What does indie mean?

We ask developers to define the term, and whether it has lost any meaning in games
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As part of our recent articles looking at the indie scene, we asked developers: What does indie mean?

The term has been appropriated by companies of all sizes, from a one-person project to a studio of hundreds, and is used generally to describe the creative output or a company/person's general independence. Or sometimes something else entirely.

It’s a word also used to describe developers who were once arguably an indie developer – working on their own or in a tiny team – and have now formed their own larger studios.

Volume developer Mike Bithell, Mode 7 Games’ Paul Kilduff-Taylor, Machine Studios’ Simon Roth and Bossa Studios’ Imre Jele all weighed in with their opinions on what the term now means in the industry.

You can read our full feature on what’s next for indies here, as well as our analysis of the rise of indie publishers here.

Paul Kilduff-Taylor:

"I still think it means 'not beholden to outside entities' but I'm probably being too prescriptive about that. That leads to the usual 'are Valve indie?' questions, which are just semantic wrangling. Broadly, I think it means 'quite small team doing something original that they own entirely'. Also the entire discussion is pretty much in the toilet now, so there's no point delving into it too far, lest you get stuck in the rhetorical u-bend.

'It was interesting to see the IGF nominations this year because they really went back to very unusual games that didn't have much awareness in the broader gaming community, and I really liked that. Not saying that's what they should do or that it should be that way every year - I like how each year has a differing quality to it - but it was very cool in a period where existing indies are trying to leverage their past success.

"I say this as an existing indie trying to leverage our past success as well."

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Imre Jele:

"To be fair, the word indie has bothered me for a long time. So far, I haven't heard a single definition which couldn't be disproven by naming an important indie game not fitting the description.

"This gets even tougher with the appearance of indie funds, large indies publishing small indies and even some of the old school publishers starting new studios and brands competing with truly indie indies... whatever that means. So if I'm honest, I gave up on finding an objective definition for the word indie and allow it to be an subjective term.

"Potter Stewart, a US Supreme Court Judge once said: 'I know it when I see it' when he was asked to define what pornography is. I guess the same stands for indie games."

Mike Bithell:

“Indie is a word I'm less and less comfortable using. Many of us are playing with budgets that are many times greater than what would be reasonably called ‘indie'.

“We got too successful. Right now the division on console and Steam is what? Triple-A – less than 20 games a year – and indie – more than 2,000. To me, that’s an indicator that we need to get better at differentiating our work, and invent some new – almost immediately outdated – categories.

“Right now ‘indie’ means Minecraft, No Man’s Sky, and a Twine game. That’s a pretty useless word. I feel like I’m stealing someone else’s word. It belongs to folks like the dude who made Thomas Was Alone.”

Simon Roth:

"I wouldn't have the faintest, but when I see large studios with publishers and share holders desperately self-identifying as indie, I cringe myself into a migraine."

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