Weekend Debate: What’s your definition of an ‘indie’ game?

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UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who took part this week – I really enjoyed going through your responses! This week’s winners are as follows: BobfocRJG, RedMustang72, bradigor1981, bigmat319 and randomtrav132. Look out for a PM to your profile on the official forums in the next 24 hours or so!


The Weekend Debate

As many of you will no doubt have noticed, the indie community figured prominently in our Gamescom coverage last week, with well over 20 announcements here on PlayStation Blog of new titles coming to PS3, PS4 and PS Vita, including FEZ, Rogue Legacy, Volume, Hotline Miami 2 and Velocity 2X.

Reading your comments beneath many of these posts, my big takeaway was all the discussion over what exactly constitutes an ‘indie’ game. Is it a game with a small budget? Is it a game that’s being self-published by the developer? Is it is a game with a retro art style? Is it a game that showcases experimental and innovative ideas? Is it a game that’s only available via digital download?

To me, all of these qualifiers seem unsatisfactory in some way, and I still struggle to come up with a good answer when someone asks for an easy definition. So, over to you. How do you define what makes a game ‘indie’?

Is Minecraft an indie, even though it’s sold countless millions of copies? Is Journey an indie, even though it’s published by Sony? Are self-published MMOs like Blacklight Retribution and War Thunder indie, even though they have all the gloss and bombast you’d expect from a AAA blockbuster? Let me know your thoughts.

I’ve a nice prize for you this week. The five most thoughtful posters win themselves a super-rare, highly collectible ‘No Hurdles, Just Games’ T-shirt, created by acclaimed designer Cory Schmitz. These are not on sale anywhere, and are generally utilised as an impromptu uniform by our hard-working developer relations team when out in public! Good luck!

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  • Wow! It’s hard to define, every idea I come up with I think ‘well no this indie game isn’t like that’ but I’ve come up with my definition. An indie game is often unusual or risky and produced by small teams, they often have short developments and low budgets.

  • To me… Indie games are an opportunity for the most unexpected and imaginative creations in the Gaming industry. Seeing new and unknown developers rising up with fantastic explosions of their best ideas, coming together to form something incredible. With PlayStation, Indie Devs are finally getting their chance to shine, their glorious moment, focused on captivating the player in the most fantastic ways possible. A genre that at one time was subtle, however has now turned into a unique and flourished set of experiences that can’t be found anywhere else in the industry!

  • Well, cool prize indeed Fred :D

    Indie… To me indie does mean one ting above all: Unique experiencies provided by a small team of hard working developers (sometimes one single person).

    To me it doesn’t matter if it’s being published by a big company like SCE or sold a lot/is popular like Journey or even better, Minecraft — that doesn’t take away the conditions in which the game was created.

    For some reason I can’t seem to expand on this, so that’s it from me. Good luck everyone! :)

  • An Indie game is any game where the prominent main characters is a teacher/archeologist. He always carries a whip which is regularly used to get out of perilous situations, not for personal pleasure. This main character can be in either human or Lego form, either would be appropriate for an Indie game :)

  • This, is difficult to answer. Was thinking about it before, still got no major answers for it.

    To me, an indie game doesn’t really depend on the publisher – as indie games can easily be published by bigger companies.

    I guess I’d consider a game as “indie” if it’s developed by smaller companies. Something that’s not part of bigger franchises. Minecraft, for example, would be an indie game as it was, pretty much, created by one guy, one small group. The thing with the individual person, or small group, working on a game on their own would, to me, be considered as indie. ThatGameCompany games I’d consider indie, as they were originally a two-person team, and, whilst growing, still being a fairly small team. Again, self-published games would be indie too, as with platforms like Steam/etc it’s easy to get the games out there.

    So, yeah, that’s what I would say.

  • An indie game is where a developer has the balls to deviate from the well known comfort grounds of 1st person shooters and other common genres to create a truly unique and original experience for gamers.
    Well done for breaking away from the norm :-)

  • My definition of an Indie game is a game that is not very well known or very popular but it has a very unique art style or gameplay that is not common in the gaming community such as Journey or Super Stardust HD. Also, it is a gaming culture that is created from a small team of people with gaming knowledge e.g. Minecraft being created by one person and becoming recognised as a brilliant example of the power of a small team to create something beautiful and awe-inspiring that can match up to the AAA titles that are so commonly found in the gaming community.

