What Does It Really Mean to Be an Indie Game?

Journalists and game critics have never had a good, clear definition of what makes an "indie game" ever since the emergence and solidification of the term in the early 2000s. It hasn't stopped them from searching for one, nor has it stopped the term itself from becoming a label that is as popular as it is imprecise. From developer interviews to documentaries to economic and intimately personal analysis, many different methods have been used to try to determine what we mean when we say that something is an indie game as opposed to a blockbuster or AAA one. Now there’s an academic book that’s come along to set the record straight once and for all, Jesper Juul’s Handmade Pixels, which aims to give us some tools for thinking about independent games and their “quest for authenticity.”

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/epgnjn/jesper-juul-handmade-pixels-review

This reminds me a bit of the fight over the definition of craft breweries vs macro breweries. There is a huge gap between AB InBev (maker of Corona, Budweiser and tons of beer brands) vs Sam Adams which is a sizable brewery but orders of magnitude smaller than the big players. Sam Adams is also a lot bigger than most local craft breweries so the definitions get muddy.

It’s the job of the Brewers Association, the premier craft brewery trade group, to define exactly what a craft beer is. And among other factors, the size of the brewery matters. A few years ago, the definition included a clause that said craft breweries were those that produced fewer than 2 million barrels of beer a year. Then Boston Beer Company sold 2.3 million barrels in 2010 and the Brewers Association changed the rule to 6 million barrels.


I wrote a piece for Fandom about this very question back when No Man’s Sky came out, since I fascinated about the audience reaction. It was an indie game with a AAA marketing budget and a AAAA (if that’s a thing) promise of scale. I think I argued the game was in the worst all places, being high-profile enough for the “gamers” to notice but small enough to bully.

It wasn’t very good (very little on Fandom is, though some people made great stuff, not really me), don’t worry about a link to it. I don’t think I even ended up with an answer to this question.

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Personally I would rather see the idea of labeling things AAA, Indie, etc disappear. Nothing of significant value is gained from using them and they only really exist to use as either a way to defend it attack a game without talking about the game itself.

Now then tagging I’m all here for because it’s actually got a lot of practical use for finding something or avoiding something.