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So what the heck is an 'indie game' nowadays anyway?

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You'll have to forgive me, dear readers, because I am a little confused on what's going on at the moment. What the heck actually is an indie or independent game nowadays? Someone like me is probably supposed to tell you what it is, but honestly I'm just as confused as you are now.

The problem is, there doesn't really seem to actually be a good answer to this now. Game developers and publishers alike don't agree on it, and other prominent people in the industry all seem to have different opinions on it now too.

To add to the confusion, The Game Awards decided to put DAVE THE DIVER into the "Best Independent Game" category. A great game for sure but the problem is that while it may perhaps have the look of what a lot of people think is an indie game, in my book it's firmly not. You see it was developed by Mintrocket, a sub-brand of Nexon, who are a pretty big South Korean publisher that have billions in income. How, in any possible meaning of the term, is that indie?

Arguments on this have been ongoing since the nominees were announced a couple of weeks ago, and adding fuel to the fire now TGA's Geoff Keighley has given some thoughts on it during a recent Twitch (about 27:00) livestream and Keighley's response to a question on it was:

Look it's a great question. Independent can mean different things to different people, it's sort of a broad term right. You can argue does independent mean the budget of the game, does independent mean where the source of financing was, is it based on the team size, is it the independent spirit of a game meaning the kind of smaller game that's different. Everyone has their own opinion about this. We really defer to our jury, 120 global media outlets that vote on these awards to kind of make that determination of is something independent or not.

In other industries sometimes there are things like the film industry the budget can't be above this amount of dollars, some people said Larian with Baldur's Gate 3 that's an independent game, Kojima Productions with Death Stranding some people say that's an independent game and even though it's an independent studio of course it's funded by PlayStation. It's question like if you have a publisher, is that still independent or not. We also have Best Debut Indie Game, which is something I'm really proud of too, that's for teams doing it's first ever game this year, that's often really really independent studios just starting out and I love that we can recognise them that way.

So yeah Dave the Diver, that game is made by a group named Mintrocket, it's a smaller game from a smaller group  but it's part of Nexon which is a very large publisher so I think it's a fair debate and discussion is that game truly independent or is it not. You can kind of argue either way it's independent in spirit, it's a small game, I don't know what the budget it is but i think it's a probably a relatively small budget game but it's from a larger entity, whereas there's other games on that list that are from much smaller studios. Like Dredge, published by team17, so is that independent or not, 'coze you have a publisher. It's a really complicated thing to figure out and come up with strict rules around it, so we kinda let people use their best judgement and you can agree or disagree with the choices, but the fact that Dave the Diver was on that list meant that out of all the independent games that the jury looked at or what they thought were independent games that was one of the top 5 that they looked at this year.

Keighley goes on to mention past game awards and games that won and how people debated this in the past, but basically sums it all up with the exact criteria being an "open debate for discussion". Seems to me that Keighley had no real answer on this. Just a lot of dancing around it, asking more questions of the category and just further adding to the confusion.

I get what Keighley was trying to say though, when mentioning how "it's a different set of games, and I like that we get to recognise different games in our show and not have the same 5-10 games nominated in every category". As otherwise, you likely would just get the huge publisher games filling up every year but the category itself is just not named particularly well it seems, or they need to actually properly settle on what indie actually is.

Certainly is an interesting debate.

So — over to you in the comments: what is an indie or independent game now? How would you define it exactly?

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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34 comments
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BlackBloodRum Nov 30, 2023
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"Indie" anything always goes that way when it becomes profitable, unfortunately.

Think of it like "Indie" music, at one point it was just independent bands without a record label. Now, it's simply a "style" of music, where most "indie" bands are in fact with some big record labels, therefore technically not independent at all.

If it's a profitable thing, some big corpo rat is going to make a buck[1] out of it. Whether that means buying the smaller games or bring out their own.

In any case, independent should always mean just that. Small, independent people without big money or corporations behind them.