  • First of all indie means: No compromises.

    True indies have no superiors, no management, no market analyzers and surveys, dictating them what their game should be about and look like.

    So indies are free to follow their very own ideals of game design, while AAA always will try to achieve a mixture and balance that satisfies and appeals as many people as possible. Resulting in graphic blenders and rarely in game design that challanges hardcore gamers.

    Indies aim to please (and master) their specific approach on a genre, everyone else tries to streamline their product. And streamlining a product rarely leaves a window open for innovation. “Perfection”, maybe. Innovation, unlikely.

    Overall the budget, the size of the developing team and especially the existence of an hierarchy and a dependency from investors determine quite well if a game is indie or not.

    Everyone self published one man game is indie.
    All games with few specialist for varying tasks are indie.
    Games for which people left their safe jobs, just for their common ideal of doing something very differently: indie.

  • Part 2:

    If Journey should still be considered an indie, no idea. Afaik Sony didn’t push them in any direction. A silent but supporting partner.
    Games as Hawken with multi-million dollar investors? Nope, no Indie.

    Minecraft was indie at the beginning. With millions of “entitled” fans, expecting their ideas to come true? No, probably not anymore.
    Notch himself described the pressure and the burden himself well enough, some days ago on http://notch.tumblr.com/

    Not interested in the prize. Imho Spelunky would have been the perfect candidate.

  • Indie games must have play ability over graphics for me, I love playing them on my Vita and I love it when devs keeps the game size small that way I can get lots of games on my precious Vita stick.

  • To me an indie game must be made by devs who are basically free to set their own creative limits. They shouldn’t be limited by any company’s marketing objectives or targets.

  • Independantly financed (donations are okay) and indepedantly published. I think the finance is the most important bit. When another party controls your budget you can hardly call yourself independant.

    A lot of people seem to consider the size of the team important, but I don’t agree. One person creating a game is no more indie to me than ten or a hundred people doing it.

    “Indie” as a genre label, for anything, annoys me. It’s not a genre. Even worse, some people treat as a badge of honour or something, as though a game is better because it’s indie or worse because it’s not. People get angry whenever I say Journey isn’t indie for that very reason.

  • I think it’s a matter that’s better settled on a conceptual level than by laying down concrete parameters. In many cases, game design today is governed by a “create by committee” process, in which a large group of people sit down and brainstorm a number of key ideas that will make their game both enjoyable to play and accessible to its target audience. In principle, don’t have a problem with that approach as it’s generated plenty of games I personally love.

    Indie development, however, takes on a ‘purer’ ilk. Whether it’s a solo dev or a small team of skilled enthusiasts, indie game creators are more inclined to craft a gameplay experience that’s true to their own vision, rather than one that’s been moulded together by the aforementioned committee process. As such, what results is a less compromising end product that’s been hand-sculpted by its creators – a personal offering that’s much more akin to a work of art, if you like.

    Does this method churn out its fair share of half-baked rubbish? Absolutely. But does it also make way for some of the most touching, innovative and unsullied experiences around? Unquestionably.

  • I would say that an indie game is a game that was made by a developer that is independent from publishers in terms of making the game. Full creative control. Ideally it would also be made without publisher funding.
    Then there is also size. Technically Valve is an “Indie Dev” since they are self-funded and self-publish. But I would consider them way too large of a company to be “indie”.
    Sometimes it’s hard to say. Mojang for example. Minecraft is “the” indie game to many people, but they’ve gone on and published other peoples games, too. What does that make them?

    It’s not easy too tell and in the end also depends on whether you take independent literally or go by the spirit of the term “indie”.

  • well an indie game can be published by a big publisher but at the end it has been developed by a team of few talented people who maybe arent big names yet in the industry but managed to get a good deal with a big publisher, i consider an indie game as a game that doesnt use much of the current game technology so maybe motion capture for example, a game that didnt have a budget as huge as popular games but still attract large audience.

    self published as well is an indie, they didnt depend much of large publishers so they depend on their own skills, and that would something to admire as well.

