Tue. Jul 16th, 2024

When it comes to video games, the term “indie” has become synonymous with small, innovative, and unique titles that often go against the grain of mainstream gaming. However, while indie games are all the rage, there are still some titles that fall outside of this category. But what makes a game not indie? In this article, we’ll explore the criteria for independent game development and take a closer look at the factors that determine whether a game can be considered indie or not. So, let’s dive in and discover what makes a game truly independent!

Defining Indie Games

Characteristics of Indie Games

Indie games are typically characterized by their small development teams, limited resources, creative freedom, and emphasis on innovation and originality. These features are often contrasted with those of mainstream or AAA games, which are typically developed by larger studios with more significant budgets and may focus on more established genres and franchises.

Small Development Teams

One of the most significant defining features of indie games is the small size of their development teams. Indie developers often work in small groups, sometimes even as solo creators, in contrast to AAA games, which can have hundreds of people working on them. This allows indie developers to be more agile and responsive to feedback, enabling them to create games that are more unique and personal.

Limited Resources

Indie developers often have limited resources, both in terms of funding and personnel. This means that they must be creative in how they approach game development, often using free or low-cost tools and assets to create their games. This resource constraint can also lead to more innovative solutions, as developers are forced to think outside the box to create engaging experiences with limited means.

Creative Freedom

Indie developers typically have more creative freedom than their AAA counterparts. Without the pressure to meet the demands of publishers or adhere to strict franchise guidelines, indie developers can explore new ideas and take risks that might not be possible in a larger development environment. This creative freedom often results in games that are more unique and original, as developers are not constrained by industry norms or expectations.

Emphasis on Innovation and Originality

Indie games often prioritize innovation and originality over established formulas or franchises. This focus on creating something new and different can lead to exciting and unexpected experiences that push the boundaries of what games can be. Indie developers are not bound by the expectations of publishers or the demands of established franchises, allowing them to take risks and explore new ideas in their games.

The Indie Game Movement

  • The emergence of indie game development can be traced back to the early 2000s, when independent developers began creating games using affordable game development tools and sharing their creations online.
  • The growth of the indie game scene has been fueled by advances in technology, the rise of digital distribution platforms, and a growing demand for diverse and innovative games.
  • Indie game festivals and showcases, such as the Independent Games Festival and the Game Developers Conference, have provided a platform for indie developers to showcase their work and connect with industry professionals.
  • The indie game movement has also been bolstered by a strong community of developers, players, and enthusiasts who share a passion for independent game development and promotion.

Criteria for Independent Game Development

Key takeaway: Indie games are characterized by their small development teams, limited resources, creative freedom, and emphasis on innovation and originality. Financial independence, control over the development process, and marketing and distribution are crucial criteria for independent game development. Factors that can make a game less indie include increased budgets and resources, creative constraints, and the loss of independence.

Financial Independence

One of the key criteria for a game to be considered independent is financial independence. This means that the game’s development is not reliant on funding from a large publisher or corporation. Instead, independent game developers must find alternative sources of funding to finance their projects.

There are several ways that independent game developers can achieve financial independence. One option is to generate revenue from game sales. This can be done through traditional retail channels, as well as digital distribution platforms like Steam, the App Store, and Google Play. Independent game developers can also earn revenue from in-game purchases, microtransactions, and DLC (downloadable content).

Another way that independent game developers can achieve financial independence is through crowdfunding and support from backers. This involves launching a campaign on a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, where supporters can pledge money to help fund the development of the game. In exchange for their support, backers may receive early access to the game, exclusive merchandise, or other perks.

Grants and sponsorships from organizations can also be a source of funding for independent game developers. Many organizations, including government agencies and non-profit groups, offer grants and funding opportunities for independent game developers. Additionally, some companies and organizations offer sponsorships or partnerships to independent game developers, providing funding and resources in exchange for promotion or other benefits.

Overall, achieving financial independence is a crucial aspect of independent game development. By finding alternative sources of funding, independent game developers can maintain creative control over their projects and pursue their vision without the influence of large publishers or corporations.

Control over Development Process

Independent game development, or “indie” game development, is characterized by a high degree of control over the development process. This control extends to decision-making power within the development team, flexibility in project timelines and scope, and the freedom to experiment with new ideas and mechanics.