[1] Considering the season, let's change that to "make a reindeer out of it".
elmapul Nov 30, 2023
Quoting: BlackBloodRum"Indie" anything always goes that way when it becomes profitable, unfortunately.

Think of it like "Indie" music, at one point it was just independent bands without a record label. Now, it's simply a "style" of music, where most "indie" bands are in fact with some big record labels, therefore technically not independent at all.

If it's a profitable thing, some big corpo rat is going to make a buck[1] out of it. Whether that means buying the smaller games or bring out their own.

In any case, independent should always mean just that. Small, independent people without big money or corporations behind them.

[1] Considering the season, let's change that to "make a reindeer out of it".

i think the only solution is use an sarcastic label such as "shit games" no company would like to associate thenselves with an negative term...
Linux_Rocks Nov 30, 2023
All I know is that I can't make fun of my one friend for liking "hipster indie games" anymore. lol
Ehvis Nov 30, 2023
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Indie should be developed independently. So, developed without publisher money. Sure, that includes some pretty big games, but it's still the only definition that means anything.
TactikalKitty Nov 30, 2023
When I think indie, I think itch.io. The reality is that I have played quite a few indie games and had an absolute blast not even realizing that they were indie games. Games like My Time at Portia, Terraria and Asdivine series. Then comes along games like Axiom Verge, Kena: Bridge of Spirits and oddities like Stray that really have the quality, care and passion put into them that put some AAA game developers to shame.
artixbtw Nov 30, 2023
For me, indies are games developed by a small studio, with either a low budget, crowdfunding, or a publisher focused around indie games (like Devolver Digital), and are not AAA big name publisher/developer games.


Last edited by artixbtw on 30 November 2023 at 2:19 pm UTC
grigi Nov 30, 2023
Indie game to me means it has:
* Independent direction (can make what they want to, without oversight)
* Independent ownership (financial and creative "IP")
* Independent vision (can make the game how they want to, without interference)

As in the studio itself has full creative direction of what it makes, owns what it makes and is allowed to make what it wants to. The studio carries the majority of the risk, but also gets the majority of the reward.

Having a publisher is not part of that definition, as long as they don't interfere with direction/vision on a more than consultative basis, and don't own your creative "IP", you're still indie.

The moment you can't change publishers as a publisher owns some integral part of your creative "IP" you're definitely not indie anymore.
DAVE THE DIVER doesn't own their own IP as it's owned by a publisher, so they fail the independent ownership.
Pengling Nov 30, 2023
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QuoteAs otherwise, you likely would just get the huge publisher games filling up every year
That's generally how The Godawful Awards was from the outset - there being an "indie" category at all is simply lip-service, because it's entirely The Dorito Pope's childhood imaginings made real (no, really, it is - it replicates a show he was hired for as a kid ), which is more focussed on movie trailers and live band performances than it is on video games.

It's the same as how they had to add an ill-defined "Family" category in which to shuffle off games that they originally opted not to include at all, due to the show aiming for the "Those aren't REAL GAMES!" crowd at the beginning.


Last edited by Pengling on 30 November 2023 at 2:28 pm UTC
Romlok Nov 30, 2023
Quoting: EhvisIndie should be developed independently. So, developed without publisher money. Sure, that includes some pretty big games, but it's still the only definition that means anything.
I don't think this is the only definition of independence, nor the one that makes most sense in this awards context. If we take game awards as a celebration of games as an art form, rather than as a business, then the independence that should matter most IMO is that of the artistry.

So to my mind, for a game studio to be artistically independent, it means that the development team themselves call all the shots as to the nature and content of the game.
For example, if a publisher has any power to require changes to a game's content, then the game cannot be considered "independent" in an artistic sense IMO.
Ehvis Nov 30, 2023
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Quoting: RomlokIf we take game awards as a celebration of games as an art form, rather than as a business, then the independence that should matter most IMO is that of the artistry.

But it starts with finances. The second a publishers pays for development, they will have a say in what happens. Artistic independence comes from financial independence.
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