The idea for this post original came out of E3, but I’ve been struggling to sit down and actually write it, probably because the topic is so vast and already somewhat politicized. I had the gist of what I wanted to say, I just needed to find the right way to tie it all together, but make sure I didn’t leave anything out. If you feel that I did, that might not be a bad thing because I welcome discussion on the topic, so feel free to comment if you have something to add.
Indie is still a somewhat nebulous term in the video game world, and I think that part of what makes it hard to define is part of what makes it important. Is indie an aesthetic, or a financial structure? Does a million dollar startup with backing from a publisher like Sony still qualify as indie? What about studios that concentrate on established genres? What if you aren’t making a 2D retro-style platformer with pixel art and a twee chiptune soundtrack? Does the behemoth called Minecraft still count as indie?
To my mind, I think it’s most useful to define “indie” as broadly as possible: a game that is made outside of a corporate production and distribution system. Yes, there is a cottage industry built up around the camp of “indie” and all the major console makers took great pains to champion their indie line ups for the next year at E3. But at its core, indie is just that: independent.
No board of directors. No share holders. No gigantic in-house marketing firms.
Just passionate people making games.
And to me this is what really makes them important. Not the fact that there is now a “market” for independent games and that anyone with a little coding know how and a dream can make and sell their game and make millions. That’s not going to happen any more. At least not with the frequency it seemed to when Indie Game The Movie came out. The bubble is bursting and anyone counting on hitting it big outside of the studio is system is in for a big shock. Which isn’t to say you can’t make a living making games independently anymore. Just that the monster hits are going to be even fewer and farther between.
But that’s all beside the point because, to me, what makes indie games important is freedom. The freedom to go outside the box of “what sells,” and try something a little different. Obviously, indie devs want their games to find an audience and they need to be able to eat and keep a roof over their heads, but not having shareholders and quarterly reports and a millions cooks in the kitchen means that independent game developers are better equipped to innovate. To show that games with diverse characters and themes have a place in the games market and in peoples’ collections. Indie game makers get to take the risks the big guys can’t.
So why do indies matter to us, the game players? They matter because without the giant superstructure of a AAA game game maker, there are no gatekeepers between us and the people making our games. We can speak directly with the game devs and let them know what you want the future of games to look like. You can vote with your dollars, directly supporting the people shaping what games can and will be. And if we can make those games into successes, then the AAA world will have to take notice.
Or maybe they won’t.
But with new and innovative and inclusive games to play, maybe that won’t matter.