What is a Modern Indie Game?

I believe around 10 years ago the definition of an indie game was very clear. However, with the expansion of distribution platforms like Steam and itch io, independently published games have increased 100 fold and have somewhat muddled the term.

When I think of an indie game the first that pop up are ones of Indie Game The Movie, Super Meat Boy, Fez, Braid. See @ellaguro's podcast [The Blood Zone](https://thebloodzone.libsyn.com/) for a good discussion of this. I think a few games like these do pop up every now and then, Undertale and Stardew Valley being the most recent stand outs, but the vast majority of recently released games that could be and are labeled indie are nothing like these games.

If I'm told to think of a modern indie game, I'll either think of something published by devolver or something by an established studio like Minit (both being indie are debatable). Where as there is so much stuff on itch which is fully independant that I never hear of it without explicitly seeking it out which leads to not being in my head.

  • - Do you think the term indie is too broad?
  • - Do we need new terms to discuss the landscape of modern games?
  • - Does past success determine indie status?
  • - Does having a studio or a publisher be indie?
  • Feel free to answer any, all or none of these questions. I just want to hear people's thoughts on indie games.

    Wasn‘t there a game shown off at Geoff Keighley’s Big Party a few months ago being produced by the guys who made Dead Space, and they were calling that “indie?” Whatever indie is, it certainly isn‘t that. That’s kinda like if when Paul McCartney started doing solo stuff after The Beatles, people started calling him an indie artist. Definitely not how that works. This could very easily be turned into a gatekeeping tool to invalidate game devs with middling success and experience though, so I‘m not exactly how/where/if a line should be made. Like, what about that indie game being made by that guy who did some Pokémon designs? All he did is draw some dudes, but it happened to be dudes used for a massive IP. As far as I understand, a position like that is in game development, but it’s not like he was really an active part of the development process as far as constructing the games. Is he “not allowed” to be “indie” anymore? IDK!

    The cynic in me has been drawing a distinction between “indie” and “independent” games for a while now precisely for the reason that “indie” games are rarely ever truly independent. I don't have any hard and fast rules for myself however generally speaking, I would personally see a game that either a) has no publisher / outside investment, or b) has an independent publisher (as few as they tend to be) as “independent”.

    I'd agree that my impressions of what an indie game is also stems from the era of Fez, Super Meat Boy, etc and in that respect that I think that indie these days is far less about the financial structure of a studio (though this still plays a part, albeit smaller), and more to do with the style, design, feel and other nebulous aspects of a game but without going as far as to call it a genre of game. For a rough comparison with music, I'd lean this more towards indie music as a genre rather than indie music as a financial / publishing circumstance.

    Going back to Fez, Super Meat Boy, etc, my general observation is that a lot of indie games, as defined above, build upon genres and design principles typically found in Japanese games from the NES, Master System, SNES and Mega Drive catalogues, and to a lesser extent arcade games and, more recently, the "PS1 aesthetic", and add their own differentiator (which these days seems to be that it's a roguelite or has visual novel elements). My sweeping generalisation is that these are mainly 2D platformers, isometric action games, and quote unquote "walking-sim, walking-sim adjacent" games with varying degrees of stylised pixel visuals and either macabre colour palettes or party-time, neon-Katamari, LSD trip colour palettes.

    Thematically, these games broadly fall into either: gothic, sexual awakening / confusion, hell, a single not-very-good joke taken stretched beyond its extreme, or trying to find a missing friend / family member.

    My only other distinction is between this and double-A or single-A games, which these days I feel are more broadly associated with fully 3D games of the PS1 and PS2 eras; generally of the linear action or shooting variety. I guess that's moreso for single-A games whereas double-A games lean more on the technical specs of the 360 and PS3 era.

    This is just how I feel at the moment about the differences, I could very well change my mind tomorrow. It's an interesting discussion to have but ultimately I feel that indie is more of a style with certain design and technical limitations rather than much to do with any sort of financial investment.

    I believe MachineGames is making one as we speak.

    they‘re going to have to be in game form or animated because he’s like 80 years old these days

    Oh boy do I have some things to say about this!

    I had this whole thing written that everyone would have tldr'ed, so I'll bottom line it: I don't think the term indie really ever described games, and that it's mostly just a marketing tool to get folks to buy games that the term implies are edgy, unusual, experimental, or all of these things. Sure, actual small creators self-identify with it, but I think they mostly do it to signify exactly the same thing that bigger studios do.

    I think if you want to talk about games that fit what I feel like most non-games industry folks mean when they say indie, a whole bunch of stuff fits the bill, but I'm not sure where we draw the line. Looking through things on itch, you'll find experimental weird stuff and people picking up where different genre dead ends left off, but you'll also find abandoned jam games, unfinished prototypes, knockoffs of popular favourites, and a whole bunch of extremely broken games that are still considered finished by their creators. I think all of this is indie.

    So anyway:

    >

    @"beets"#p82500 Do you think the term indie is too broad?
    > Do we need new terms to discuss the landscape of modern games?
    > Does past success determine indie status?
    > Does having a studio or a publisher be indie?