    So if a game in the size of Assassin’s creed maybe, let’s say assassin’s creed 1 if it was developed by an indie studio would that be an indie game? i think yea it would be.

  • It’s hard to nail down just what it is that makes a game come under ‘indie’ in the gaming world. I can only really share my thoughts on what I believe makes a game indie as its definitely going to be a personal opinion.

    I tend to categorise something as ‘indie’ if it is trying something new and different, either visually, gameplay or experience wise. I tend to feel they provide a unique experience that I haven’t ever had and when finished, leave me feeling refreshed as a gamer

    In an age where sequels are ‘safe’ same for publishers and wheeled out by the dozen, a well loved and crafted Indie game is usually an absolute pleasure to play. Often leaving you hungry for just a little bit more of it.

    A breath of fresh air in an often smoggy market, if you will.

  • To me an indie game is one that does not have a deep storyline. You don’t necessarily get the chance to build deep and long lasting relationships with the characters. It’s a type of game that could be played in short bursts, ready to be picked up where you left off. Indie games tend to be cheaper as a result of being the target of a wide audience. They are designed to be played by anyone, unless of course they contain violence etc. such as Hotline Miami (loved this game). I hope my answer is useful enough. It’s definitely tough to describe exactly what an indie game is. Good luck everyone.

  • I also love it when publishers take the risk, its rare but its refreshing to know there are some big wigs out there that spot the diamonds in the rough and give the little guys a go…

    … in some sense, the ‘indie’ culture very much drives the future of gaming as these little developers are the ones taking the real risks, more for pleasure than profit.

    I absolutely applaud Steam for its Greenlight project, it means gamers get to choose what they want to play and become part of an indie developers drive.

    PC gaming has always had a huge ‘indie outlet’ and for sony to recognise the market more and really focus on it for next gen… only good things can come surely.

  • An indie game to me is when a game is conceived and created without thoughts about cost, sales or return.
    It is when one person or a group of people share an idea and put it out to the world to see no matter what.
    They are not thinking of making mega bucks or being number one, they just have a unique creative vision that they think people would like to experience.

  • Indie to me is when its a make or break game from a small team of developers.
    Something they have put their heart in and could ultimately destroy them financially if it doesnt do well.
    Some of the most inovative ideas have come from Indie developers and they are great to play in short bursts on my vita when i have 5-10 mins between cleaning the house and getting the children sorted.

  • To me an ‘indie’ is a game that is made by quite often the most underrated developers, it’s a game that may not last 10+ hours to complete but is still able to tell a story that can still able to throw you emotionally and give you a gaming experience you won’t forget. ‘Indie’ love!

  • Indie games are the raw talent of the industry. They always remind me of unknown solo artists or bands playing local gigs, struggling to fund studio time and grow a fan base – some will make it, sadly some won’t, but that is the nature of any industry.

    Generally made without publisher finance, true, self-published, retro, digital…all can be hallmarks of an indie game, but innovation and imagination are the exciting aspects of the indie endeavour. Whether it be one persons dream or small teams of motivated devs, the creativity and determination to deliver something exciting and new to the gaming library can, and often do, put huge AAA titles and their publishers to shame.

    Freedom of expression, fearless risk and the ability to realize a vision are the elements that make so many unique indie games an absolute pleasure. Often raw and rough around the edges, they still manage to produce some outstanding work whilst avoiding the pitfalls of major budgets and bottom lines. You don’t always need £100m to make a great game, a labour of love is often more satisfying and I genuinely think some of the big names in the industry could learn a real lesson here.

    Anyway, who doesn’t like pick and mix?! ;)

  • What is an indie game?

    Of course, it’s massively difficult to create a good definition for such a broad category, but my definition is this:

    An indie game is a unique and innovative title, created by a small developer, that does not contain guns, cars or a sport.

    No, seriously. You can count on one hand the launch titles for PS4 and Xbox One that don’t contain one (or more) of guns, cars or sports. But true indie titles swim against the mainstream.

    An indie game is focused, above all, on creating a unique, creative and innovative experience for the player. An indie game is not made to make money for the developer – rather, it reflects the developer’s passion for the unique experiences that only video games can provide. There are numerous ways to do this, of course – it could be an ‘arty’ game like Journey, an experimental title like Thomas Was Alone, a retro title like Braid, or simply a creative fun-filled game like Joe Danger. Of course, the development team has to be independent, and small- to medium-size. But the most important thing is that it is not yet another hyper-violent shooter, a racing game, or a licensed sports title.

