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Report article RSS Feed Indie games - The meaning of "Indie"

Posted by Metalspy on Jul 11th, 2011

Lately the use of "indie" (or "indy" as some people spell it) has started to annoy me. People seem to have forgotten the meaning of the word "indie". The so-called indie supporters praise every game developed by a small development team, regardless of the quality of the game, and bash the big gaming companies such as the much hated Activision/Blizzard because supposedly this company only makes and publishes games for the profits and is therefor not indie. I'm not a huge fan of Activision/Blizzard either, or any other big company for that matter, but saying that the company sucks for not being indie is non sense. In the first place because this reason is obviously a bogus (and childish) reason to hate a company. In the second place because Activision/Blizzard actually and ironically enough is an - and possibly the biggest - indie developer. For those of you who say "Stop talking crap D:", let me explain.

"Indie (developer)" originally comes from the word "Independent", meaning that the development team does not receive (financial) support from an external publisher, such as EA games, Activision/Blizzard Bethesda Softworks or Tripwire Interactive. As far as I know most indie teams do most if not all of their marketing and PR themselves. Usually these independent development teams are small ones, yes, making small-scale games compared to AAA games for lower prices than the average AAA game. In most cases these games are distributed by digital means, such as Steam or Desura. Activision/Blizzard however, besides being a publisher, also develops and distributes its own games without the help of an external publisher. It has enough money to do this all by itself. This makes Activision/Blizzard by definition an indie developer. Valve is another example of a large company that also is an indie developer.

Starcraft II The Ball
Starcraft II - Indie The Ball - Not indie

So please think twice before you start bashing Activision/Blizzard as a self-proclaimed indie supporter. It makes you look ignorant, which you very well could've been before reading this. Although most small development teams are indie, that doesn't mean that every indie team is a small company/studio.

Oh, and being all into indie games, or pretending you are, doesn't instantly make you one of the cool kids. "Indie" isn't some kind of special status, which is something certain people seem to think. It just says something about the fact that there is no external publisher involved. My advice: stay true to your own preferences and support and play games because you think they are interesting and entertaining, not because they are 'indie'.

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zamaziko Jul 12 2011 says:

well i don't hate blizzard for those reasons.i hate them for something far sinister that they did in the past...

but back to the blog i think you are totally right indie games and AAA games should be treated by the same way.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Drown_ Jul 16 2011 says:

Actually I never saw it that way, I always linked homemade games to the blurry term "indie" , small studios were automatically indie, but this post cleares it up, very well done. THe fact that activision is "indie" per definition made me stun, that was the alst thing I expected.

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Metalspy Author
Metalspy Jul 16 2011 replied:

Haha yeah it's pretty funny. Of course this is the way I see it, there are probably people that have arguments which imply Activision/Blizzard isn't indie, but as far as I know it really is indie if you look at the definition.

+2 votes   reply to comment
Dragonlord Jul 18 2011 replied:

I don't think you can simplify it like that. We had recently a guy at an IGDA chapter meeting which talked about the game-making-spider-web as it is in use today. And that's quite different than a couple of years ago where this definition held true. Nowadays "independent" has an entire different scale than it had back then since A, AA and AAA developers sitting in that spider-web are anything else but independent anymore. So really independent only works anymore for developers of A or less as otherwise you are dependent and be it only to the leader board or your shareholders. There exists even a law in America which allows shareholders to sue the company if they don't do games which are "obviously" a cash-cow. Thus doing interesting (albeit more risky) games draws out of their reach. They are thus no more independent as they can no more decide on their own what they want to do. True indies are thus only thus really not dependent on anybody else in the spider-web (including shareholders) except the distributor (Desura for example) as they really go out of their way to try something different which non-indies can not do as otherwise they have to fear being sued if it doesn't turn into a cash-cow.

But as you mentioned there are different definitions although on the Indie lists I've seen so far somebody like Activion/Blizzard is not listed which I think makes sense as their developers are not independent.

Clearly incorrect though is the use of the term Indie for those making games for free instead of selling them. One has nothing to do with the other. Indie is about independence and size not what you charge for a game.

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Metalspy Author
Metalspy Jul 19 2011 replied:

Hmm I thought Blizzard developed their games themselves? I was mainly talking about Blizzard, but since Activision and Blizzard merged I had to call it Activision/BLizzard.

