|Part of a series on the:|
|Video game industry|
In the video game industry, an indie game or independent video game refers to those games typically created by individuals or smaller development teams without the financial support of a large publisher, in contrast to most "triple-A" games. The term may also refer to those games financed by publishers who do not exert significant creative control on the developers. Because of their independence and freedom to develop, indie games often focus on innovation and taking risks not usually afforded in triple-A games, and may explore the medium to produce unique experiences in art games. Indie games tend to be sold through digital distribution channels rather than at retail due to lack of publisher support. The term "indie game" is synonymous with that of independent music or independent film in those respective mediums.
While the nature of indie game development had existed since the rise of the personal computer in the 1980s through shareware, indie gaming saw a rise in mainstream popularity in the latter half of the 2000s, primarily due to new online distribution methods and widely available video game development tools. The rise was also spurred on by several critically-acclaimed indie titles available on gaming systems beyond the personal computer, including World of Goo, Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid, More recent financial and critically-praised indie games include Minecraft, Undertale, and Cuphead
There is no exact, widely accepted definition of what constitutes an "indie game" besides falling well outside the bounds of triple-A video game development by large publishers and development studios. However, indie games generally share certain common characteristics. Indie games are developed by individuals, small teams, or small independent 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. Being independent, developers do not have controlling interests or creative limitations, and do not require the approval of a publisher, as mainstream game developers usually do. Design decisions are thus also not limited by an allocated budget. Furthermore, smaller team sizes increase individual involvement.
Small teams and scope, and no creative restrictions, have made indie games known for innovation, creativity, and artistic experimentation. Developers with limited ability to create graphics can rely on gameplay innovation. Indie games may fall into classic game genres, but new gameplay innovations have been seen. However, being "indie" does not imply that the game focuses on innovation. In fact, many games with 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. For example, Bastion, a video game developed by Supergiant Games, was published by WB Games. Though Warner Bros. paid for the distribution and marketing of the title, the developer refused any funding for development, instead building the game on their own. The resulting game is considered "indie" by the video game industry. Indie games can also be considered third party games if they are developed for a video game system not owned by the indie company. Minecraft, for example, on the Nintendo Switch is both an indie game and a third party game.
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 a significant profit.
Indie game development should not be confused with hobbyist game development, as indie game developers are generally more product-oriented than those making hobbyist games. 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 onset of indie game development is difficult to track due to the broadness of what defines an indie game, and the term was not really in use until the early 2000s.
The indie game scene started on PCs, where it remains prominent. In the 1970s and 1980s, PCs were seen as more utilitarian, and there was little market for games on these systems. Due to this, early games for PCs were often coded by one or two programmers and self-distributed in stores or mail order. Shareware games became a popular means to distribute demos or partially complete games in the 1980s and into the 1990s, where players could purchase the full game from the vendor after trying it. As such demos were generally free to distribute, shareware demo compilations would frequently be included in gaming magazines at that time, providing an easy means for indie developers to be recognized. The ability to produce numerous copies of games, even if just shareware/demo versions, at a low cost helped to propel the idea as the PC as a gaming platform.
By the mid-1990s, the recognition of the PC as a viable gaming option, and advances in technology that led to 3D gaming created many commercial opportunities for video games. During the last part of the 1990s, the indie game scene subsided, since a small team could not readily compete in costs, speed and distribution as a commercial entity could.
Indie development saw a resurgence in the early 2000s, principally driven by the availability of online distribution over the Internet, allowing game developers to sell directly to players and bypassing limitations of retail distribution. Software technologies used to drive the growth of the World Wide Web, like Adobe Flash, were available at low cost to developers, and provided another means for indie games to grow. The new interest in indie games led to middleware and game engine developers to offer their products at low or no cost for indie development, in addition to open source libraries and engines. Dedicated software like GameMaker Studio and tools for unified game engines like Unity and Unreal Engine removed much of the programming barriers needed for a prospective indie developer to create these games.
