What is an Indie Game?


play-indie-logoWhat makes an indie game? When the indie game movement started, it meant something along the lines of “a game developed and published by a small number of people”. However, the term “indie game” has changed meanings, and now it means… well, that’s the problem. No one is really sure. As my friend (whom I referred to in my previous post) said in our conversation, ” the definition of indie has been evolving, and right now there isn’t a single definition but several for what indie actually means.” The reason for this, as she well pointed out, is the existence of kickstarter and crowdfunding sites. I don’t think anyone will argue that Primitive Thoughts-developed games (the ones I make) are indie games, or that Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest is an indie game. But what about games made by individuals who have the support of an institution, like the games from DigiPen students? What about games developed by small studies of three to five people, like Freebird Games’ To The Moon? What about larger studios by established game developers who, nonetheless, work without the support of major publishers? Is Tim Shcafer’s Double Fine Studios (which boasts 65 employeesand titles such as Psychonauts and Brutal Legend) an indie studio? What if the three man studio previously mentioned raises 2 million dollars through Kickstarter to create a game? Is it still an indie studio? And what about Telltale Games, which boasts over 200 people and are the makers of games like The Walking Dead?

As I was writing this, I stumbled into a video by Jamin Warren that discusses this specific issue really well. I will leave his video here for your viewing pleasure, dear reader, then propose my definition of what an indie game is.

So what is an indie game anyway? An indie game is, in my opinion, a game developed by a studio that is not beholden to any investors and who has complete creative control over its product. This means that if a studio is working on a game with, say, Sony or Microsoft, they are not independent. if a studio is working with funding of a third party, it is not an independent studio. It can even be argued that if a studio – or even an individual – raises money through a crowd-funding site and one of the rewards is “have some creative input over the game”, that game is no longer indie, as there is someone else other than the designer / studio guiding its development.

I know that this definition might make some uncomfortable – what about those “indie” studios that work with the support of major publishers? What about things like the now infamous EA-Indie Division? They work with the support of major publishers and are, therefore, not indie regardless of whatever they want to call themselves. For a game to be “indie”, I think, it needs to meet these two requirements:

  1. The studio making the game must have 100% creative control over the game.
  2. The studio making the game must work independently of all other entities. This includes funding issues.

That being said, a studio can be an indie studio that produces non-indie games sometimes, and an indie game can later be picked up by a publishing company,

I think much of the problem stems from the lack of distinction between Indie Studio, Indie Developer, and Indie Game, but that’s a discussion we can have some other time.

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About Quijano

Johansen Quijano is a professor of English in The University of Texas at Arlington, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Development focusing on TESOL, and a Master’s Degree in English Literature. He has published and presented on a variety of topics including video game studies, popular culture studies, education, teaching methodology, language acquisition, romantic poetry, and victorian literature. His research interests include the above-mentioned topics, narrative, interactivity, simulation, new media in general, and 18th century literature. He also enjoys creative writing (fiction, historical fiction, and poetry), and reading all kinds of epic literary works - from the Epic Poem of Gilgamesh to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.

Posted on August 23, 2014, in Video Game Commentary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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