Independents’ Day: What Is Indie?


This feature was originally published in PC Gamer early last Summer – I republish it here, slightly revised and updated, as it’s a few of the indie names we’ve mentioned often on RPS – 2D Boy, Solium Infernum’s Vic Davis, Edmund McMillen… – talking about what drives, defines and binds the independent development community, and why it’s on such a roll at the moment. It’s also a love letter to a form of gaming and imagineering only the PC can offer.

What is indie? It’s a term so overused, in everything from music to movies to comics and, of course, games that it’s almost lost its meaning. “Independent” is the untruncated form, of course – but, by that token, Valve are indie. Is that a term that can sit comfortably around a multi-million dollar studio that juggles multiple franchises at once? Or is indie more of a statement, a specific state and ethos, where profit and success play second fiddle to the unfettered creativity?

Whatever it really means, one thing is overwhelmingly clear – the PC is the home of indie gaming. From hyper-violent Flash shooters on Newgrounds, to experimental fare like the Path that stretches the very definition of ‘game’, and everything in between, you’re hard-pushed to stumble aimlessly across the internet without finding some delightful obscurity. And yet, even the folk making these games don’t agree on an all-encompassing definition.

2D Boy’s Ron Carmel (creators of World of Goo), for instance, sums it up thusly: “I think that when a developer, be it an individual or a team, values design over profit, they produce an indie game. In theory, you could have a team of 50 people create an indie game, but in reality, if a company needs to pay salaries to 50 people they most likely are very careful with budgeting and scheduling and design might need to take a back seat a lot of the time. One exception to this rule is Valve. They have fairly large teams and release nothing but gems. I wouldn’t say Valve is an indie studio, but I think they embody the spirit. If it isn’t awesome, they won’t release it.”

However, Dylan Fitterer, the brain behind surprise smash-hit Audiosurf, believes it’s about scale rather than intent: “It just means games made on the cheap. I kind of don’t like that because many games can come under that definition and not be interesting at all. I’d rather think of indie games as those made through experimentation that tightly focus on a new concept. It seems to work out though because inexpensive games need to make their mark somehow. It won’t be with hordes of content or amazing polish, so it has to be with new gameplay.”

Edmund McMillen, one of the crazily inventive madmen behind Independent Games Festival grand prize-winner Gish, and currently working on Super Meat Boy and No Quarter, has a different take still: “Well, to me an indie game would be a self funded video game with a small team of 2-3 people where the designer(s) have complete control over the project in every aspect. I guess indie gaming would be the scene of people who are into playing those games.”

Vic Davis, aka CrypticComet, and responsible for perhaps our favourite turn-based strategy game of 2007, Armageddon Empires, and our favourite turn-based strategy game of 2009, Solium Infernum, has a more esoteric definition: “Indie means freedom pure and simple. It’s the freedom to be your own boss and chart your own course. It’s exhilarating frankly to have almost no constraints on you besides the consequences of failure. It’s the freedom the internet provides to cut out the middle man and own the customer yourself. It means that you can take risks that the big developers can’t afford to take. Indie to me means that you grab your surf board and ride the “Long Tail” as far as it will take you.”

Differing takes they may be, but a common belief shines through: freedom and control are more important than commerciality. McMillen is a stand-out example of that. This is, after all, a man who infamously devised a game called C*nt, a shmup centered around attacking monsterised, anthropromorphised ladyparts – purely because he could. “Indie development is still kinda all over the place – everyone has a different definition of what being indie means and what they believe indie games should focus on. We all seem to have very different goals, but I’d like to think we all have an understanding of what advantages we have over the mainstream being indie and use them. Basically I think we all try and take big risks when it comes to innovation, content and theme that a mainstream studio wouldn’t ever be ok with getting behind.”

Which brings up the issue of who that “we” is. Clearly, indie developers are scattered all over the world, but specific communities have sprung up. Perhaps the most interesting is the US fraternity that McMillen is a part of – also comprising folks like 2D Boy, hyper-profilic one-man experimental developer Cactus and designer/blogger Derek Yu (involved with indie faves Aquaria and Spelunky). Were you to visit, say, the Independent Games Festival at GDC, you’d find a lot of these guys hanging out together.

“I personally talk to all the hipsters in our little scene,” says McMillen. “I think it’s important as an artist to have an understanding of where everyone’s coming from. I’ve recently realized that the most valuable thing you can have in life is perspective, and that’s something you cant make up in your head without personal experience or a good understanding on how others view and understand things. It’s very inspiring to talk to other artists about their work. It’s a huge motivator to see others doing what I’m doing, it’s very validating to talk to someone with your same interests and bounce ideas back and forth, that’s probably why I enjoy working with so many different people.” That’s a profound difference between indie and mainstream gaming – ad-hoc communities coming up with a constant torrent of absurd and wonderful new ideas and egging each other on, as opposed to offices of desk jockeys slaving away a contracted project.

“I do feel like there’s a shared current we’re all drifting on” says Ron Carmel, “and there’s a sense of togetherness in being the underdogs of the game industry. Maybe one day we’ll overthrow EA and ActiBlizzard and a new generation of underdogs will come to kick our butts into extinction. That would make me happy. I recently found out that when EA started out, they were all about treating the game developer as an artist and giving them photo credit on the box, much like musicians being promoted as the stars by record companies. Goes to show you, everything has a half-life, and eventually, everything turns to lead.”

The other half of 2D Boy, Kyle Gabler supports the idea of a close-knit indie community. “: Almost all the indie developers seem to know each other, brought together by sites like TIGsource, indiegames, and the common desire to suffer together and hopefully make good stuff without cash. It’s like in the end of Speed when Keanu tells Sandra that they might just like each other because horrible situations bring people together. I got to go to Sweden last week to hang with some of the scary talented Swedish indie kids, and luckily our common indie goals and understandings to grow curly mustaches translates across all languages, races, and cultures.”

Still, while it’s tempting to think there’s this New Brat Pack of independent developers who hang out at all the right parties, indie is much, much bigger than that, made of very different people with very different attitudes and lifestyles. Take Vic Davis, who unlike the scattergun approach of a McMillen or Cactus, works solo on huge projects, far away from that US scene. “I honestly can’t imagine something like that. Hip is not a word that you would ever associate with me. I’m actually the closest you will get to anti-hip. I mean come on, I play war games, board games, still read comic books (they’re graphic novels!) and love to make Star Wars references even though I thought the last 3 films were pretty bad. Besides like somebody famous once said, I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”

Something else that differs from indie dev to indie dev is their ultimate intentions from their career, but what is shared is a love of making games. “Audiosurf has been selling really well and that’s been awesome,” says Dylan Fitterer, “but I’m not sure that kind of success is a useful goal. I was always happy to build Audiosurf even if nobody ever bought it.”

Edmund McMillen hasn’t yet enjoyed that kind of success, hence the upcoming Wii release of Super Meat Boy – but he doesn’t want to abandon his regular esoteric output. “At this point in my life I need to prove my worth and at least attempt to take a crack at a mainstream release. If I want to continue to make whatever I want, sadly, I need money to do so. Bringing my work to the mainstream might be the best way to fund my more ambitious and risky projects.

