new and experimental ideas. Sometimes these ideas really hit well in the market or are hyped enough to catch the eye of some large publishers. This essentially begins the metamorphosis for the small indie team to cocoon itself into the beautiful butterfly known as a hierarchical business.

One of the most famous indie games, is Minecraft. Totally popular and successful nowadays and it used to be an indie game. Of course that's no longer the case. A lot has changed and spun from it over the 10 years of it's initial release. For one, Minecraft is not particularly sophisticated in the graphical department. It looks like simplified digital Legos and has basically not been changed for years. Minecraft CEO Chiang believes that's precisely the advantage of the game's perennial hit: "We see that it's a game that players love to come back to again and again." The sole developer was the Swede Markus Persson, better known as "Notch". From the beginning, Minecraft thrilled the masses. Even after Microsoft bought the game from Persson's development company in 2014, the success did not diminish. The purchase of the game caused astonishment internationally, both in terms of the reason and the amount. After all, the software manufacturer from Redmond transferred 2.5 billion US dollars to the Swedish developer.

Indie Games - Same but different

Final Note - These games are beautiful, inventive and sometimes incredible contagious. They are like many games and also a whole world on their own. I hope you can find as much fun in them as I do.

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