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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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eldaking Nov 30, 2023
I think "indie" encompasses a lot of aspects so having it as a single category is just meaningless.

Yeah it can't be indie if it is owned by Microsoft or Sony or Apple or Tencent or another huge company. You could call it "alternative game" or some shit, but even if the company makes a point of limiting the budget it is not the same as other indies - it has more visibility, more stable funding, and all the constraints of a big studio which make it a whole other deal. Mostly the same if such a company is funding the development without directly owning the studio, but not if they just published it without any funding.

It also isn't fair to call indie any studio that isn't funded by a large publisher indie regardless of their budget or size. A game with a AAA budget and AAA number of employees is way more like a AAA than like other indies. It's organization structure, constraints to their "artistic freedom", dev practices and so on are not at all indie. Any categorization that puts those side by side with the small ones is frigging useless.

If you are filtering games that are "indie", go for the strict option: pick just games that are all of self-published, small-budget, author-controlled. Set "small" as low as you want to select just single devs or allow for small but established studios.

Indie games that are successful but aren't bought by a large company, in particular those that sell millions (I call them "triple I", the indies that won the lottery), still keep most of their original characteristics, so I wouldn't advise using revenue or sales numbers to classify them... but a "hidden gem" category could make sense, and would pretty much only include indies.

Or just be more specific instead of just "indie", don't assume "indie" will tell people whatever you think it does. Alternative game, game by small (or medium) studio, self-published game, low-budget game, solo project. Or just list the numeric cut-off point directly: game made by less than 20 people, best game under $1 million budget, etc.
Pengling 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,
These particular awards have a history of excluding companies who've offended its founder's friends (and even when having to include Castlevania: Nocturne due to needing five nominations for the new Best Adaptation category, all of the other game-devs are named but not Konami - they only credit Netflix and Powerhouse Animation). I'm not sure art is their first priority...
Jarmer Nov 30, 2023
Quoting: grigiIndie 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)

DAVE THE DIVER doesn't own their own IP as it's owned by a publisher, so they fail the independent ownership.

Agree with this. Having DtD nominated in that category pretty much makes the entire "awards" system this laughable company does entirely pointless. At this point it's either totally bought and corrupt, or just a popularity contest. Either way, no credible news source or gamers themselves should even care.

We should let these pathetic award ceremonies do whatever the hell they feel like, but pay them no attention at all, so they can wither and die.
Kimyrielle Nov 30, 2023
Strictly spoken, any game that's developed by a studio not fully independent in their decisions is not an indie game. Which is funnily why Baldur's Gate 3 (a clear AAA title) qualifies as indie, because Larian is a fully independent studio, despite its size.

The community seems to have adopted a slightly altered definition of the term, though. An indie game seems to be anything that's a labor of love and has the "Not made by big business" vibe to it.
M@GOid Nov 30, 2023
Quoting: elmapuli think the only solution is use an sarcastic label such as "shit games" no company would like to associate thenselves with an negative term...

You underestimate what those big companies are willing to do, when they smell the scent of money in any new market. Big example is the music industry. Any new trend, not matter how ridiculous it is, will be embraced by big labels if they think there is good money in there.

Indie once was synonymous of low budget, almost free games. Now they sell things that look like a indie for almost the price of a AAA game.
kuhpunkt Nov 30, 2023
How about just abandoning categories and just refering to them as games?
M@GOid Nov 30, 2023
A definition of "indie", that only includes it being independent from a big parent company, have a major problem: Star Citizen is developed by a independent studio. And labeling a game with over half a billion dollars in funding by a small army of developers as "indie", makes no sense to me.
elmapul Nov 30, 2023
Quoting: M@GOid
Quoting: elmapuli think the only solution is use an sarcastic label such as "shit games" no company would like to associate thenselves with an negative term...

You underestimate what those big companies are willing to do, when they smell the scent of money in any new market. Big example is the music industry. Any new trend, not matter how ridiculous it is, will be embraced by big labels if they think there is good money in there.

Indie once was synonymous of low budget, almost free games. Now they sell things that look like a indie for almost the price of a AAA game.
look at the positive side, we will be able to laugh at the companies for calling their own games shit , and agree with then.
at least it will be more honest than calling it "Indie"
elmapul Nov 30, 2023
Quoting: M@GOidA definition of "indie", that only includes it being independent from a big parent company, have a major problem: Star Citizen is developed by a independent studio. And labeling a game with over half a billion dollars in funding by a small army of developers as "indie", makes no sense to me.

the term is independent, valve for example have no stake holders so they might as well classify as indie i guess...

that is why the term is a bit dumb

we need a new term such as low budget...
or even better split the games by budget, so at least an big company cant lie about the same product puting it in multiple categories.


Last edited by elmapul on 30 November 2023 at 4:51 pm UTC
elmapul Nov 30, 2023
Quoting: Pengling
Quoting: RomlokIf we take game awards as a celebration of games as an art form, rather than as a business,
These particular awards have a history of excluding companies who've offended its founder's friends (and even when having to include Castlevania: Nocturne due to needing five nominations for the new Best Adaptation category, all of the other game-devs are named but not Konami - they only credit Netflix and Powerhouse Animation). I'm not sure art is their first priority...

i think touhou should win the adaptation category, their fan-made-animes are "love letters"
not that i care about this prize im talking about some serious prize.

speaking of excluding, where is vampire survivors? it proved that an low budget game still can sell a lot, it ignore things like graphics and still sold a lot...


Last edited by elmapul on 30 November 2023 at 4:56 pm UTC
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