2D Boy, meanwhile, want to stay the hell away from the mainstream. “We both realize working for large enormo-cash studios would be a bad idea,” reckons Kyle Gabler, who was also partially responsible for the recently-revived Experimental Gameplay Project – itself the origin of World of Goo predecessor Tower of Goo, and which was instrumental in revealing indie to a larger audience. Gabler took a job at Maxis after the success of the EGP, but left soon after to found 2D Boy. “Limited resources have always forced us and other indie developers to be more creative, and to think really hard about everything that goes into a game. If we had “money” and “people” propping us up, we’d probably make a 3d platformer, and your guy has muscles, and angry face, and lots of angry polygons.” No interest in escalating the scale and scope of your games then? “No way,” says Ron Carmel, “that would be the kiss of death. The reason indie games can do well is because we DON’T try to compete with the big boys. We need to play a different game in order to win.”

“There’s always pressure to try and one-up yourself,” adds Gabler, “which might be smart to ignore. In the near future, we’re on a quest to return to our roots, and make some little toys Experimental Gameplay style that are small and fun, that have no ambition of being big and slick. We’ll post them online if they aren’t too horrible.”

Cryptic Comet’s Vid Davis feels similarly: “If anything I plan on mastering my tendency to slide into massive “scope creep” and tighten up my games. Armageddon Empires and my next game Solium Infernum are really massive undertakings for a one man team like me. I outsource the art and music but the design, coding and project management is a huge burden. AE had over 250 thousand lines of code without comments. Solium Infernum is already larger and I’m still working on the AI. The combined development time is going to be over 5 years. But in my opinion it’s the design that is going to sell my games. I make a real effort to offer artwork, illustrations and music that enhance the experience but in the end the goal is to stimulate the player’s brain. It’s the “one more turn” feeling that you have to evoke.”

Which brings up one of the other major issues around indie games: how do you let me people know about your game if you don’t have the promotional clout of a major publisher behind you? Well, ideally the internet does the work for you. “We did OK with just word of mouth.”, says Ron Carmel. “ We sold about 3,000 copies of the game as pre-orders and sales on our website have done really well for us and still bring in a good amount. But there have been three promotional events that were huge for us. One was Nintendo of America sending an email to everyone who has their Wii only saying “Hey, check out World of Goo!”. Another was the 75% off sale we had on Steam. And most recently, the MacHeist bundle. Each of those generated massive, massive sales and without them we would probably have sold about half the number of copies that we did.”

Edmund McMillen, meanwhile, tends to put in a bit more promotional elbow grease himself, but in characteristically oddball ways. “I try my best at promoting my work in anyway I can. Honestly I don’t know how important it is.. I just do it because it’s fun. Like that Hitler meat boy ad [see below] – of course I put it out because I knew people would pick up on it.. and being indie what other options do i have for self promotion? I have no money.. so how do I get an ad for my game out to the masses? I simply say if you don’t like the game you’re like Hitler and tada -people post our ad on their websites. Now at this point I have no idea if this will help sales – but I did it for the same reasons I make games, to entertain myself.”

Dylan Fitterer also relies on third-party promotion. “Audiosurf was spreading way beyond my expectations before it was on Steam, but then being featured there gave it a big multiplier. It’s a little fuzzy though because Steam brings extra value to games – not just exposure. For example, it’s usually not Steam that first exposes games to me, but I do prefer to buy them there. Also, it’s gotten hard to tell what to call third-party promotion. Online media coverage and online word of mouth are both blogs.” Cough. Which in turn feed major websites and magazines – and eventually good folk like you get to hear about these incredible little games.

Vic Davis has a slightly different approach. “It’s not that hard to stand out at all if you decide to seek out your own niche. If you want to make an iPhone or casual match 3/hidden object game then good luck with that. In my case, the space that I am competing in is like one of those old west ghost towns. Ten years ago there was a booming turn based strategy game genre. Today not so much. Turn based strategy games don’t fit the blockbuster business model with the arguable exception of the Civ franchise. My games are pretty complex and geeky though so my niche is even more restricted. But that’s my selling point and a way to stand out in the crowd. I’m going for the demographic that will read the manual eventually even if they are the type of player who first likes to sit down and just start clicking buttons.”

So, it’s simply an absurdly exciting and diverse time for the PC at the moment, and it’s the number one reason why the endless doomsaying about the PC’s future as a gaming platform is 100% wrong. But what brought about this new era of independent game-making? “I think people have grown bored of being force fed the same old shit from the same old people over the years,” opines McMillen. “My wife is an indie artist in the plush art scene and its having a similar boom these days as well. We live in a world where everyone has access to everything, at this point when you want to see a movie you have about 15 ways of doing so with a few clicks of a mouse. In a world where anyone can tap into the flood of mainstream crap with a click of the mouse people are desperate for something new, something fresh and exciting. Do you want to spend 50 bucks on the next WW2 shooter? Or do you want to play a game where you control a bloody chunk of meat? The indie scene has something to offer that the mainstream will never have, it has heart and for the most part its honest pure and untainted by money. Out of everything i think those are the qualities that bring people in.” Clearly, it also has developers capable of incredibly inspiring words.

Of course, there are practical reasons for the boom too. “I think it’s a combination of chance and opportunity” says Ron Carmel. “The opportunity is digital distribution. The chance is that 2008 was a huge year for indies. It saw a whole bunch of indie hits like Audiosurf, Braid, Eden, World of Goo, and Castle Crashers. Most of these games have been years in the making, it’s just chance that they all came out in the same year. So I’m guessing that this boom is smaller than people think. I don’t expect 2009 to be as big a year for indies as 2008, but I do think that there’s a growth trend in the indie scene, more people are entering the game industry by simply making games instead of getting game jobs. You can see that by following the number of submissions to the IGF over the years.”

Dylan Fitterer, meanwhile, points out another possible cause: “I see a lot of players asking how games run on netbooks rather than wondering which GPU features they have. Hardware advances and content quality have gotten less interesting. Content improvements don’t play to the strengths of gaming the way interactivity improvements do.” He’s right, you know. With almost any indie game, your PC’s specs are pretty much irrelevant. With a PC in every home, a flood of it-just-works games are inevitably going to pick up traction.

Guys like Dylan, like 2D Boy, Edmund McMillen and Vic Davis are changing PC gaming as we know it – evolving into something new and endlessly diverse, made from love and wonder rather than commerce. And yet, at the same time we’re going backwards – this a bigger, bolder return to the way home computers once were, when tiny teams free of publisher interference were releasing some new slice of crazy wonder every week. The PC is the only free format, and thank heavens these guys – and the many thousands of other independent developers – are making the best of that for us.

