Opinion: Isn’t it time we retired the word indie?

Christopher Dring
Opinion: Isn’t it time we retired the word indie?

That might read like an odd headline when you consider we've just launched indie game month and we have an entire event dedicated to this audience in just two weeks.

But, does anyone know what the term ‘indie game' is supposed to represent anymore?

Independence has been a constant theme in this industry since it was born. It represents freedom to create what you want without the commercial pressures from corporate money-men who are more interested in their profit and loss spreadsheets than on the quality of the product.

The ‘indie' label doesn't really mean independence; it isn't a word that is used to describe every company that isn't owned by EA or Activision or Xbox. It is a term the industry conjured up to describe this sudden glut of tiny studios making quirky, niche little games like OlliOlli or Thomas Was Alone.

But that seems to have been lost. Take the recent Cities Skylines for PC - a city building game built by nine people at developer Colossal Order. The game has already been labelled an 'indie hit', but since when was a multi-million selling spiritual sequel to the SimCity series, funded by a publisher, an indie game?

Take the upcoming Yooka-Laylee from Playtonic. A highly anticipated successor to the smash hit Banjo Kazooie series, developed by veterans from UK studio Rare… indie?

Back in March, I was embroiled in a debate over Sony's PS4 line-up. Uncharted 4 had been delayed and the question on the lips of social media comentators were: ‘What exactly does PlayStation have coming this year?'

How about Rime? Everyone's Gone To The Rapture? Abzu? The Witness? Hellblade? No Man's Sky?

These were dismissed, in part, for being ‘niche indie games'. And yes, they may not have the brand recognition, 100-man development teams and bottomless budgets of, say, Destiny or Star Wars or Watch Dogs.

But have you seen how great these games look? The ‘indie' tag in these instances is damaging. These games deserve a place alongside the likes of Resident Evil on the PSN store, they should even be stuck in a box and put on the shelves at GAME, competing for attention with Assassin's Creed.

The indie label is helpful to some games, particularly those quirky, wonderful, 2D pixel art projects like Hotline Miami, Fez, Braid and Shovel Knight. ‘Indie' gives them an identity and promotes them to that growing audience of gamers that love these sort of titles.

But for those bigger budget titles, ‘indie' ghettoises them. It lumps them almost into a genre it doesn't belong.

The independent developer is maturing. The team sizes are increasing, the scope of their games are getting bigger, they're hiring publishers and labels and PR agencies to reach bigger audiences. Many have outgrown the label they were once happy to embrace.

So perhaps now is the time for PlayStation and Xbox to drop the term ‘indie' from their online stores and their press conferences, and let these projects simply exist alongside Battlefront, Halo 5 and Tomb Raider.

Because when it all comes down to it, we are just talking about great games made by great studios.

GET EMAIL UPDATES

Subscribe