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Is it time to move away from the term ‘indie’?

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Stuff | Posted on 08-06-2012

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What does it actually mean to be indie anyway? Yes, technically, to be indie simply means you are independent, but in the context of talking about ‘indie games’ the word carries more baggage than simply the lack of publisher.

To some, ‘indie’ is literally just short for ‘independent’ which qualifies Valve as an indie studio. Others deem Mojang as ‘not really indie any more’ purely on the basis that they’ve made loads of money. Personally, I’ve always had a rather hazy definition where ‘indie’ is kind of a subset of independent studios – basically if you have full-time staff, you’re now independent. The trouble with a definition like that is that there is some perceived value in being indie – like the indie scene is where the cool kids play and to be indie is therefore to be cool. But if the term includes everyone from Joe Bloggs making a game for shits and giggles right up to Valve, then there’s practically no meaning to the term what-so-ever. So what’s the point of it at all?

As much as there’s a positive element to being indie, there’s also a drawback. It’s really not at all uncommon to find people questioning, “why is an indie game more than $15?” because obviously it couldn’t possibly be worth that if it’s indie, right? There’s no way the game could have cost a sufficient amount to fund that it would warrant a price tag like that – heck, many argue that if you’re a proper indie your game should be free, “I thought you guys were doing this for love?”

It all comes down to everyone having different ideas what it means, both within gamers and developers. And while there’s confusion and no concrete definition, it’s going to remain an almost entirely useless term.

That said, what being indie does somewhat consistently say, is some sort of development philosophy – openness with your user-base and willingness to tackle niche markets. That said, there’s nothing to stop you from calling yourself indie, tucking yourself behind a pseudo-corporate wall, and making a Farmville-clone – and you’d have every right to call yourself such. So even that hazy general-philosophy angle comes with the caveat, “well… most of them are like that. Probably. I haven’t done extensive research.”

There wouldn’t be a problem at all with any of this, if the term wasn’t so damn in vogue. With so much disillusionment with the commercial industry, DRM, online requirements, price tags, etc, there’s never been a better time to say, “hey! We’re not like those guys! We’re indie! Support us!” – and maybe that’s all it does mean: “We don’t really know what we are, we just know what we’re not. We’re not THEM”.