Developers featured in this article:

Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler, 2D Boy

World of Goo is their only game to date, but what an opening salvo it was. You should also check out Kyle Gabler’s Experiment Gameplay Project, in which the participants had to make a new game every 10 weeks. Sadly a lot of the creations from its original run are long-gone, but it’s now up and running again, with monthly competitions that have yielded some spectacular/spectacularly weird minigames.
More info

Edmund McMillen

Working with a vast array of collaborators, Edmund’s super prolific. Try everything from the experimental art of Coil to the bio-horror of C*nt or Spew to the sublime puzzle-platforming of Gish to the deeply personal, dreamlike Aether. Better yet, give the guy some money and order A Cry For Help, a CD containing 10 years of his splendid, inventive, offensive, charming work.
More info

Dylan Fitterer, InvisibleHandlebar

The muso-delighting MP3-playing racing/puzzle game Audiosurf is his only commercial work so far (which he continues to update and expand on a regular basic), but he’s got a host of smaller games behind him. Check out his 7-day Prototype games on his website, with titles including Sofa King Cool, Travis Must Die and Gothic Blocks.
More info

Vic Davis, Cryptic Comet

Post-apocalyptic strategy/trading card game (and RPS fave) Armageddon Empires was his first game as such, and in the last couple of months he’s been wowing PC gamers with the epic follow-up, Solium Infernum – which casts you as an archfiend trying to win control of Hell. You may have noticed Kieron mentioning it once or twice. Before that, he came up with a series of interactive tour guide programs know as TravelBrains. Oh, and he was also in the army. Don’t mess.
More info

Leaders of the pack: other indie superstars to watch

Jonatan ‘Cactus‘ Soderstrom is a whirlwind of games ideas, having put out more quickly-made, often highly surreal curious than you’ve had hot dinners. The Mondo Nation series is a good place to start, but pick and choose others from the many insane wonders at his site.

Cliff Harris of Positech is former Lionhead developer gone solo, and he’s now earning a crust from the splendid life-simulators Kudos and Kudos 2, political management epics Democracy and Democracy 2, and the upcoming, frankly /brilliantly/ titled Gratuitous Spaceship Battles. More at

For something a little different, there’s one of the old guard of indie gaming, Derek Smart. He’s well-known for his outrageous levels of internet ire, and also for ridiculously ambitious projects such as the Battlecruiser series and the omni-battle title All Aspect Warfare.

Derek Yu is both designer and journalist – when he’s not revealing endless indie wonders to the world over at, he’s worked on two of the best indie games of the last few years, Spelunky and Aquaria.

Johnathon Blow is one of the most fascinating men in the entire games industry, and he most impressively put his money where his mouth was with the beautiful, moving Braid. He’s also created a bunch of highly experimental prototype games.

Petri Purho is best-know for his award-winning Crayon Physics games, but before that, he used to make a game a month. There are 23 of those available here.


  1. yhancik says:

    (pssst, your forgot some “http://” before a couple of links, leading to a RPS 404 page ;) )

    • commanderoftroy says:

      Hey alec who orginally wrote this article in pc gamer or did you add in all the writing that wasnt the developers talking.

  2. dsmart says:

    Wait! Wot? Why the hell am I not in this list?!? I’ve been around longer, shipped more games and made more money than everyone in this list. Damn tools. I’m calling my lawyer, my agent and me mom.

    Anyway, I agree with Edmund as in

    Well, to me an indie game would be a self funded video game with a small team of 2-3 people where the designer(s) have complete control over the project in every aspect. I guess indie gaming would be the scene of people who are into playing those games.”

    oh yeah, first!

  3. Tei says:

    I have another definition, one that is “racial”.
    “Indie is the people that post in a game dev’s forum where only indie game devs post.”

    Notice that this definition ignore “a self funded video game with a small team of 2-3 people where the designer(s) have complete control over the project in every aspect” of people that don’t post, or don’t post on such forum. That are not part of the Community.

  4. Michael Leung says:

    I just tried out C*nt. I’d just like to say, um, okay…

    I think I agree with Vic Davis the most. The idea of having all the control over your creation and being able to take insane risks is one that seems to be a distinct advantage/feature of the indie scene.

  5. CMaster says:

    See to me, I’m happy with the definiton of Valve as an Indie developer. Their getting involved in distribution changes that tune a little mind.
    Just like id were for years an Indie (no more).
    An indipendent developer is just that – one that isn’t part of a larger power strcuture, or dependent on someone else’s money (and hence someone elses decisions) to make their games.
    This means that to me, stuff on Armor Games isn’t really indie. There you have games whose development is funded by another body, admittedly for somewhat unclear reasons.
    Of course, to lots of people now, Indie means lo-fi games with a focus on gameplay or particular aesthetic style, just like indie music means guitar bands that all sound the same and are actually signed to major labels.

    • CMaster says:

      Just to expand a little:
      Obviously the bigger indie companies have to take less risks – they have a bunch of people depending on the success of the games for their salaries. They can’t afford things that might fail the way a much smaller outfit may be able to. BUt they still don’t have to also pay for a massive pile of admin, PR, marketing and shareholders the way a publisher/venture capital backed developer would have to.

  6. Karacan says:

    No mention of Spiderweb’s Jeff Vogel of Exile/Avernum fame?

    I thought Spiderweb was the embodiment of Indie game development, being in the business since someone thought to coin the term “shareware”. I would have liked to see his definition!

  7. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I’d have assumed that “Indie” just describes the question whether there is a developer-distributor relationship, with contracts for a specified amount of development/service and so on. In my opinion, it’s really enough to consider it under its legal definition and maybe its economic structure, without quality, innovation and such going into the definition itself, because from a scientific standpoint, that may make it possible to explain different levels of quality, innovation and such as products of the different way of economic and legal structure.
    And that isn’t possible if you blur the definition with the romantic mystification, like so many people prefer to do.

  8. Captain Becardi Jagermister says:

    Indie games are terri-bad.
    I think lazy, tbh. Most of the time they start off with a good idea, and they don’t have any more good ideas along the creation process. That zombie driving game? Lame, and tedious after a while.
    Same with Zero cluster or whatever from brazil. BORE.

    Plus, no multiplayer. WTF?
    Aaaaagh was fun, so there are always exceptions to my rules. Wish/hope they release update where you can jump from actual locations- you know, passing through trees and vegetation and all that jazz.

    Graphics are generally bad, but with Unreal 2.5 (or was it 3.0?) has been released for free, excited to see indie games with a graphical backbone.

    • Alec Meer says:

      You are wrong in at least 418 ways.

    • Captain Becardi Jagermister says:

      Eufloria is a game I actually bought, and sadly too casual for my tastes. You couldn’t even set way-points, an RTS staple!

      AI War looks interesting, but 20$ price tag is too much for an indie RTS, esp. after buying Eufloria full priced…

      Braid was a bore. Maybe I don’t like 2-d platformers, or the idea that every indie 2d platform uses a prince of persia time mechanic.

      Audiosurf was alright, insofaras you provided your own good tunes, I guess. Still don’t have a real opinion on that game, because the game aspect was little more than tetris.

      World of Goo? I’ll pass on the puzzle games.

      Zeno Clash got repetitive really fast. Was interesting to fight first person

      I think i’m more than qualified to have an opinion on Indie games due to my repertoire.
      To more explicitly say, the qualities I find lacking in my indie games is
      1) Graphics- usually there are terrible. I acknowledge that photorealism isn’t the best route to go, due to time and money constraints. That said, if you want to take the “artistic route”, at least hire someone who took a 100 level Color Theory class in College.

      2) Multiplayer- generally none to be found. Yes, I think that a leader-board is a form of multi-player, but it doesn’t allow direct manipulation of another person’s environment. I’d love it if indie games actually had multi-player and fleshed it out as well as a AAA studio does. It doesn’t take much money to think about how to create a better mutli-player!

