Is “Indie” an Abused Label?


A recent conversation with RetroGamerProblems on Twitter brought up an interesting topic for me: labeling yourself as an “indie” designer/studio.

First, we have to ask ourselves: what does this label mean exactly? Does it simply mean that you’re operating on your own, outside of the influence (monetary or otherwise) of a major AAA studio? Does it mean that you’re simply a small-time development team operating with a limited (or none at all!) budget? Is it a combination of those two conditions, or maybe something else entirely?

Regardless of your answers to those questions (they seem to be rather subjective anyway), it seems to me that there are quite a few people who self-label (or get labeled) as indie developers when, in fact, they really aren’t indie at all. While a group like Rovio may have been considered “indie” when they first developed and released their smash hit Angry Birds, it would seem quite unfair to label them as indie now, no matter how small they are as a company. In that example, they’ve created a franchise that’s wildly successful, made tons of money, and even have licensing deals from big metaverses like Star Wars. Yet, there are some people out there who would insist that they’re still indie. Another problem is when a small team is actually backed by a major development studio, and despite the fact that the team itself is small and may still be operating under a more limited budget, they are effectively kind of like a shadow group for a larger corporation that’s trying to squeeze into the indie scene.

This problem is compounded further by the fact that people often seem to treat indie games like they’re gems to behold, yet using this label doesn’t mean that your game is great. Sure, only three people worked on the game, but does that mean I should give it a free pass when the game itself stinks? Why should I, especially when small teams or even solo designers are pumping out high quality titles like Mega Man Unlimited – or, as a more apt example, Street Fighter X Mega Man – a game that was given the official thumbs-up by Capcom itself.

I’d really like to see us reach a point where we aren’t constantly abusing the “indie” label, but I know it’s wishful thinking right now. Still, I wonder what you guys think! 🙂

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