Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Meaning of Indie. Again.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 23, 2012

If you focus on the history, the gist of what ‘indie’ means is pretty simple.  Once upon a time, the big, bad publishers had a pretty solid (but never total) lock on being a gatekeeper for customers. If you wanted to make games that had an audience, you almost had to go through them. Almost. The exceptions were the indies.  They were the “little guys” who were finding ways of getting their games to customers without going through this giant infrastructure erected by the big-money publishers.

Today, the walls the gatekeepers once erected are a lot more porous than they once were, and they are a lot more willing to cut deals than they were back in the day. The challenge of getting one’s game to retail  is… well, what’s ‘retail?’  But the indies are still the ones doing it their own way.  But with all the changes to the industry, it’s easy to lose sight of what “indie games” really are.

Craig Stern takes a crack at defining “indie.”

I’ve kinda given up on any kind of strict definition, because the field is so inclusive (in my view), and feels like more of a spectrum. But Craig does a pretty good job of narrowing it down to something fairly reasonable. I have quibbles, of course – anybody will if they have any kind of opinion. But it’s a commendable job, and aligns pretty well with my own working definition. I think that his explanation of what indie is actually more important.

The thing is – it’s really just all this stuff in the margins that is causing the confusion. The majority of “indie” games are pretty easy to identify.  When it’s a couple of guys (or girls) you’ve never heard of making some really weird 2D game on a shoestring budget and releasing it online – that’s clearly indie. No fuss, no muss.  It’s when you have games with budgets in the mid-six-figures with up-front Microsoft deals and stuff that things start getting confusing. And when you have high-stakes competitions like the IGF (where the winners tend to gain a lot more than just prize money), then you’ll get a lot of people pushing the boundaries as far as they can. It’s only natural.


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