      Thats it.

    • Dominic White says:

      Damn, man.. You just bumped that number up to 500, bare minimum. That’s some weapons-grade wrongness right there.

    • Captain Becardi Jagermiser says:

      List me some gaymes, broski.

    • Tei says:

      The problem here is what you value. Bets are the next AAA game will be a GTA clone like Saboteur or Red Faction Guerrilla, or a corridor shotter with minimal RPG elements, lie Bioshock or MW2. Sould these games “perceived value” gets a giganteous malus for behind nothing more than “theme works”, changes on graphics that don’t change the basic underline gameplay? And.. heres comes… sould games like World of Goo get a inmense bonus because every level try to re-invent the game itself? sould games like World of Goo get another bonus because is inventing/extending a gameplay device that is conductive to even better games? sould get another bonus because is cheap? sould get another bonus because is small and pretty? I, and other people, think It does, so the final value is really big.

    • The Graham says:

      So you want some games that trump your point, you “broski” using /v/illian?

      1. Graphics
      – Natural Selection
      – Machanarium
      – Cogs
      – And Yet it Moves
      – Aquaria
      – Defcon

      All those games have masterful art direction and art styles. Let me see a big-budget game that has an art direction like Machanarium, then I’ll talk.

      2. Multiplayer
      – Natural Selection
      – Madballs
      – Defcon
      – Multiwinnia
      – Countless others of Half-Life mods that have taken on lives of their own (Jailbreak: Source, KZ Mod, etc)

      So to put it bluntly, no, you are not qualified to make that massive sweeping generalization on indie games based to your repertoire (or apparent lack there of). Just because you’ve been burned by a few due to your own personal tastes doesn’t mean that they’re all crap.

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s all the weirder that he complains at length about lack of multiplayer, but then admits to having skipped on AI War (a multiplayer-centric game) because it would cost money.

      Real smooth.

    • Taillefer says:

      Are you sure you just don’t like games?

    • Wulf says:

      @Captain Becardi Jagermister

      I think the point here is that you’re expecting what you get from big name titles and you’re not willing to open your mind to different experiences, and you see different experiences as boring becaue they don’t provide you with more of the same, and that’s the vibe I get from you. Some people are just happier with Modern Warfare 2, and more power to them if that’s what floats their boat.

      From a personal standpoint, I actually found the combat in Zeno Clash invigorating and refreshing, far more so than shooting in shooty games, and the only time it ever wore thin for me was past the half way point, after rescuing golem, as it sort o went downhill from there. But Zeno Clash was a game about new experiences, and thus it turned you off.

      Eufloria was a game about new experiences, it was strategy but not strategy as you’d experienced it, and you admonished it for not being like Red Alert or every other mainstream strategy game, and from where you sit that’s a valid viewpoint, because that’s what you enjoy. You’re very into the mainstream because it provides incredibly polished versions of stuff you’ve played.

      Independent isn’t “terri-bad”, it’s just outside of your field of interest. It’s sort of like trying to take a football fan to an art museum. Sometimes it’ll work and the experience will open their mind and they’ll realise that there’s more to life than football, but sometimes they’ll just see it as boring, boring because it’s not football, and therefore outside of their field of interest.

      The way you feel about indie games is almost diametrically opposite of how I feel about the mainstream, as I tend to admonish the mainstream for being dull, uninspired, pandering to the lowest common denominator, and never taking any chances or having any kind of passion, despite all their polish. And I’ve had mainstream jockeys tear me a new one for that, so I’m not going to do that to you.

      At the end of the day, it’s different strokes for different folks, and if indie doesn’t float your boat, then it’s just not for you, and it’ll never stick.

      It’s the same as with movies: Do you go and see Pan’s Labyrinth or do you go and see Live Free or Die Hard?

    • cliffski says:

      Not everyone wants multiplayer. A phenomenal percentage of people who buy games like Call Of Duty never even play it on-line. A huge chunk of people who buy gratuitous space battles never ever play an on-line challenge.

      Indie often exists because a market is not catered for by AAA games. This is true of complex singleplayer strategy, which is why Vic and I exist. There is no point in low budget indie clones of another typical FPS, which is why they don’t exist.

  9. def says:

    As always with RPS and indie games: brilliant article!

    RPS – Champions of the Indie!

  10. Sarlix says:

    I always thought indie meant “individual developer” as in a single person. Good article!.

  11. V. Tchitcherine. says:

    Indie is a convenient, meaningless, often self-applied title. It is often conflated erroneously with merit, subversion, originality, creativity, iconoclasm, imagination, twee-ness and three-chord acoustic rock music which may or may not contain electronic accompaniment.

    Long live the new flesh!

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Well that explains why I never listen to indie rock… (by the way, excellent post, sir).

      Here is some proper “indie gaming”

      The game itself is a solid and compelling little piece of Amiga-styled retro shooting goodness with a nifty rotation “trick”. But the game aside, the developer will sell you the game within a properly boxed DVD case containing the game disc and manual. This is indie publishing in its truest sense. And it warms the cockles of my heart (that remembers buying Treasure Island Dizzy on cassette for £1.99) to see some are going this route.

  12. wererogue says:

    I’d rather keep indie with its original meaning – independent, i.e. self-publishing. Valve don’t count – they’re a publisher now, funding other games companies. It’s about the money coming directly from your customers rather than from a huge entity to whom you have to relinquish creative control, which is why I’d rather pay truly independent developers to help them stay afloat and help them keep creating original, artistic, innovative game content.

    I don’t think that Lucidity’s original style makes LucasArts an indie developer. When Nuclear Monkey were bought by Valve, they stopped being indie. It’s simple, easy to define, and it tells me very simply that if I like this developer’s content, they will benefit from me buying their game, as the money will go directly to them.

    • Robin says:

      I completely agree with this, and am automatically suspicious of anyone who tries to narrow down the definition further.

      If you don’t have the desire or ability to collaborate with more than one or two other people, or to manage your resources effectively, that doesn’t give you the right to denigrate those that do.

      Having ambition is not “selling out”. Gaming would be a poorer place if Id or Epic (or Blizzard for that matter) had been so enamoured with “indie values” that they’d just kept cranking out extremely rudimentary 2D platformers for decades.

  13. Bhazor says:

    Oh my, plushie Gishies.

    • Wulf says:

      I want one of those!

    • LionsPhil says:

      The plush Gishies are not for yiffing.

    • Bhazor says:

      I was thinking of using it to startle a cat. Having sex with it was barely in my top 10 reasons for wanting one.

    • Wulf says:

      “The plush Gishies are not for yiffing.”

      Of course they’re not.


      Are you implying that you want to watch someone go at it with a yiff plush? I sense some reverse psychology here, otherwise it wouldn’t have been brought up at all!

      You sick, sick person!


  14. Wolfox says:

    Good article, but I feel one thing is missing: Chris Park from Arcen Games (the guy behind AI War) is also an indie to watch. AI War is definitely one of my favorite games in 2009/2010, and reason enough for me to keep an eye on everything he’s planning to do.

  15. Sarlix says:

    Why am I always the crab?

  16. Sinnerman says:

    The Path doesn’t stretch the definition of a game as much as game people who don’t know the definition of the word.

