What is an Indie Game and Why Should You Care?
Indie games are all the rage right now and they’re only getting more popular with each passing year. But what is an indie game? Well, the name pretty much tells you everything you need to know about these types of games. The term ‘indie’ is just a shortened version of ‘independent’ and indicates that the developers not only created the game but also took care of the marketing and everything else that's required to successfully launch a new title. In other words, an indie game is made without the help of a publisher.
What is a Game Publisher?
The point above is very important to note when asking what is an indie game. Most of the big developers you know and love (and by extension their games) rely on publishers. Why? Well, publishers handle the marketing and distribution, among other things. If the publisher owns the development studio that’s creating a certain game, it is also responsible for funding the project. And paying the devs. In short, publishers take care of the financial aspect.
In addition, a lot of the time publishers also own the IP to the game they are funding. If you’ve ever wondered why EA makes all the Star Wars games right now, it’s because they were given exclusive rights by Disney. Unfortunately, EA is a classic example of a company that took advantage of that power with titles like Battlefront. EA knew full well that fans of the franchise would buy it anyway since no other company was allowed to create Star Wars games. It goes without saying that publishers have a lot of power in the gaming industry.
The Challenges of Independent Game Development
As you can undoubtedly tell by now, launching games without a publisher isn’t exactly easy. Sure, indie devs have more freedom and can be more creative. However, securing all the necessary funds and licenses (when creating a game based on an existing IP) is quite challenging. So why do more and more developers choose the indie route anyway? For many developers, creative freedom is simply that important. More important than having the financial security (and potential drawbacks) that come when partnering with a game publisher.
This is particularly true when it comes to the big AAA publishers like EA, Activision-Blizzard or Ubisoft. To name just a few examples. Big-name publishers have become increasingly more predatory with their business models in recent times. As I'm sure you all know by now. Consequently, many developers are asked to make compromises in order to focus primarily on recurring monetization. That’s not exactly ideal if you’re a developer that puts passion in your work.
There seems to be a direct correlation between this increased focus on monetization by AAA publishers and the desire of more and more developers to go indie. That's obviously not a coincidence. Another reason for the increased popularity of indie games can be attributed to crowdfunding platforms.
Nowadays developers don’t have to rely on publishers as much thanks to places like Kickstarter and Indiegogo. These platforms, along with a few others, allow gamers to directly fund the games they want to see made. They also give many developers an alternative to working with publishers. Based on what we’ve seen over the past few years, more and more developers are choosing this route. And who can blame them?
What is an Indie Game?
By now you already know the answer to this question but I’m bringing it up again because there’s an important distinction to be made here. A lot of folks think of indie titles as cute little games with retro graphics created by one or two people. While this can be the case at times, indie games are much than that these days. Games like Divinity: Original Sin 2, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Cuphead, SOMA or Hollow Knight are pretty far from that definition.
Some of the best looking and innovative titles in recent memory were developed independently. The indie games of today can be just as impressive as the AAA ones in pretty much every department. So, if you enjoy indie games make sure to support the developers who make them because they are the ones truly pushing the industry forward at the moment.