  • Decision-making power in the development team: In an indie game development context, the team members are often self-selected and work together voluntarily. This allows for a high degree of trust and shared vision among team members, which can facilitate quick decision-making processes. The lack of bureaucratic red tape can lead to more efficient and effective decision-making, which can be critical in the fast-paced world of game development.
  • Flexibility in project timelines and scope: Indie game developers often have the luxury of working on projects that they are passionate about, without the pressure of meeting the demands of a publisher or investor. This can lead to a greater degree of flexibility in project timelines and scope, as developers can prioritize the creative process over financial considerations. This can result in more innovative and unique games that push the boundaries of the medium.
  • Freedom to experiment with new ideas and mechanics: Independent game developers often have the freedom to take risks and experiment with new ideas and mechanics. This can lead to the creation of games that are truly unique and innovative, as developers are not constrained by the need to appeal to a broader audience or meet specific market demands. This freedom can also foster a culture of creativity and innovation within the development team, as members are encouraged to think outside the box and push the boundaries of what is possible in game design.

Marketing and Distribution

  • Direct communication with players and fans
    • Regular updates on game development progress
    • Responding to player feedback and suggestions
    • Engaging with the community through social media and forums
  • Platform availability and visibility
    • Availability on multiple platforms, including PC, consoles, and mobile devices
    • Participation in industry events and conferences
    • Optimizing search engine visibility and utilizing online advertising
  • Strategic partnerships with publishers and distributors
    • Collaboration with established publishers for distribution and marketing support
    • Access to funding and resources for game development
    • Retaining creative control and independence while benefiting from industry expertise

Note: This section is a continuation of the outline provided, focusing on the subheading “Marketing and Distribution” under the topic “Criteria for Independent Game Development.” The information is presented in a structured manner, with subheadings, bullet points, and clear organization to adhere to the given guidelines.

Quality and Professionalism

In the world of independent game development, quality and professionalism are crucial factors that determine the success of a game. Developers must strive to achieve technical proficiency and polish, adhere to industry standards and best practices, and provide player support and community engagement.

Technical Proficiency and Polish

A well-made game should be technically proficient and visually appealing. Developers must ensure that their games run smoothly, with minimal bugs and glitches. The game’s visuals should be of high quality, with attention paid to detail, such as character models, textures, and lighting. A polished game with minimal technical issues creates a positive first impression and encourages players to keep playing.

Adherence to Industry Standards and Best Practices

Developers must stay up-to-date with industry standards and best practices to create high-quality games. This includes following established design patterns, utilizing efficient programming techniques, and employing best practices for user experience and accessibility. By adhering to these standards, developers can create games that are not only fun to play but also meet the expectations of players and industry professionals.

Player Support and Community Engagement

A key aspect of professional game development is providing excellent player support and engaging with the community. Developers must be responsive to player feedback, addressing bugs and issues in a timely manner. Developers should also actively engage with their communities, whether through social media, forums, or other channels, to build a loyal player base and foster a positive gaming experience.

In conclusion, quality and professionalism are essential criteria for independent game development. Developers must focus on technical proficiency, adherence to industry standards, and community engagement to create successful games that meet the expectations of players and industry professionals.

Factors That Can Make a Game Less Indie

Increased Budget and Resources

Independent game development is often associated with small budgets and limited resources. However, as a game progresses and gains traction, it may attract larger budgets and resources, which can affect its indie status. Here are some factors that can make a game less indie due to increased budget and resources:

  • Funding from larger companies or investors: As a game gains popularity, it may attract funding from larger companies or investors who are interested in the game’s success. This funding can come in the form of loans, equity investments, or grants, and can provide the necessary resources to expand the game’s development team, improve its technology and equipment, and market it more effectively. However, the involvement of larger companies or investors can also dilute the game’s independence, as they may influence its development direction and priorities.
  • Hiring a large development team: As a game’s scope and complexity increase, it may require a larger development team to manage its production. Hiring a large development team can provide the necessary expertise and manpower to complete the game’s development, but it can also increase the game’s dependence on external resources and funding. This can make it more challenging for the game’s creators to maintain their independence and control over the game’s development direction and priorities.
  • Access to expensive technology and equipment: Independent game development often involves working with limited resources, including access to expensive technology and equipment. However, as a game gains popularity and attracts funding, it may be able to access more advanced technology and equipment, such as high-end gaming computers, specialized software, and virtual reality hardware. While this technology and equipment can improve the game’s quality and user experience, it can also increase its development costs and dependence on external resources, which can affect its indie status.

