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An independent video game (commonly referred to as an indie game) is a video game that is often created without the financial support of a publisher, although some games with publisher funding are still considered indie. Indie games often focus on innovation and rely on digital distribution. Indie gaming saw a rise in the latter half of the 2000s, primarily due to new online distribution methods and development tools. Some indie games have been very successful financially, such as Braid, World of Goo, Flow, and Minecraft.
There is no exact, widely accepted definition of what constitutes an "indie game", however, indie games generally share certain characteristics. Indie games are developed by individuals, small teams, or small independent companies; companies that are often specifically formed for the development of one specific game. Typically, indie games are smaller than mainstream titles. Indie game developers are generally not financially backed by video game publishers (who are risk-averse and prefer big-budget games) and usually have little to no budget available. Being independent, indie developers do not have controlling interests or creative limitations and do not require publisher approval as mainstream game developers usually do. Design decisions are thus also not limited by the allocated budget. Furthermore, smaller team sizes increase individual involvement.
Small teams, scope, and no creative restrictions have made indie games known for innovation, creativity, and artistic experimentation. Developers limited in ability to create graphics can rely on gameplay innovation. Both classic game genres and new gameplay innovation have been seen. However, being "indie" does not imply that the game focuses on innovation. In fact, many games attributed the "indie" label can be of poor quality and may not be made for profit.
Further, indie games do not need to be completely isolated from large publishers to be considered indie. For example, Bastion, developed by Supergiant Games, was published by Warner Bros. Interactive. Though Warner Bros. paid for the distribution and marketing of the title, Supergiant Games refused any funding for development costs, building the game on their own, and the resulting title is considered an indie game by the industry.
In order to fund the game, developers can rely on starting a crowd-funding campaign, finding a publisher, or building community support while in development. Without publisher support, developers generally rely on Internet digital distribution options. Most indie games do not make significant profit.
Indie game development should not be confused with hobbyist game development, as indie developers are generally more product-oriented than hobbyist game creators. Many hobbyist developers create mods of existing games, or work with specific technologies or game parts. Such hobbyists usually produce non-commercial products and may range from novices to industry veterans.
The indie game scene started on PCs, where it remains prominent. Indie games became popular via shareware distribution in the early 1990s. However, as technology advanced—especially the transition from 2D to fully 3D gaming—requirements and high user expectations exceeded the ability of a single developer or small team.
Indie games saw a steep rise in popularity in the 2000s. The expansion of the Internet allowed games to be distributed online, moving beyond retail sales. This allowed developers to publish, and players to download, such games on platforms like Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, or OnLive. Similarly, developers have access to tools like Adobe Flash. Indie gaming has seen a rise in the latter half of the 2000s, primarily due to new online distribution methods[not in citation given] and development tools (for instance the availability of open source libraries and engines).
As the mainstream video game industry is comparable to the mainstream film industry, so is the indie game industry comparable to the independent film industry. However game distribution is shifting towards online marketing. For developers, online marketing is much more profitable and more readily available than retail marketing, although distribution portals have been criticized for collecting a large portion of game revenue.
In 2008, a developer could earn around 17% of a game's retail price, and around 85% if sold digitally. This can lead to the appearance of more "risky" creative projects. Furthermore, the expansion of social websites has introduced gaming to casual gamers. Nevertheless, there are few examples of games that have made large profits, and for many, indie game-making serves as a career stepping stone, rather than a commercial opportunity.
There is contention as to how prominent indie gaming is in the video game industry. Most games are not widely known or successful, and mainstream media attention remains with mainstream titles. This can be attributed to a lack of marketing for indie games, but indie games can be targeted at niche markets.
Indie Game Jam (IGJ) is an annual event that allows indie game developers to experiment and present ideas without publisher restrictions. IGJ was founded by Chris Hecker and Sean Barrett and first held in March 2002. Each year IGJ poses different questions about innovation in settings, genres, and controls. The IGJ was considered an inspiration for later game jams, including the Nordic Game Jam and the Global Game Jam (GGJ), which was first held in 2009 with 1650 participants at 53 locations.
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The jump in development and marketing costs has made the videogame industry "enormously risk averse,[...]Publishers have largely focused on making sequels to successful titles or games based on movie or comic book characters, which are seen as less risky. "We don't green light any more things that will be small or average size games.[...]"
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The worst days were the cartridge days for the NES. It was a huge risk; you had all this money tied up in silicon in a warehouse somewhere, and so you’d be conservative in the decisions you felt you could make, very conservative in the IPs you signed, your art direction would not change, and so on. Now it’s the opposite extreme: we can put something up on Steam, deliver it to people all around the world, make changes. We can take more interesting risks.[...] Retail doesn’t know how to deal with those games. On Steam there’s no shelf-space restriction.
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