While direct online distribution helped indie games to reach players, the arrival of online digital game storefronts such as Steam and GOG.com further boosted awareness of indie games, as these storefronts allowed developers to publish, update, and advertise their games directly, and players to download the games anywhere, with the storefront otherwise handling the distribution and sales factors. While Steam itself initially began heavy curation, it eventually allowed for indie publishing with its Steam Greenlight and Steam Direct programs, vastly increasing the number of games available. Separately, console game systems from the seventh generation in 2005 and onward included Internet-based services for players, such as Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Nintendo Network, which included digital distribution of games. Following the increased awareness of indie games for PC, these services started publishing indie games alongside commercial offerings to expand their libraries.
Indie gaming saw a further boost by the use of crowdfunding as a means for indie developers to raise funds to produce a game and to determine the desire for a game, rather than risk time and investment into a game that does not sell well. While video games had used crowdfunding prior to 2012, several large indie game-related projects successfully raised millions of dollars through Kickstarter, and since then, several other similar crowdfunding options for game developers have become available. A number of boutique indie game publishers have appeared to support funding, technical support, and publishing of indie games across various digital and retail platforms. Examples of such companies include Devolver Digital, Chucklefish, Gun Media, Raw Fury, 505 Games, Private Division, and Annapurna Interactive. Other boutique publishers have come from established properties, such as Double Fine Productions who offer publishing services atop their own development studio, and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim progaming that has expanded into games publishing.
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.
- List of independent video game developers
- Dōjin soft, Japanese hobbyist games
- Video game development
- Irwin, Mary Jane (November 20, 2008). "Indie Game Developers Rise Up". Forbes. Retrieved January 10, 2011.
- Mysore, Sahana (January 2, 2009). "How the World of Goo became one of the indie video game hits of 2008". Venturebeat. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
- Chaplin, Heather (August 27, 2008). "Xbox's 'Braid' A Surprise Hit, For Surprising Reasons". NPR. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
- Plunkett, Luke (January 4, 2011). "Why Minecraft Is So Damn Popular". Kotaku. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
- O’Connor, Alice (September 15, 2016). "8/10: Undertale Dev Reflects On Unexpected Popularity". RockPaperShotgun. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
- Workman, Robert (December 12, 2017). "Studio MDHR Discusses Cuphead's Success – And How Carefully It Was Built". Comicbook. Retrieved 2019-03-27.
- Gnade, Mike (July 15, 2010). "What Exactly is an Indie Game?". The Indie Game Magazine. Archived from the original on September 22, 2013. Retrieved January 9, 2011.
- Gril, Juan (April 30, 2008). "The State of Indie Gaming". Gamasutra. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
- MacDonald, Dan (May 3, 2005). "Understanding "Independent"". Game Tunnel. Archived from the original on June 15, 2009. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- Thomsen, Michael (January 25, 2011). "The 'Indie' Delusion: The Gaming Category that Doesn't Exist". IGN. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- McGuire & Jenkins 2009, p. 27; Moore & Novak 2010, p. 272; Bates 2004, p. 252;
- Carroll, Russell (June 14, 2004). "Indie Innovation?". GameTunnel. Archived from the original on June 15, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2011.
- MARCELO PRINCE, PETER ROTH (2004-12-21). "Videogame Publishers Place Big Bets on Big-Budget Games". Wall Street Journal Online. Retrieved 2013-07-01.
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.[...]"[permanent dead link]
- McGuire & Jenkins 2009, p. 27; Moore & Novak 2010, p. 272; Bates 2004, p. 252; Iuppa & Borst 2009, p. 10
- Parker, Laura (February 14, 2011). "The Rise of the Indie Developer". GameSpot. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Kelly, Kevin (March 17, 2009). "SXSW 2009: Being Indie and Successful in the Video Game Industry". Joystiq. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
- Bethke 2003, p. 102.
- Crossley, Rob (May 19, 2009). "Indie game studios 'will always be more creative'". MCV. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- Diamante, Vince (March 7, 2007). "GDC: The Future of Indie Games". Gamasutra. Retrieved January 18, 2011.
- Gamasutra staff (October 4, 2007). "Q&A: Independent Game Creators On Importance Of Indie Movement". Gamasutra. Retrieved February 25, 2011.