Overall, the involvement of larger budgets and resources can affect a game’s independence and may impact its status as an indie game. However, it is important to note that the involvement of larger budgets and resources does not necessarily mean that a game is not indie, as there are many successful indie games that have received funding and support from larger companies and investors. The key factor in determining a game’s indie status is its independence and creative control, rather than its budget and resources.

Creative Constraints

Game development, especially independent game development, is often associated with creative freedom and control. However, certain factors can limit the creative autonomy of developers, making a game less indie. These factors can be broadly categorized as creative constraints.

Creative constraints are limitations that affect the development process and the final product. These constraints can stem from various sources, such as publisher demands, investor expectations, or even legal requirements. The impact of these constraints can range from minor to significant, and they can have a profound effect on the game’s overall identity and success.

Here are some examples of creative constraints that can make a game less indie:

  • Obligation to meet publisher or investor demands: Publishers and investors often have specific expectations and requirements for a game, such as a particular genre, target audience, or monetization model. These demands can limit the developer’s creative vision and force them to make compromises that may not align with their original intent. For instance, a developer might be pressured to include microtransactions or loot boxes in their game to appease investors, even if it goes against their design principles.
  • Restrictions on game content or mechanics: Legal or contractual obligations can also constrain a developer’s creativity. For example, a developer might be required to remove certain content or features due to copyright issues, cultural sensitivities, or ratings requirements. This can lead to the removal of innovative ideas or features that could have contributed to the game’s uniqueness and originality.
  • Limited creative control and freedom: In some cases, developers may have to work within tight deadlines or with limited resources, which can hinder their ability to explore creative possibilities. This constraint can result in a more formulaic approach to game design, where developers focus on proven mechanics and familiar concepts to ensure a successful release. As a result, the game may lack the distinctive qualities that define indie games.

Overall, creative constraints can have a significant impact on a game’s development process and final product. While these constraints are not unique to indie game development, they can be more pronounced in the context of indie games, where developers often have fewer resources and less experience navigating the industry’s complexities. As such, it is essential for developers to be aware of these constraints and find ways to mitigate their effects while staying true to their creative vision.

Loss of Independence

When discussing what makes a game not indie, one key factor to consider is the loss of independence. This can occur in several ways, including:

  • Sale of the game to a larger company or publisher: When a game is sold to a larger company or publisher, the developer may lose some control over the creative direction of the game. This can result in changes to the game’s design or features that the developer may not have wanted. Additionally, the developer may be required to meet certain requirements or expectations set by the new owner, which can limit their independence.
  • Change in leadership or management: If the leadership or management of the development team changes, it can also result in a loss of independence. For example, if a new CEO is brought in, they may have a different vision for the company or the game being developed, which could lead to changes that the original development team may not have wanted.
  • Displacement of original development team members: Finally, the displacement of original development team members can also lead to a loss of independence. If key members of the development team are replaced with new people, it can change the dynamic of the team and potentially alter the direction of the game. This can be especially true if the original team members were the driving force behind the game’s unique style or gameplay mechanics.


1. What is considered an indie game?

An indie game, short for “independent game,” refers to a video game that is developed by a small team or an individual without the support of a large publisher. Indie games often have unique and innovative gameplay mechanics, art styles, and storytelling, and they are often created with a specific vision in mind.

2. What makes a game not indie?

A game can be considered not indie if it is developed by a large company or publisher, has a large budget, and is marketed towards a mass audience. Games that are developed using a formulaic approach or that closely resemble popular franchises are also less likely to be considered indie. Additionally, if a game has a large team of developers working on it, it may not be considered indie.

3. How is the term “indie game” different from “indie film”?

The term “indie game” is similar to “indie film” in that both refer to creative works that are made outside of the traditional Hollywood or gaming industry. However, the term “indie game” is more specific to video games, while “indie film” can refer to any type of film that is made outside of the traditional Hollywood system. Additionally, indie games often have a more experimental or innovative approach to game design, while indie films may focus more on unique storytelling or character development.

4. Are AAA games considered indie?

No, AAA games (games developed by large companies with big budgets) are not considered indie. These games are often developed by large teams of developers and are marketed towards a mass audience. While some AAA games may have unique or innovative gameplay mechanics, they are generally developed with the goal of appealing to a broad audience and generating high sales numbers.

5. Can a game be both indie and AAA?

It is possible for a game to be both indie and AAA, but this is rare. A game that is developed by a small team or individual but has a large budget and is marketed towards a mass audience may be considered both indie and AAA. However, this type of game is still less likely to be considered truly indie, as it is likely to have been developed with the goal of appealing to a broad audience and generating high sales numbers.

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