    Also, since Hitler wasn’t a vegetarian then being a vegetarian is good way to be unlike Hitler especially since you will be mindfully snubbing your nose at popular, hate inducing, factually incorrect, propaganda. Want to believe any shit about people you don’t like because they are different? Repeat the Hitler was a vegetarian meme. Want to see what it feels like for people to hate you and use incorrect hearsay to condemn with statements that wouldn’t be anything to do with you even if they were true? Become a vegetarian.

    Those are the only things I picked up from my scanning of this article.

    • Wulf says:

      Well, since I’m gay and I throw my lot in with the furry fandom (even though I’m not technically a furry), I can say with all honesty that I comprehend that point of view.

      If you’re going to hate me, at least hate me for a reason that has something remotely to do with me, or with reality, and not just the reality and version of me you’ve constructed in your head just because I apparently embody something you were brainwashed to believe is an abomination.

      It’s mostly just really exasperating, and you can try to elucidate and enlighten them, but it never works. Still, it’s far better than someone actually having a valid reason for hating you, instead of just having been brainwashed/coerced by peer pressure into it. I’ve not once actually come across that though, thankfully. It would really bother me if I did.

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      Can’t I hate you for being a vegetarian/gay/furry?
      Who cares whether Hitler was a vegetarian, or Christian? I can still hate you for being it.

    • radomaj says:

      @Memphis-Ahn: I would like to bring up a quote from the critic-acclaimed TV show 30 Rock

      Liz: Steven, listen to me, okay? And please, believe what I’m saying. I truly don’t like you as a person. Can’t one human being not like another human being? Can’t we all just not get along?
      Steven: Liz, I wish it could be like that, and, and maybe someday our children, or, or our children’s children will hate each other like that. But it just doesn’t work that way today.

    • Wulf says:


      “Can’t I hate you for being a vegetarian/gay/furry?”

      Sure you can, but you’ll never actually have a valid reason for it, so you’ll just end up looking silly. This is true of everyone who’s ever engaged in a hate-crime or simply public hate against a peoples or person, ever. History just proves this to be an invariable factor, and intelligent people will undoubtedly pick up on and have a few jokes at the expense of that.

      Really, hating anyone for a lifestyle choice never comes across as anything more than a character flaw of the person doing the hating.

      “I can still hate you for being it.”

      Again: Sure you can, but again: people who don’t have the character flaw of randomly hating other people over their lifestyle choices for arbitrary/made up reasons will probably give you some really funny looks and snigger about it behind your back, and maybe even feel a bit bad for you.

      If you’re going to hate, have a better reason than made-up nonsense about a person’s lifestyle choices, otherwise you’re just being dysfunctional. But… if that’s what floats your boat, more power to you I guess.

    • A-Scale says:

      Actually, there appears to be significant evidence that Hitler was a vegetarian, despite your snide counter-culture claims to the contrary.
      link to
      Your high horse. Get off it.

    • Noc says:

      A-Scale, Hitler’s actual dietary habits honestly don’t have any bearing on the point.

      Hitler choosing to be a vegetarian no more invalidates vegetarianism than Hitler not being adulterous invalidates faithful monogamy. As a bit of historical trivia it may be factually correct, but as an argument against a lifestyle it’s all sorts of bullshit.

      And, like most neatly encapsulated arguments like this, it turns into a meme and gets repeated as ammunition for pre-established prejudices in lieu of less bullshitty (and consequentially less obviously damning and more complex) arguments. Technical factual veracity doesn’t excuse half-baked analysis, and stuff going memetic only makes things worse.

      . . .

      Sinnerman’s post is factually wonky, and I’m not sure why he brought it up (since the Meatboy ad seems rather solidly on the side of parody), but his point is still fairly valid.

    • Sinnerman says:

      @A-Scale, that same article says that he would not be what is considered a vegetarian today as he did eat meat. I honestly don’t see why it is so important to many people to have a misleading statement like “Hitler was a vegetarian” to fall back on. Hitler at least wasn’t a very good vegetarian or even a figure from history who was famous for promoting vegetarianism like Pythagoras. I suppose that it could be somewhat amusing or novel if it wasn’t a hand that was so overplayed or generally boorish. If I am being snide in saying this or am top of high horse then I humbly apologise.

      I guess that my point is that canned aphorisms like “Hitler was a vegetarian” do not make you next Winston Churchill. Have some substance to your statements and be more original.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Hating to get into this particular one, but “Hitler is a Vegetarian” isn’t normally used as a way to somehow prove the moral-evilness of Vegetarians, but as a way to wind them up. Especially if it’s a Vegetarians who spends a lot of time being self-righteous.

      (Talking as someone who spent his years between 18-30 solely dating vegetarians and Vegans, of course. And so living with a vegetarian diet for years when co-habiting with one.)


    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      I still don’t see your logic.
      I can hate Hitler for killing people, but I can’t hate someone for being a vegetarian? Why not? They are no different to me. Killing people is wrong. Being a vegetarian is wrong.

      (I’m just being a devil’s advocate by the way, I don’t care about dietary preferences and one of my best friends is gay.)

    • Sinnerman says:

      @Memphis-Ahn, hate Hitler for starting a war and killing innocent people, yes. Hate vegetarians because you want to or one of them made you feel slightly bad once, fine, whatever, it’s your head so fill it with what you like. Hating vegetarians for being fascist or hating Hitler for being a vegetarian is a sign of mental disorder.

      @Giilen, sure, and since Hitler wasn’t a proper vegetarian, vegetarians now have a funky new way of winding up authoritarian meat eaters who just get annoyed with vegetarians because they are unconventional.

    • A-Scale says:

      I hate vegetarians because of their near universal smugness and the moral bankruptcy of the practice. It’s nonsensical to think that you are morally superior because you eat exclusively living beings which harm no one and ask for nothing more than to be left alone, contra normal people who also eat the murdering devils (yes, even herbivores) that are animals.

      The fact of the matter is, however, that Hitler was by many definitions a vegetarian. Stating flatly that it’s totally incorrect and that anyone who believes it is an internet tool susceptible to trolling is a lie.

      And I must agree with Kieron, no one ever seriously used “Hitler was a vegetarian. Don’t be like Hitler” as an argument against vegetarianism, hence why it is on a jokey advertisement for a silly indie game. It’s used to get the mickey of higher than thou veggies, which is precisely what it seems to do.

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      “I hate vegetarians because of their near universal smugness and the moral bankruptcy of the practice. It’s nonsensical to think that you are morally superior because you eat exclusively living beings which harm no one and ask for nothing more than to be left alone, contra normal people who also eat the murdering devils (yes, even herbivores) that are animals.”

      Also, I mostly eat kosher, so I go the extra step of making sure the animals I eat die painlessly (which is probably more than they deserve). What do you vegetarians do for the plants? Besides ripping them off the ground and using them for your own benefit?

    • Sam says:

      Because, of course, all vegetarians partake of smugness in that way – oh, wait, no, they don’t.
      I’m mostly vegetarian, and almost all the other people I know who are vegetarian or vegan don’t really look down on omnivorous portions of humanity at all. (They’re more concerned, especially the vegans, with actually being able to find somewhere that at least mentions if any of their dishes satisfy their dietary requirements.) Most of us find the holier-than-thou vegetarian segment just as annoying as omnivores do – in fact, probably somewhat more so, since they’re responsible for giving you two reasons to hate all of us.

