Indie games can be some of the most innovative and inspirational forms of interactive media in our industry, being limited only by the developers imagination and ability to tell a story. Conditions like the narrative of the game and its characters never have to be tarnished by some bureaucratic head that has never been in contact with a video game controller. Indie games are made from love, passion, and a desire to tell a story.

“Should we even have labels?”

How then do we differentiate an independent developer from a major, excuse the term, Triple-A studio? Should we even have labels? Some say that an indie studio is only considered independent if it is self-developed and published. Yet others have told me that an indie studio can only be considered indie if it employ’s less than 20 people and have little to no funds to sustain itself. This creates a very strange dynamic because according to some peoples classifications, studios like Mojang and Double Fine are in the same field as four friends making a game in the basement during their spare time; whereas other classifications differentiate between them.

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Does a big budget automatically disqualify you from being an indie? Does running an incredibly successful Kickstarter Campaign automatically eject you from the “indie scene”? Some people believe so. I also had one guy tell me that an indie game is only indie when it is made by one person living off Ramen and tap water. We’re all entitled to our own opinions and some people’s descriptions of what an indie studio is, may sometimes be a bit whacky… but is there one right answer?

“… an indie game is only indie when it is made by one person living off Ramen and tap water.”

Why is it increasingly hard to consider a big independent studio “indie” after they find success? After all, they’re still self publishing and developing. Is it the money and spotlight that some studios receive after a successful game the thing that aggravates  people?

I asked a couple of — what I consider to be — independent developers about their thoughts on this subject, and their answers were also at odds. Continue?987654321 developer Jason Oda draws the line for an indie developer at under 7 people and with “probably no more than a couple hundred thousand dollars” in their budget.

“If everyone isn’t pretty poor and pulling their hair out, I think it’s just something else,” explained Oda.

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Jo-Remi from D-Pad Studios on the other hand considers an indie developer anyone who is able to “produce what they want, without outside influence”. He believes that taking risks and experimenting with new ideas without the interference of a publisher or “anyone else” is essential to being an independent studio.

What about the recent increase in independent publishers like Versus Evil or Devolver Digital? Most of the developers that join these publishers have relatively small budgets, and the developers still consider themselves indie because the publisher does not influence or control their work, but technically speaking they now have a publisher so are they still indie?

Do we create a new term or classification? Should there be a third term to ease the playing field and provide differentiation? In baseball we have the majors, triple-A, double-A, and even single-A. Should the video game community include a “triple-A indie” category to the mix as well?

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I sometimes wonder why we even have to draw lines and set labels. Why can’t games just be games, whether it’s from an indie studio in the middle of nowhere, or a huge triple-A studio based out of a major metropolis? I know there are people out there in the industry that really do not care, while others flip-out when you call a majorly successful independently developed game indie – as if success disqualifies you from being independent.

What do you think? Should lines be drawn to differentiate between the different indie studios? Should there even be a separation between “indie” and “Triple-A”?

About The Author

Founding Editor

Founding Editor of TwoDashStash and video game freak. Jensen's first game was, of course, the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Since then, life has not been the same.