    So there you go. No guns, cars or sports? You’ve got an indie game.

  • An Indie game is a game made from the heart.
    Since Indie devs are comprised of people with similar aspirations, the goals they seek to achieve are from the heart. This is because they made an effort to stand out from the crowd. They pushed themselves to become a game developer in their spare time. Generally gamers themselves, Indie games are formed from experience and utilize the best of gaming if done by a talented team.

    This can be seen in the typical aesthetics and gameplay mechanics of an Indie game

  • As with what A_Nonny_Moose said, indie isn’t a genre (although if it was, Journey would totally be a part of it ^^).

    Say if Activision developed Velocity, nobody would brand it as the indie gem as it is (although I somehow think some would go out their way to call it a CoD clone…). Indie is defined by the developer. In Velocity’s case, the superb Futurlab.

    Best way I’d put it is independent from specific business targets. Obviously, income is an incentive but it’s not with a deliberate intention to make a fortune- the game always comes first. If these people make the jump to a big company and retain their roots, they are no longer independent but rather idealists (just so you know not all big companies throw gameplay out the window).

    Then of course, there’s always the possibility indies are just folk still mourning the passing of C64 days…

  • Uplink by Introversion is what I’d class as a good contextual example of “Indie”.

    Bought it on release day what feels like around 12 years ago. It could only be purchased through their own website which was staffed by a small dev team, I might have even had to pay by cheque or PO and im pretty certain the devs even had a hand in packing and sending out the jewel case games.

    Contextual in that as Fred alluded to gamer’s of our age have seen the term Indie evolve into something which no longer represents our definition of it. Viral media, social media, internet distribution, indie marketplaces on consoles as mainstream as 360, Tablet gaming/Google Play and kickstarters have changed the face of Indie……in some cases for the better but in alot of cases for the worse.

    The 360 Indie marketplace and Google play are good examples of mass quantity over quality, I’ve seen many a dev completely abuse kickstarters setting them up when they could quite easily use funds from what were profitable prior releases and social media is a reflection of what’s “trending” and successful not necessarily what’s good.

  • Very well chosen and interesting topic Fred ;)
    I think that, like it happened with the “indie” scene in the music and film industries years ago, “indie” is becoming a gaming genre (like action/adventure, etc). It’s no longer about the budget constraints, the small team, the unknown studio name, it’s about the “feeling”, the “indie factor”. I personally love indie music/films and I’m starting to love the indie games. Their originality, their out of the box thinking, their passion. We’re now reaching a very cool milestone in the industry, where we have all these “indie” games directly competing with the big guys for our attention and, surprisingly, winning some of the battles. For me Journey was the big “indie” hit that set the tone for the next 10 years in the industry. Here you have a game that is nothing like those AAA titles, a game focused on the emotions it can evoke from the player rather than the cheap thrills of a headshot. A game made by a smaller team with a smaller budget (and a little (big) support from a “friend” :p).And it was game of the year for a lot of people. How cool was that? We <3 devs indeed!

  • A game made by a person or team who have complete independence to make it how they see fit, not answerable to a larger company or management structure within their own time and budget constraints as they set them (or don’t as the case may be)

    Journey is indie I believe, Sony saw its potential and picked it up but as far as im aware the game is the original teams in its entirety.

    I’d like to know who and to what level Hideo Kojima answers to. Could Metal Gear Solid be an indie game in my definition? Do konami have a hand in it or does Hideo run the entire thing independently to his own vision?

  • You better have my size Fred (but hey I’m not totally obese) LOL!

    To me, aside from being created by an independent team, the simplicity of the concept is what makes a game an indie(example: in Journey you had one goal: reach the mountain)but does having a simple concept mean having a lacking experience? NO! It’s absolutely the other way around (Journey is my favorite experience this generation.

    Indies give fresh new tastes we desperately need, yup, nowadays gaming experiences (mostly) feel similar to each other. INDIES ARE THE SAVIORS, and I <3 them.