      In addition, there are lots of reasons why people are vegetarian or vegan. One of the vegans I know is vegan from a food allergy perspective, and I’m vegetarian now mainly because I’ve not eaten meat for so long that the texture and taste doesn’t resemble “food” to me any more, rather than for any pressing need to be deeply morally superior to you lot.

      (And, yes, Hitler was sort of a vegetarian, although mainly for medical reasons as far as I understand it. The problem with the Hitler thing is really that it relies upon the fact that Hitler has stopped being a human being in the eyes of many, and therefore anything he did is apparently tarnished in the eyes of some with his Evil. Which is silly, but what can you do about it?)

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      A-Train: Stop winding up the Vegetarians, man.


    • Sinnerman says:

      Maybe the advertisement should read, “Hitler ate a partly vegetarian diet under doctors orders in his later life due to a gastric problem but still ate things like sausage, don’t be like Hitler and have problems with your guts if you want to eat a lot of meat or play meat boy without farting a lot. Play meat boy today and not be like Hitler!”

    • A-Scale says:

      Whooooo Whoooooo! That’s my train whistle.

    • Hmm says:

      Maybe it should just read what it reads and people can stop being tiresome bores about everything.

    • D says:

      Really I think the “Man was vegetarian, but was also a jerk” says more about Mans contradictory behavior then anything about vegetarians. In a way, its just saying “you might be a vegetarian, but that doesn’t preclude you from being a mass murderer.” Ofcourse the entire conversation has no bearing on any of the content in the post and what I really wanted to say was:


    • D says:

      Thats right. Jesus.

  17. Wulf says:

    I have two fronts for my definition of an indie game, and they intermingle.

    Is it actually independent?

    This is the boring one, and it basically boils down to whether the game is being independently developed or whether it’s having money funnelled into it from an outside source, for whatever reason. This is important, and I’ll get to why in a little bit.

    This is one of the things I really look for, a game which is as free of constraints as possible, and this is one of the reasons why I’m never at all really interested in indie games on the consoles — simply because they all introduce some kind of outside influence.

    That brings me to the second point…

    Is it the game they wanted to make?

    If it’s funded, then they’re obligated to make a certain amount of money to pay off the funding. So no.

    If it’s a part of a locked down system, they’re going to have to kowtow to certain rules. So no.

    If they just sat down and decided to make the game they want to play, and then attached a price tag to the game that they thought was fair… well, that’s indie.

    Indie is a game that’s made because it’s the game that the developer wanted to play. It’s not something that’s being pitched at the mainstream, not in the least, it’s not something that’s obligated to make massive amounts of money, it can be really niche (yes, like Derek Smart’s games) and attract a certain audience/demographic, and there’s nothing wrong with that because at the end of the day it was the game they wanted to make.

    There’s a simple truth, here: You can’t love the game you didn’t want to make, or the game that was partly hsaped by outside influences, or the game that you had to rush out of the door due to deadlines, or the game where you had to pull things due to censors, and so on.

    I think that World of Goo, Machinarium, Windosill, VVVVVV, Mr. Robot, Osmos, Eufloria, Aaaa, And Yet it Moves, Bob Came in Pieces, Torchlight, Blueberry Garden, and so on are indie. I know there are so, so many others too, but I can’t sit here digging through every game I’ve bought, so I just listed some off the top of my head. It doesn’t matter whether the mainstream likes a game like this, not in the least, it matters that the developer loved it, and anyone who can appreciate the things that that developer does is going to love it too.

    I’d even include entries like Don’t Look Back, Knytt Stories, Dwarf Fortress, and the like here, but that’s not fair since they’re freeware, and freeware is similar but without a price attached. In many cases though, a freeware game is based on the same respectable principles.

    VVVVVV was this rising crescendo of enjoyment for me, because it oozed love from every pore, this was a game made by a person who had a complete understanding of how to make that game. They knew what to leave out, what to include, how the game should flow, what it should be about, how it should look, how it should feel, and that’s the important thing.

    Often, I’ll play a mainstream game and I’ll get this feeling that it was put together by a group of people who just don’t understand the game they were making, or who don’t care, or a mixture of both, I get this feeling a lot from mainstream games. Oh, there are exceptions, like Burnout: Paradise and Guild Wars, but how often have you, or I, sat down in front of a game and felt that they were just putting it together to get paid, rather than to make a game for the love of making games?

    And that’s a huge problem for me, even if it’s competent, and it’s reasonable, and it’s the cream of the crop of mainstream titles, it may still feel like the developer just didn’t give a rat’s arse about the game, because they didn’t have enough creative control.

    And that’s the key.

    If a game is influenced by any outside elements, if the designers and developers don’t have creative control, then the end result–the game–suffers for that. Another problem is if there are just too many people working on something, sometimes they can’t agree, there’ll be headbutting, and sometimes the person who was the real driving creative force behind a game will leave, and the game will suffer for that, too. But often those people will go off and form their own indie studios to create brilliant gems anyway.

    And I don’t know why but I’m amazingly attuned to sensing how much creative control was involved with a game, it’s in the art direction, it’s in the flow, it’s in how well the parts of the game fit together, it’s in how much it makes the player feel, it’s in the game wanting to show you something a little bit special, and so many games can suffer in those departments. That’s why generally I’ll gravitate towards indie, ignoring all but those few development houses that I trust to get these things right anyway.

    I don’t know how many times a game has felt incomplete, or padded out, or bereft of soul, disjointed, mangled, and ultimately unloved by its creators, and if they don’t love it then I find it hard to bring myself to, either. But I never really get that feeling from indie games. Again, with VVVVVV, there were so many emotions that made me feel. I could be exasperated, happy, jubilant, there were moments of gratification, times where I’d just smile, I’d laugh, I’d whimper, and ultimately I ended up just wanting to shake Terry Cavanagh’s hand.

    Isn’t that what all the best games should do? Solium Infernum does that, too, no? I mean, it’s not the game for me because I’m not the scheming sort, but I can respect the feelings involved, I’m amazed at the narrative that was borne of it, whilst playing the game, and any group of intelligent players could forge a narrative like that, because the game doesn’t lock them down, it allows them to, and it creates a unique instance with everyone who plays it, and it seemed like everyone came out of Solium Infernum at least a tiny bit emotionally drained.

    And that’s incredible.

    So what does it come down to?

    Too many cooks spoil the broth.

    – Designers butting heads and disagreeing, because there are just too many.
    – Shareholders and investors demanding that a game appeal to a wider demographic.
    – Content delivery services demanding a game fit into a certain size limit.
    – Console architectures not supporting free access, thus no multiplayer or online elements.

    All of the above can have an effect on a game, the first two especially, because it could mean that parts are added to a game that someone who was a major driving creative force behind the game didn’t want there, or things get cut that they needed there, and ultimately they fall out of love with the game and stop caring.

    Yet none of the above has to happen to an indie developer, but indie or mainstream, to succeed the creative vision must be held sacred, and to deny it should be a cardinal sin. Creativity denied is why so much of the mainstream falls flat on its face from my point of view, moreso in the last 3-5 years than ever before. It’s because big companies are just buying up development houses rather than publishing for them, and that too can lead to the creation of unloved games.

