Every seasoned gamer is familiar with indie games. These titles are now a major part of the games industry. Some now sell to large studios for so much cash Disney would spit-take. Indie titles are so intertwined with today’s industry culture we have companies like Nintendo using them under the “Nindie” brand. But many don’t know how they specifically define the term “indie”. So, how do you define something so broad? How do you put the “I” in indie?
To me, an indie is a title that a developer has full control over and is able to mold as they wish. You see examples of these titles all the time in the modern climate. From Yacht Club’s platforming sensation Shovel Knight to the frightening scares of The Meatly’s Bendy and the Ink Machine. So what do I think is and is not indie? The answer to that question is simultaneously simple and complicated.
But we can define what is not. So let’s first begin with one of the industry’s most popular, Shovel Knight. Yacht Club originally used the Shovel Knight Kickstarter because they had no other way to gain funding as former WayForward employees. They had complete freedom and control, to do what they wanted. If it didn’t break console manufacturer rules, it was good. Nothing was holding them back from their vision. I believe Shovel Knight is one of the greatest examples of a pure-blooded indie and what they can do to the industry. Shovel Knight now makes an appearance in the Super Smash Bros series as a Assist Trophy. Alongside the likes of Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog and Donkey Kong. It just goes to show how much of a splash a great indie can produce.
While Shovel Knight took the world by storm. There was another Kickstarter indie that did the exact same thing. It’s widely known and beloved today. Undertale was done almost entirely by one Toby Fox with some art and character design by Temmie Chang. A duo that made one of the worlds most popular games as of writing. One that had complete freedom of expression. This expression paved the way for characters and a story that the world might never forget. Titles like Undertale and Shovel Knight prove what an indie can be, which makes the stinkers all the worse.
We can’t say what objectively or subjectively is “indie”. What about examples like Bloodstained? Bloodstained Ritual of the Night was a KickStarter originally started by Koji Igarashi as a love-letter to the Castlevania series. But Igarashi himself developed many fan favorite Castlevania titles. He had doors open that nobody else did. The KickStarter had a stretch goal for a NES style game developed by Inti Creates. This hit it’s goal and we soon got Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. This man had the backing of a large indie developer. But he was also the director and creator of the “IgaVania” sub-genre of Castlevania. Is that indie? Well, he still wasn’t with Konami.
Where do I draw the line at what is indie? Let’s look at Rocket League. Psyonix had an indie sensation. Then giving creative freedom up to feature specific brands and companies. I believe that is what killed the game’s place as an indie title. If they can no longer do what they want when they want. Why should it be indie? Even if the devs are indie themselves.
Overall, what defines an indie is entirely subjective. Trying to attach an objective meaning to it probably would hurt more then it helps. But I believe that we could all try to come to a more “specific” definition. Even if it’s on no more then a “Well WE think indie is” basis. So what puts the “I” in indie? Truthfully, whatever the developer believes in their hearts.