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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?

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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly. Find me on Mastodon.
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AndroidNougat7 Dec 1, 2023
My opinion is: every game, that's not developed/published by AAA studios or games that's slightly different from the usual AAA gameplay/style are indie in my sense.

There are AAA-like games, that can be called indie, because it's not from a AAA studio/dev

And there are indie-like games from the big players, that couldn't be called indie, because they was developed by an AAA studio

So, if a game is from EA, Ubi, Activision/Blizzard etc., it's AAA regardless of gameplay, style or other attributes.

Games, that are not from the above mentioned devs are considered indie in my sense regardless of style or gameplay.

But there are devs like Larian (BG3) or Valve (CS/HL), that i can't clearly put into AAA or indie section because they are something special and difficult to differentiate.
s01itude Dec 3, 2023
I dislike Geoff for many reasons and this is just another reason. He's actually in a position where he could (at least for his very large corner) create a definition of it and yet when he's put on the spot he basically just says every game is an indie game.

So why bother having the category if the term has no definition? Also, frankly, looking at the nominees for each category I see that TGA continue to be kinda a joke.
14 Dec 10, 2023
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Freelance journalists and private contractors are same as "indie" in the media world. Once you are not managing and paying yourselves, you're no longer independent, inherently.

Can you be considered independent if you don't self publish? Depends on the contract I'd say, which is private. To define the term in a strict sense, I think you have to self publish to be indie.
Pengling Dec 11, 2023
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Quoting: s01itudeI dislike Geoff for many reasons and this is just another reason. He's actually in a position where he could (at least for his very large corner) create a definition of it and yet when he's put on the spot he basically just says every game is an indie game.
And of course, Best Debut Indie Game went to a game published by a large publisher, which wasn't even the devs' debut-game (even the Steam page for it lists their past works).
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