  • 1.

    Yes, absolutely. It‘s like ’organic‘, in that it’s been applied so broadly that it's practically meaningless.

  • 2.

    Yes, absolutely, but I think any term that we coin for differentiation will get co-opted too.

  • 3.

    Maybe. Games are expensive to make, especially polished ones, so a windfall from a success can disappear quickly into the next game.

  • 4.

    Maybe. I also think this is where our language around indie games gets especially murky, since folks look at a game like Cult of the Lamb and identify it as indie, but also identify it as a Devolver game, rather than a game by Massive Monster. In other words, a game made by a small studio and published by an extremely successful publishing house with dozens of big successes that folks still call indie.

  • i‘m probably wrong and i don’t care, but the term “indie game” came from players who wanted to distinguish games that they would be embarrassed if cool people found out they played from ones that they could (almost) pass themselves off as cool and part of a cool scene for playing.

    it's an outmoded term because, first it got too popular to serve its function, and second all of culture is embarrassing and not embarrassing at once. there are too many things and everyone is out of sync, so no one is going to judge you one way or another if you play this or that game they never heard of. anyway, everyone plays videogames now, there's no need to convince anyone that you're cool-weird not creepy-wierd for it.

    i think the difficulty with the term comes from thinking it's about how developers make games when it's about how gamers talk about games.

    new definition:

    Indie games are games made in Indiana

    Indie games: exclusively games about Or starring Indiana Jones.

    Games made in Indianapolis about Indiana Jones in India.

    @“Funbil”#p82503 I can‘t believe you’re gatekeeping famed indie musician Sir James Paul McCartney CH MBE.

    >

    Wasn’t there a game shown off at Geoff Keighley’s Big Party a few months ago being produced by the guys who made Dead Space, and they were calling that “indie?

    Is this the Callisto Protocol? I can't find any examples of this but it's a pretty funny notion and it's interesting how games can use the term indie or AAA or even the rare [AA](https://www.cinemablend.com/games/1730910/hellblade-senuas-sacrifice-just-hit-a-major-milestone) in marketing to meld first impressions and expectations.


    ***

    One part about indie games I find interesting is that they've completely taken over the 2D games market. Especially games using pixel art. We see SquareEnix doing a bit with their HD-2D games like Octopath Traveller and the LiveALive remake but other than that I can barely think of any high budget games only using 2D assets except maybe VanillaWare games like 13 Sentinels.


    ***

    I think one of my problems with defining indie games is that I link the idea the developers with the starving artist archetype. Indie Game The Movie definitely pushed this idea, where we see the main two teams isolated, stressed and on the occasional verge of a mental collapse. When I first saw this movie, _I wanted to be like them_, I still a teenager and was more focused on the fame and success, part of me still wants to be like them, but I don't think that's possible in the same way any more.

    http://ellaguro.blogspot.com/2023/02/the-california-problem.html

    Liz Ryerson, the catalyst of this thread has released this massive and excellent blog post on the landscape of indies games over the last 15 years.

    She has provided new terms such as:
    **1CM** - One Clever Mechanic. - Think Braid, Fez it's a platformer, but you can do _x_. [size=8]_This rocked my world_[/size]
    **ⒶM** - Anarchist Maxamilism. - Mostly 90s & 00s games. Ones where there was a lot of stuff, wacky things which went against a serious tone. The silent hill dog is my brains go to example.
    **V✨B** - Vibes Based games. - Very similar to "[wholesome games](https://forums.insertcredit.com/d/2366-wholesome-games)". These focus more on visuals over systems and mechanics.
    **Altgames** - short lived movement of games which were too expirmental to be _indie_

    There is also a in depth discussion about free games. Made for passion or experimentation rather than commercialisation.

    I would recommend you read it.

    Any game made by a member of the Insert Credit forums is an indie game. All other games are classified only through letters, topping off at Triple A and going down to Single E.

    could be completely wrong about this, experienced devs on the forums please tell me if i‘m wrong, but i feel there’s a class of game where most of the gameplay experience is presented to you by a creator or a small group of creators who have a specific vision and point of view. and to a large extent what you‘re getting is an unfiltered presentation of that POV. i think of these games as indie games. and i cherish them because i mostly feel that this pure connection between creator and player isn’t really possible in legacy mediums like books or movies (e.g. amazon seems to be a huge distributor of independently written novels; an “indie” film uploaded to youtube will be bookended and interrupted by tide pod ads). for music there's bandcamp of course.

    was intrigued by some stuff brandon said on the pod relatively recently about what the growth of game pass means for indie games. i can't remember really what he said but it seemed bad

    We can close this thread now folks

    https://twitter.com/ellaguro/status/1729219507523322172

    @“穴”#p142077 What is “The Martian winning a Golden Globe for best comedy” of videogames?

    @“穴”#p142077 “indie game means pixel art” - Geoff Keighly

    A vibes-based awards show.

    Seems like indie games have joined indie music and indie movies. Indie by itself is a fairly useless term.

    indie games is when the developers have day jobs aside from working on the game