    Finally, if you talk to an indie developer, they’re intense, they all are. It doesn’t matter whether I like their games or not, that’s irrelevant, someone’s going to love them because of what I’ve covered above, and that’s important. Be it Terry, 2D Boy, Derek Smart, Cliffski, or whomever else, they exude passion. And after all those trailers with developers sounding like they’re reading off boards and having no real emotion behind their words, this is refreshing, it’s bloody invigorating.

    And there you have it.

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      You mention Torchlight being indie, but by your definition it’s not.
      Runic did have outside funding, and still does.

      Also, I feel that sometimes freeware games are a lot more “indie” than paid games could ever be. I think Cavanagh’s Judith was superior to what I played of the VVVVVV demo.
      Hell, all the Cactus stuff I’ve played oozes more indie than stuff like AI Wars and Braid (two games I thoroughly enjoyed).

      It’s a matter of taste imho.

    • Wulf says:

      I don’t believe that’s correct.

      They have a business partner for an MMO project, but that had no impact on the single-player Torchlight game, which was just a pet project for the team.

    • Memphis-Ahn says:

      I saw the Perfect World logo slapped all over the early Torchlight videos, so I figured they were funding. Turns out they’re just publishing the game. Suppose that’s alright then.

  18. cjlr says:

    In gaming, as in film and music, the word ‘indie’ has long ago ceased to carry any remnant of the scant meaning it might once have had. It is meaningless. It is useless. It is a pox upon the english language and it should be expunged with extreme prejudice from the vocabulary of all and sundry.

    That said, I suppose if you absolutely had to define it, this is as stab as any.

    • Wulf says:

      That’s down to the person though really, innit?

      All of us use words to define things, and there’s no reason that a word can’t find new pride, at least not in my eyes. And everyone’s going to have their own ideas about the true meaning of any given word. But the base purpose of a word is simply to convey an idea, and in that a word cannot be good or evil, only the person perceiving it can add that to the word.

      In that respect, communication is like nature, a hunter isn’t necessarily evil by proxy of merely existing, even though subjectively a person might believe that they are, and ultimately that’s going to say more about the person than the animal. For at the end of the day, an animal is an animal, a tree is a tree, a mountain is a mountain, and a word is a word, and any baggage you bring along with that is yours and yours alone.

      Apparently indie is your Moby Dick, and more power to you, I suppose. But it’s still just a word.

    • cjlr says:


      The point here, if you’ll excuse my sarcasm, is that any definitions for it we do have are so vague and contradictory that the word becomes more or less meaningless. Say, for example, that something is described to you as ‘indie’ (presumably among other things). All too often that does not make any clearer what the thing being described is actually like in any way. It is not clear language.

      Words are just our bad way of abstracting the universe into things we can comprehend – and obviously their definitions are utterly subjective. But language only works insofar as different people use the same word to mean approximately the same thing – or else we’d all just be talking past each other. Perhaps I was overdoing it with the overwrought sarcastic language, but I think there’s a reasonable point in there somewhere.
      The subtle demonisms of life and thought, indeed.

    • Wulf says:

      That’s a fair point, perhaps I did get a bit too hung up on the sarcasm.

      We have so many words like that though, don’t we? What defines a starving artist? What is art? What is love? What is ethics? And people have written long essays on all of these topics, and they’ll continue to. Yet we haven’t abandoned those words for being vague because they seem to convey something that goes beyond an easy rational explanation — such as love having so many meanings to so many, and yet still being broadly accepted.

      Perhaps indie has this quality too, perhaps it’s just the context of the word, perhaps the word itself gives enough of an idea, no matter how vague, perhaps that words seem to be vague is an indicator of a lack of education and understanding in today’s culture, I don’t know. Maybe we should have hard, clear cut meanings for these words, maybe we shouldn’t, but at the end of the day the only thing I really wanted to convey is that a word is no different than a tool. We shouldn’t hate our tools, or cast them aside, we should try to improve upon them.

    • Wulf says:


      “What is love?”

      …and now I’m having flashbacks of the Burger King on fire.

      Gods damn it, Uncle Sporky!

      I think that Knytt Stories level has scarred me forever.

      Don’t eat the mushroom kids, really, it’s bad for you.

  19. Taillefer says:

    Aren’t they games about a guy in a hat with a whip?

  20. Olympi says:

    “Do you want to spend 50 bucks on the next WW2 shooter? Or do you want to play a game where you control a bloody chunk of meat?”
    Let me rephrase the last sentence : “Or do you want to play to a yet another plateformer ?”, I know that’s sound less appealing. There are better examples.

  21. LionsPhil says:

    I thought Spiderweb was the embodiment of Indie game development, being in the business since someone thought to coin the term “shareware”.

    Hell, Jeff Minter. His b3ta interview was brilliant (since Alec couldn’t get him).

    I’d rather keep indie with its original meaning – independent, i.e. self-publishing.

    This, although perhaps modified to “self-funding“.

    Those are the only things I picked up from my scanning of this article.

    You fail at reading comprehension.

  22. radomaj says:

    I’m independent link to

  23. Idiot says:

    You missed Jason Roher.

  24. Idiot says:


  25. Jason Moyer says:

    Looking at other media, if people can consider something like Sub-Pop indie, I’m not sure why Valve wouldn’t fit the definition. The only reason I’d be hesitant to include Valve would be their occasional distribution deals with EA and the like, but it’s not like independent musicians don’t release stuff through someone like Caroline or whatever either.

    Really, I think the distinction between indie and mainstream when it comes to most things is just a degree of pretension on the part of the person doing the defining, but that’s just me.

  26. Pvt Ryan says:

    Of course I want to buy the next WWII shooter, punk. The recent Call of Duty’s have more thought, polish and quality in their main menus, than your entire indie scene.

  27. UK_John says:

    I say independent is just control. Do you have control. Many people can be involved in an indie game, and those individuals may be rich and buy expensive software to make the programming easier and pat for third party artists/musicians?

    For example, almost not indie and yet still indie (in my book) is Neocrone, with thier sub million costing ‘King Arthur The Roleplaying Wargame’. It is currently only available via digital download but may be published by Ubisoft at some point. The title would never have been made by a major publisher and is obviously a labour of love, but it miles away from being a one man programmed game that many would see as the truly indie game!

    I think indie can also be associated with some titles in that the publisher allowed the designer full ‘independence to make their own game- and thereby broke moulds This could be titles like Gabriel Knight, Darklands, Psychonauts and Beyond Good and Evil.