  • My definition of an indie games is based on the trophy list. if it has a platinum trophy its not an indie game, if it doesnt it is.

    doesnt matter anyway, indie games suck.

  • For me, it mostly comes down to pricing and the genre. I’d say an indie game would cost anything under £20, and that’s at a push. Some of the best-selling indies like Fez and Minecraft were released under that price. There’s the fact that they don’t cost massive amounts unlike big series such as Grand Theft Auto, too, which is a contributing factor to their low price. I find that an indie is classified by its genre and how experimental it is. The best indies are the ones that stand out – that’s why you don’t see first-person shooters or racers, but again that’s probably a resulting factor of the price. I’d also say that games can be classified as indies for their unique storytelling methods or emotional draw. Most games tell a story through ‘story-cutscene-story’ methods, but indie games often have a rather different way of displaying their stories – think Braid and Journey, which told great stories without resorting to traditional storytelling methods of games.

  • @Terarded; Does that mean Call of Duty 4 was an indie game? That didn’t have a platinum trophy.

    NB No need to point out it had no trophies at all…

  • Indie, I believe it comes from the word independant, so naturally iIbelieve that it means to be a game from an independant and self-publishing company, with that said I know that indies are now being shown more light due to just being able to take creativity and gameplay together without ever having to really focus on a specific genre, it basically is a game that is enjoyable and never attempt to target a specific audience.

    so probably the best way to describe an indie game is a game that is created by a limited but dedicated team to bring you the best of a creative vision for everyone to enjoy.

  • To me, an indie game is one that is imaginative and creative. No indie game can ever follow the pathway built by large devs to the exhausted gun-filled zone of Battlefield and COD etc.
    What makes an indie game is the less experienced, intuitive devs who spend hours upon hours of time building a dream into virtual reality not for revenues but for their own personal enjoyment and gain.
    This is what makes an indie game so different and fun to play!

  • An indie game is the result of a fusion between two concepts:

    The love for gaming, a hobby that started some time ago, be it 10 months or 10 years that slowly, for the rich worlds it creates, the amazing characters and the fun experience it gives, conquered our hearts.
    And the desire to build something new, something different and something fresh, or just replicate a game that we wished there were more like it.
    When this ideas collide, indie games are born, games made out of love for gaming that try something new and different or imitate in some way a game people are so fond of.
    That’s why we seem games like Rogue Legacy that have something of castlevania feel with the elements of roguelikes, but also games like Octodad that there’s nothing like it.

    That’s what I think anyway.

  • When I first heard that word i thought they were talking about Indians :D damn those people had talents, *i thought :D

  • A game without a Triple A budget but can surprise you with how lovingly hand crafted and how much thought and passion has gone into it.

  • People struggle with the definition because it doesn’t really mean anything.

    In the same way as I don’t like the words “Core” or “Casual”, I don’t really like the term indie.
    If looks like a game,sounds like a game and most importantly plays like a game, it’s just a game.
    Be it a free to play Sim City knock off or the TLOU, I see no difference outside of the type of gameplay they both deliver.

    I think the term is now used like AAA, or Core/Casual. It’s just a way of defining a market and drawing attention to a product.

  • A game with awful graphics and stuff that doesn’t interest me, please don’t hate me it’s just my opinion I just don’t get this sudden interest in these type of games, my ps3 is an indie free zone and so my ps4 will be to.

  • It’s almost a dying definition.

    There are some amazing producers out there that of course claim to be, and claim to be proud of being, an Indie developer.

    Self funded, hundreds of hours of tears, sweat and blood poured into a game they probably dreamt of after watching hours of popcorn-flick movies.

    But the essential thing about Indie games is the quality. With no funding – and therefor limited exposure, and even less publicity; Indie developers know for sure their game has to be the best it can be in order to attract word-of-mouth publicity. This is probably the most vital ingredient for most Indie games.

    And in honesty, a lot of IG’s have been, to me, a better experience both in terms of gameplay, and immersion than a lot of so called AAA titles – who’s company’s seem to believe that once they’ve released a title that’s successful, all they have to do is copy the same blueprint and release the same game under the title “Sequel”.

  • A indie game is that game which has not been marketed much , but gains popularity through word of mouth and reviews. its bit sized nature and cute retro graphics and engaging gameplay with enough depth to satisfy hardcore gamers is what makes indie games shine among the dust from factory pipeline produced games.

