Indie Experience Points: What Is Indie And What Is Not?
This column has been a guilty pleasure of mine, with only a certain niche that it truly fills. Although, as of late, I’ve been questioning what is indie, and what is not. Clearly, AAA games with big publishers will never be considered indie. But indie games which are slowly becoming successful and reaching, and evolving, into corporate structures that are seemingly becoming big enough companies to no longer warrant the label of indie.
Minecraft is a prime example of this. Notch may have made the original prototype of the game from scratch, but Mojang and the rest of the team has grown beyond the two to three man ‘stuk’ that one normally considers to be the true face of indie development. This is of course, if by extension, we consider indie games to be defined by a set of deterministic characteristics or a general ethos, and atmosphere present in a game’s development.
If you’ve watched any interviews, documentaries and read material related to the world of indie you might have gained a glimpse into the different approaches that indie developers take, in comparison to their AAA counterparts. An approach whereby the indie developer doesn’t take on the development of a game in the organised and well planned ways of a typical game studio.
Rather indie games are tentatively at first developed as “passion projects”, or experimental tech demos in the exploration of an idea, concept and overall feeling that the prospective developer wishes to convey. Minecraft takes the childhood memories of Lego building, combines it with a limitless creation tool kit and gives the player free reign.
On the other hand, an ‘average’ AAA game would assume that the player playing the game is of the level of intelligence of a baked bean, and would follow up with numerous tutorial levels before getting to the meat of the gameplay. Again, there are exceptions here like in any form of art, entertainment or whatever you deem videogames to be. However, by a general rule of thumb, indie games would never worry too much about the player, but more so the experience.
I think what makes an indie game ‘indie’ is an experience that reaches far beyond AAA fanfare. Something that wasn’t tailor made to appeal to every person out there. I’m not chastising the importance of broader appeal in the indie game development process. But one has to foremost remember that indie games fill a niche that AAA games will never fill. They can offer dark experiences, abstract ones and go off the wall with what the we perceive a ‘game’ to be.
What I can say in the end, and using my prime example, is that Minecraft started out as an indie game, but through its own appeal and great growth it no longer needs the label of indie to survive and grow. Mojang are getting bigger by the day and whilst hints of the indie spirit may remain below Minecraft’s surface. In totality, declaring the game to be indie is just for convenience by indie fans, more than the reality of what the game has become.