I still suppose you're right, but I just can't stand the 'indie-trend' and the fact that some people think they're cool just because they support 'indie games', no matter if the game is good or bad. And I like to stick with original definitions when it comes to language. (Imagine keeping the same definitions of variables in code..) So yeah this blog entry was also kind of to vent my frustration ;)

Anyway, thanks for your comment, much appreciated. I did not know about that law in the US, which is a really ridiculous one in my opinion. And by the way, now, that I think about it, if you're saying share-holders make a studio dependent I'd go as far as saying there are no indie studios at all, because in the end they are all dependent on gamers ;) Without gamers there would be no point in developing games.

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Dragonlord Jul 22 2011 replied:

Not quite correct though. In economics gamers are your "customers". This is different from share-holders and investors. "Being dependent" only applies to the up-chain direction not the down-chain direction if the customer is right under you. Of course you are depending on the money of your customers to exist but this is not the kind of dependence the term refers to. Towards your share-holders/investors you are dependent since they give you money to rack in money. And this "give you money" is the key point if somebody is independent or not. Thus a company with share-holders/investors is dependent on the share-holders in the economic sense (if they recall their money you are toast). This is also why correctly an Indie doing fund-raising is actually no more an Indie since he commits itself "into dependance of the investors". But this is not a stone-written rule so different people are going to view this situation differently. For sure those at the last IGDA meeting would still consider themselves independent although actually they are not. If they fail to deliver the investors are going to chew them over. So I am for example really independent as I've no investors nor share-holders on my back.

That said there is a special case: contract work. If you do contract work then the contract partner is actually a "customer" so actually down-chain. Theoretically this would mean independent but on the other hand the contract partner is also up-chain as he finances the project. It's a sort of 50% dependance and shows how difficult it is to juggle the term "independent" correclty in the end.

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Metalspy Author
Metalspy Jul 22 2011 replied:

Hmm true true.. wow this indie thing is actually quite complicated if you really want to go by the/a definition. I think one of my points still stands though, being that there are far less actually independent developers than people think. Anyway, I don't really know what to reply, other than "thanks for the explanation", it's always nice to learn something new. Being an independent developer isn't as 'black and white' as I always had in mind and as the original definition suggests, which I should've thought of myself of course because almost nothing is ever that simple.

+2 votes   reply to comment
DangerousCat Aug 3 2011 says:

OMG! THE TERRANS NUKE THEMSELVES!1111 NO!1111 WHY???/1 A couple of zerglings don't deserve it! =(

I agree with all what you said.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Joe_Shmoe Aug 5 2011 says:

Wow... pretty interesting read... I was about to agree with metal, but then Drag made a whole lot more sense.

In the end, indie really is more a product of passion... Pretty much like a mod. Something you do on your own, in your own time on your own budget.

Come to think of it, does Wolfire qualify as an Indie team since they offer a preorder? essentially the preorder serves as an investment from the consumer right?

+2 votes     reply to comment
Metalspy Author
Metalspy Aug 5 2011 replied:

The point here actually is that the term 'indie' has nothing to do with passion or the number of people working on a project or anything. It's used that way nowadays, yes, but that's not what 'indie' really (originally) meant, which is kind of what I was trying to say.

+2 votes   reply to comment
macacos2 Sep 26 2011 says:

Wasn't EA the publisher of L4D2?

Doesn't that make Valve not indie?

+1 vote     reply to comment
Metalspy Author
Metalspy Sep 27 2011 replied:

I've heard that one before, but as far as I could find EA was the distributor, not the publisher. It would make Valve not-indie if EA is publishing their games, yes.

Of course they would still be creators of indie games because they made a couple of games without having an 'external' publisher. So they would be a non-indie studio with indie games! ... I think.

+1 vote   reply to comment
CMDKeen Sep 29 2011 says:

Yes, that is what the word "indie" originally meant. But language evolves, just like everything else. If everyone uses the word in a wrong way, it's meaning changes. It has happened with "indie" just like with the term "AAA". They are basically antonyms now.

+1 vote     reply to comment
moci Dec 5 2011 says:

I hope the hype settles down soon enough and we can all move on without looking at the next breakout/asteroids clone developer begging for our money.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Smoth Jan 4 2012 says:

Didn't you hear, being into indies is the new "before it was big" hipster idiot crowd..

Nothing is new not even this indie fad.

+1 vote     reply to comment
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