The message from gamescom’s was clear: the term “indie” needs to go the way of the dodo.
“Now there are so many professional indies out there. They’re not poor anymore. They make a lot of money making their indie games. Are they still indie? Who cares?”
What is “indie”? According to some of gamescom’s highlighted developers last week, the term is an anachronism.
“Can you do an indie game with 100 people? It’s a very interesting question,” said Beyond Good & Evil star Michel Ancel, speaking in a Q&A after the main Sony press conference.
“We shouldn’t say ‘indie game’. Now we should say ‘really innovative game,’ not especially based on production values and millions of dollars. We could say an indie game is a pixel [product] that costs ten bucks, but I think it’s more than this. It’s a game from real people that have passion and vision, and they can express that vision. This is what could define an indie game.”
The call for the term “indie” to be redefined is nothing new, but it’s unusual for such prominent developers to be quite so concrete about it. Media Molecule’s Rex Crowle was just as decisive.
“I would totally agree,” he said. “I think it’s more games that have independent thought in them than [the] financial model behind them, particularly.
“You can have a very indie game that’s actually a very generic first-person shooter, and you can have an enormous, big-budget, triple-A game that’s all about emotions. Those divides are not there anymore.”
Evolution head Paul Rustchynsky, too, believes the lines are now too blurred to mark real distinctions.
“There’s good games and bad games, and they’re all in the same pool together,” he said.
“We shouldn’t be saying ‘triple-A,’ we shouldn’t be saying ‘indie.’ These are games, and they’ve all got their own unique elements.”
For the creative industries, the term “indie” literally means, of course, that one publishes independently, but in the games space to be independent connotes something else (to some, at least).
In book publishing, for example, an indie author really is just someone who publishes their work through services like Amazon and has no contact with a traditional publisher, such as Random House or Hachette.
But the notion in games is more similar to the way it was used in music: Nirvana, one of the biggest bands in the world in its heyday, was “indie” to many, as the term represented the genre of music rather than the way it was published. Similarly, an indie game developer represents a certain style of game and freedom from the shackles of an oppressive games industry, but many still view it as bootstrapping and unbridled creativity with little regard to commercial success.
The notion is outdated, according to Q boss Dylan Cuthbert.
“Now there are so many professional indies out there,” he said. “They’re not poor anymore. They make a lot of money making their indie games. Are they still indie? Who cares?
“It’s in the heart, really. If you think you’re indie then you are indie, because the point of being indie is that you don’t have anyone else telling you what you are.”
The idea that indie should be dropped as a concept doesn’t just exist at roots dev level (although it could easily be argued that the likes of Cuthbert and Ancel hardly represent single-digit teams struggling to pay the heating bills). Sony top brass believes it, too.
“Hellblade called itself independent, and traditionally I think people think about indie games as smaller, two- or three-man teams,” Michael Denny, vice president of Sony Worldwide Studios Europe, told VG247 the following day.
“I think it does show where we’ve been going in the games development cycle. When we set out with PlayStation 4 we just wanted a system that would free up the creators and bring everybody to the platform, and I think one size doesn’t fit all with indie development now.
“There are small teams, but there are big teams that want to release their game independently as well. I think it all works. It’s more variety. It’s more choice.”
What do you think? Should people even say “indie” anymore?