What does it mean if a game is ‘Indie’? Let’s start with the basics:
Indie is short for Independent.
Many people take this to mean that for a game to be indie, it must be created and distributed independent of a publisher, or other outside force that allows the game to get better marketing and a larger budget, but could also result in external forces having an effect on the game’s direction. While a publisher makes a game easier to make more lucrative, many — as they are, after all, investing in a game — are unlikely to back a product that pushes the boundaries of “good” games. Why innovate when you can stand on the shoulders of giants, for more guaranteed results?
Is that what it truly refers to, though? There are other contexts independence might refer to. While a country made up of millions can become “independent” (which would mesh with the first definition), a person can also be “independent”, or a business can be “independently” run.
Perhaps the Indie term should be applied, then, to games that are created by a team of 1? Or simply a small team — meaning we still don’t have a fixed definition, but there is something to be said about small teams. Fewer people in a team means that the concept of the game is distilled, and while this tends to mean smaller games, it also means there are fewer conflicting opinions. In large enough teams (of hundreds), design choices are scattered and left to people who should by no rights be part of the design process.
Then it goes deeper. What about a solo game developer who makes a game solely for the purpose of marketing it and selling it? If he* decides to follow the principles of big game companies who tend to take fewer risks, he is technically independent of both teammates and investors breathing down his neck — but I would imagine many people who do make indie games would disagree. This person is not making an indie game.
I’m glad you’re still here. Almost done. Bear with me for a second.
What term are we defining here? “Independent Developer”, or “Independent Game”? This is kind of a chicken-and-egg problem we have on our hands. Indie developers are required to make indie games, but without indie games, there is no such thing as an indie developer.
I’m going with the latter, because one person can develop independently one day and differently another day — but a game is a game. It’s the independent variable here (ahahaha).
Indie Game: A game designed independent of forces unrelated to the design of the game. What this means is that in the process of making the game, the focus is making the game. The game’s design comes first. I’m not completely happy with this definition, but I think it’s pretty close. If your truly ultimate goal is directly related to the game, the game is indie. Unfortunately, this doesn’t totally work — what if you have multiple people working on a game? They have different goals, right? If you have a big game with a big team working on it, it’s tough to make an indie game: a lot of people are simply employees, working for money. The game doesn’t come first; money does.
edit :: I forgot one thing. If you have a big team working on it and there are miscommunications — the game becomes less “independent” of outside forces. The game is less purely defined, as it is corrupted by the internal conflicts (whatever it may be) that arise naturally from communication. If there are disagreements in relation to design and eventually an agreement is reached simply to resolve the conflict (as opposed to an agreement that is made for the best interests of the game) then that’s not good either. Or something. This is kind of outside of the train of thought and I’m sorry ):
There. I’m done. Independent developers and games — these are people and their games who put the game’s effect on its players first.
What’s more important to you? Enjoyment of the game, or the rewards you reap once you’ve sold it? The people who say “this game is amazing, and has inspired me“, or the people who say “I bought copies for all of my friends“?
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your comments on this matter :3
*I hope that my use of the masculine pronoun in this example does not offend you.