- McGuire & Jenkins 2009, p. 27
- Cobbett, Richard (September 19, 2010). "Is indie gaming the future?". TechRadar. p. 1. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
- Diamante, Vincent (March 6, 2007). "GDC: Analyzing Innovation in Indie Games". Gamasutra. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Winchester, Herny (November 14, 2011). "Bastion developer talks indie publishing". PC Gamer. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
- Thompson, Michael (January 18, 2010). "Searching for gold: how to fund your indie video game". Ars Technica. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Hietalahti, Juuso (May 19, 2006). "The Basic Marketing Plan For Indie Games". Gamasutra. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Marsh, David (February 26, 2008). "Nine Paths To Indie Game Greatness". Gamasutra. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- McGuire & Jenkins 2009, p. 27.
- Jan, Matej (June 27, 2012). "Congratulations, Your First Indie Game is a Flop". Gamasutra. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Cobbett, Richard (September 22, 2017). "From shareware superstars to the Steam gold rush: How indie conquered the PC". PC Gamer. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
- Chandler 2009, p. xxi
- Iuppa & Borst 2009, p. 10.
- Blake, Michael (June 22, 2011). "PC Gaming: Doomed? or zDoomed? - Some of the most rewarding PC games out there were built by indie developers using open source code". IGN. Retrieved September 25, 2017.
- Smith, Graham (March 5, 2018). "Boutique publishers are the future of the indie games market". GamesIndustry.biz. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
- Webster, Andrew (April 4, 2018). "Indie game publishers are the new indie rock labels". The Verge. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
- McGuire & Jenkins 2009, p. 25.
- Carless, Simon (October 12, 2007). "What Indie Games Can Learn From Indie Film Distribution". GameSetWatch. Retrieved January 17, 2011.
- Iuppa & Borst 2009, p. 10
- Taylor, Paul (August 26, 2009). "Building Buzz for Indie Games". Gamasutra. p. 1. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
- Edge Staff (October 10, 2008). "Driving Indie Games From Margin to Center". Edge Online. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
- Thompson, Berbank-Green & Cusworth 2007, p. 83.
- Adams, Ernest W. (May 31, 2002). "Technology Inspires Creativity: Indie Game Jam Inverts Dogma 2001!". Gamasutra. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
- Fullerton, Swain & Hoffman 2008, p. 403
- Fullerton, Swain & Hoffman 2008, p. 406.
- Jacobs, Stephen (February 25, 2009). "Global Game Jam 2009: A Worldwide Report". Gamasutra. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
- Bates, Bob (2004). Game Design (2nd ed.). Thomson Course Technology. ISBN 1-59200-493-8.
- Bethke, Erik (2003). Game development and production. Texas: Wordware Publishing. ISBN 1-55622-951-8.
- Chandler, Heather Maxwell (2009). The Game Production Handbook (2nd ed.). Hingham, Massachusetts: Infinity Science Press. ISBN 978-1-934015-40-7.
- Fullerton, Tracy; Swain, Christopher; Hoffman, Steven (2008). "Indie Game Jam: An outlet for Innovation and Experimental Game Design". Game design workshop: a playcentric approach to creating innovative games. Article by Justin Hall (2nd ed.). Morgan Kaufmann. ISBN 978-0-240-80974-8.
- Iuppa, Nick; Borst, Terry (2009). End-to-End Game Development: Creating Independent Serious Games and Simulations from Start to Finish. Focal Press. ISBN 978-0-240-81179-6.
- McGuire, Morgan; Jenkins, Odest Chadwicke (2009). Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology. Wellesley, Massachusetts: A K Peters. ISBN 978-1-56881-305-9.
- Moore, Michael E.; Novak, Jeannie (2010). Game Industry Career Guide. Delmar: Cengage Learning. ISBN 978-1-4283-7647-2.
- Thompson, Jim; Berbank-Green, Barnaby; Cusworth, Nic (2007). Game Design: Principles, Practice, and Techniques - The Ultimate Guide for the Aspiring Game Designer. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-96894-8.