  • A game created by a small development team whereby the security of the company relies heavily upon the success of the game in production. Due to their often limited budgets, indie games regularly offer innovative gameplay mechanics and/or graphical styles to compete with blockbuster titles that feature cutting-edge 3D graphics

  • I have always thought we spend too long trying to categorise games. There are always so many varying opinions that it is hard to have a right or wrong answer. Just play the games.

    And a game featuring Indiana Jones is usually the first thought that comes to my mind when an indie game is mentioned.

  • True indie is a Game made with Love. It’s not made to please masses but made by devs to tell their story. That’s been lately difference between AAA and indie. That’s also why Vita keeps getting so many indies – they are both about Love. :D

  • The definition can’t really be debated. Indie means independent.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with retro art, budget or the size an scope of a game. Even if most indie games are smaller productions.

    Games developed independently from a publishing label is an indie game. Just like in music where you have sub-genres like indie rock. Indie music means not tied to a record label.

    If daddy hands you a cool 50 million bucks and you go create a huge AAA blockbuster that you market and publish yourself it would still be an indie game.

    Journey is not an indie game by any stretch of the definition. It is (partially?) funded by Sony and there would never have been the Journey we know today if not for the tech wizards at Santa Monica Studio. This game had funding as well as tech help. Was it not for Sony money and Santa Monica Studio know-how Journey would never, ever have ended up as the game we got (Great game, but not indie in any way).

    Please, let’s stop trying to define something that’s already clearly defined. Indie has only one meaning and there’s no point in debating it. You can’t stretch the definition or try to add your own spin when the definition has been clearly defined for years.

  • It’s indie when EA is not involved.

  • If it’s a game developed in the last couple of years that has two-dimensional crappy 8-bit graphics/sprites that wouldn’t look out of place on a Speccy or C64, then it’s an Indie game.

    As for people calling the games ‘innovative, fresh and exciting’….erm no – they were doing the same thing (or better) 30+ years ago, and alot of the time it was just one programmer doing most of the work themselves – unless they got Rob Hubbard or David Whittaker in for the music.

  • My definition of an indie-game is this: simple, clean, fun and lots of replay value. AAA titles are on a large scale, with lots of detail to them and usually very complex, in both aesthetics and construction. What I find with Indie games however, are that because they don’t have the same level of funding, they have to choose key elements that will define their title, and get them across in the most effective manner possible.

    This usually ends up being a simple and clean artistic style, as seen in Thomas Was Alone, and then deciding upon a key gameplay element which they work to make as enjoyable as possible, and at the same time which will allow the player to replay in the future.

    This differentiates themselves from the AAA titles, because a player can simply pick up the controller, load up the game, and just play, without any of the strings that usually tie people down when player a big-budget game.

    A good example of this is playing Heavy Rain in comparison to Limbo, the first requiring a lot of attention to the story as well as the quality of aesthetics, the second allowing you to simply play without requiring a great deal of thought by the player.

  • When I think of indie game the movie correlation I have is that of an art film- for me indie games are made by people who don’t work in 500 strong companies, they don’t have art teams consisting of 20 people and they don’t have the budget to do a blockbuster movie.

    On the other hand, they are passionate people who want to express themselves in the games medium and they will go to great lengths to achieve it.

    In my view, the first indie games were flash games e.g. on newgrounds etc. Where you would get new interesting mechanics, story telling devices all thought up by small teams of people working in collaboration.

    I don’t think indie developers, when making a game, think ‘how much money is that going to make me?’ or ‘I should change that section to make it appeal to more people’. On the other hand they will pursue their creative vision and the advantage is that they don’t have anyone to answer to.

    I think they push the gaming medium in new and interesting directions and need to be supported by the console manufacturers to ensure our hobby becomes even more varied and entertaining. GO INDIE!

  • Usually I class an indie game as one of those games that look retro. But of course I know it means independent devs working in small teams.

    There are some games that I don’t class as Indie games even though they are like Jacob jones and The walking Dead, As these games are in 3D and feel like they were made by a big developer.

    But overall i zm not really a fan of indie games unless they are 3D with voice actors really

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