    As to the statement that indie proves the death of PC gaming is false, I would say the opposite. The problem is that people who believe PC gaming is doing fine do the typical thing of extrapolating the opposition to the ridiculous. Therefore implying people like me who think PC gaming is dying are saying that we believe no one on the planet will be playing PC games. This is obviously ridiculous an no one who believes in the problems with PC gaming believes that! What we mean is that PC gaming will no longer be a mainstream market, no longer part of ‘concious society’. An example would be the end of the horse as means of propulsion. When people back then started saying ‘it was the end of the horse and buggy’ because the automobile came along didn’t mean all horses would be culled and disappear from the face of the earth. they mean that the industry that supported that market,the blacksmiths, the stables, the horse troughs,the saddle makers,etc would all be much much less and that the industry would become ‘specialist’ rather than ‘generic’

    AS PC titles disappear from retail and major publishers move away from PC only to multiformat titles, so PC gaming is moving from mainstream. All the while the console market stays as it is now with multiple AAA titles per year. In future of just indie PC titles, there will be no more printed PC games magazines, many PC gaming sites will disappear and many multiformat sites will drop PC. Specialist indie sites will appear and indeed may grow, but just like most people don’t think of horses from one year to the next, but think of their car everyday, so PC gaming will become niche. The average household will more and more see their console as the game playing machine and many,when asked, will say ‘there are STILL pc games? Where?’. That is PC gaming dying. Becoming so niche and specialist it is practically invisible. A market that goes from No.1 titles selling 5 million to 100,000 will not survive as a mainstream market and many, quite rightly will say ‘compared to the 90’s PC gaming is dead’.

    The growth in PC retro and indie gaming is, quite simply, an indictment on modern gaming. But as PC games sales continue to fall and more major publishers move away from the format, so will PC gaming disappear from the perspective of the public.

    So as indie grows so the PC gaming market shrinks, becomes more niche and specialist and disappears from the general market While a few 100,000 of us, who know where to look, will still be buying these small $10 indie games and will know where to go to seer reviews, etc. But it won;t be the mainstream PC games market of the 90’s with independent games stores selling PC only games along with a dozen or so PC gaming magazine and PC gaming paraphernalia like steering wheels for their racing games and joysticks for their flight sims. You hardly see PC steering wheels and Joysticks any more, and you see even less PC racing games or flight sims…. The PC is a disappearing gaming format, one genre at a time. In a world of more than 5 million DOSBox’s and the growth in indie gaming points in only one direction. The end of PC gaming from the mainstream marketplace.

    When you consider that Computer Gaming World magazine, in the November 1997 issue, had 47 PC game reviews and yet in 2008 Gamespot only reviewed 63 PC games ALL YEAR we are well down that road already.

    • RobF says:

      “The growth in PC retro and indie gaming is, quite simply, an indictment on modern gaming.”

      I don’t think that’s true. The rise of indie has much, much more to do with an increase in accessible tools and ease of distribution than anything else.

  28. Paganite says:

    I wonder how many indy people would stay so in the face of a 30 million dollar takeover bid?…

  29. saimo says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    Well that explains why I never listen to indie rock… (by the way, excellent post, sir).

    Here is some proper “indie gaming”

    The game itself is a solid and compelling little piece of Amiga-styled retro shooting goodness with a nifty rotation “trick”. But the game aside, the developer will sell you the game within a properly boxed DVD case containing the game disc and manual. This is indie publishing in its truest sense. And it warms the cockles of my heart (that remembers buying Treasure Island Dizzy on cassette for £1.99) to see some are going this route.

    Hi Casimir’s Blake,

    this is BOH’s author. I just wanted to thank you for your nice comment – I liked it so much that I took the liberty of quoting it on the comments page of BOH’s website ;)

  30. UK_John says:

    RobF says:
    January 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    “The growth in PC retro and indie gaming is, quite simply, an indictment on modern gaming.”

    I don’t think that’s true. The rise of indie has much, much more to do with an increase in accessible tools and ease of distribution than anything else.


    You are talking from the point of view of the indie publishers. But indie publishers cannot grow and new indie publishers wouldn’t come into being if there were plenty of high quality PC games being released, as gamers would be buying those AAA games instead! Indie has been around for years, but only really started growing in the last 2-4 years as more and more PC gamers saw PC only games disappearing, to be replaced by dumbed down – sorry – ‘streamlined’ console conversions! As the quantity of PC multiformat games have increased and PC only games (and indeed PC games in general) have declined so PC gamers have looked elsewhere.

    If just indie gaming had taken off, you may have an argument, but the fact that retro PC gaming is growing as well, through sites like GOG, Steam, ebay and 5,000,000+ DOSBox downloads, I would say it is PC gamers looking for more meaningful entertainment for their $ and their time, and they are deciding more and more to play indie titles and retro PC titles that give them that entertainment for their $.

  31. RobF says:


    “You are talking from the point of view of the indie publishers. But indie publishers cannot grow and new indie publishers wouldn’t come into being if there were plenty of high quality PC games being released, as gamers would be buying those AAA games instead!”

    No, no, it doesn’t work like that. It’s not either/or. Both can (and do) happily co-exist. People will buy Mass Effect 2 and they’ll buy Gratuitous Space Battles or whatever examples you want to throw into the ring here and indie publishers HAVE been around for a long time. Just not on the scale we see now because, well…

    There wasn’t a wealth of indie games outside of the casual space* 4 or 5 years ago (if you ignore the hobbyist scene) mainly because there simply wasn’t accessible tools for more people to make games and no sort of news coverage to speak of**. It’s only in the past few years we’ve seen stuff like Gamemaker mature to a level whereby you can bang out exceptional 2d stuff, where game dev has become affordable with Visual Studio having an express edition, Unity enabling 3d in the browser stuff, Flash becoming ubiquitous enough (and with free tools and frameworks) to be a viable route for development and so on and so forth.

    Prior to that, you were looking at a costly outlay (even if it was only £60 for Multimedia Fusion, Blitz whatever…) which put a barrier on entry. There also wasn’t the ease (and safety fears allayed) of digital distribution that we have now. I’ve been doing this whole indie thing for 7 or 8 years now and when I started, 90% of the stuff I see now wasn’t easily achievable by most people at all. Throw in the cost of hardware (now you can get a decent enough netbook to do your stuff on for a couple of hundred quid) too. Oh, and lets not forget download speeds here and the spread of broadband.

    To ignore all of those things, when they’re absolutely crucial, is a madness. It’s got nothing to do with the death of mainstream PC gaming in any way. No mainstream publishers left the door open here.

    It’s just that now the people who wanted to make games can make games and lo, some people want the games that the people who wanted to make games make. You’re entirely free to assume that people only want those games because they can’t get anything else but I’d call total bullshit on that. This is people doing what people do.

    “If just indie gaming had taken off, you may have an argument, but the fact that retro PC gaming is growing as well, through sites like GOG, Steam, ebay and 5,000,000+ DOSBox downloads, I would say it is PC gamers looking for more meaningful entertainment for their $ and their time, and they are deciding more and more to play indie titles and retro PC titles that give them that entertainment for their $.”

    That’s a big reach, man. Could it possibly be that people just want games full stop and each of these services fulfill a different need that people have? Just a wild guess there. I’m sure last time I looked Steam has lots of new releases on it too and I’m pretty sure that they sell, y’know? Ebay has been doing a trade on old games (oh look, and recent ones too!) as long as I’ve been on the internet, GOG fills a niche that other stores don’t (old games actually available to purchase instead of having to resort to abandonware) and your DOSBox example, you could replace with MAME for all that it matters.

    *which, incidentally, was booming around 2004,2005 and 2006.

    **because the ease of setting up a blog is now also a factor in the coverage we get – anyone can do a WordPress install, get a blogspot home or whatever and post about these things.