Larger development studios within the games industry generally develop their games under a publisher, who is able to provide financial support, marketing, manufacturing of discs, boxes, and manuals (where applicable), distribution to retailers, licensing negotiations, and other services. Those developing games independently forgo these forms of support, usually because they consider themselves unable to acquire them or are seeking the benefits of development separate from a publisher.
Limitations and Advantages
As they lack financial support from large companies, indie developers must self-fund and so often develop lower budget titles with much smaller teams and fewer resources than a typical publisher-funded development group. Indie games may even be developed by single people. This means that many indie games use 2D graphics or lower end 3D graphics, and may also have limitations in other areas, including lack of voice acting or a generally limited scale and scope.
Despite potential limitations, many developers turn to the independent industry for the unique advantages it provides. With video games typically requiring large investments, publishers often only fund games they believe do not present significant financial risk, and may insist that they have some degree of control over development. This means that publisher-backed games are often less experimental in nature, stay reasonably close to the conventions of their genre, and that the developers may not have complete creative control.
Some developers choose to create games independently, in the hopes of gaining more creative control and being able to produce more innovative, original, or non-mainstream games than the publisher-backed industry. As a result indie games are often associated with catering to niche interests, innovation, and stepping outside the normal bounds of the video game industry. It has also been argued by some that as few indie games are able to impress audiences with technical prowess, indie developers have more motivation to ensure higher quality in such components of their games as art style and gameplay design.
Distribution and Marketing
With indie developers lacking a publisher to physically mass-manufacture and distribute games to stores, and very rarely have the means to do so themselves, indie games are almost always digitally distributed. While in the past a lack of support for the sale of digital products on the PC and the non-existence of any kind of digital distribution services on the consoles has hindered the independent games industry, the more recent introduction of online shopping services like Paypal, the introduction of digital distribution platforms on PC like Steam and Desura, the rise of “app stores” on mobile devices, and the launch of digital distribution services on consoles such as Xbox Live and PlayStation Network have meant a major boom in the independent games industry. The “Humble Indie Bundle” service has also been a significant force in independent gaming, having sold tens of millions of indie games indie games in its lifetime.
It should be noted though, that independent games still have a much greater presence on the PC than consoles, due to the PC having generally greater accessibility to developers, the potentially high cost of developing for consoles, the level of control console manufacturers may have over games on their service, and the typically limited number of downloadable games console manufacturers allow on their systems during any release window. It should also be noted that due to the high costs associated with them, traditional marketing campaigns are almost never utilised by indie developers. Instead, indie games rely largely on word of mouth, game journalism, and visibility on distribution platforms to raise awareness. The rise of online social spaces and proliferation of video game websites has therefore been very important for indie developers.
Notable Games and Developers
In recent years one of the most widely recognised indie games has been Minecraft, a sandbox game originally created solely by Markus Persson, but now developed by Mojang, which has sold over 7 million copies. However, other famous indie games include Team Meat’s high difficulty platformer Super Meat Boy, Jonathan Blow’s puzzle platformer Braid, and Phil Fish’s puzzle platformer Fez. Indie developer thatgamecompany have also received considerable acclaim for their experimental PS3 games, including flower and Journey, while Frictional Games’ horror title Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Runic Games’ dungeon crawler Torchlight, and Re-Logic’s sandbox game Terraria, among other games, have received much attention from the gaming community and audience.
Companies like Valve Corporation (developers of Half-Life, Portal, Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2) are examples of the most successful independent development studios in the industry, however, developers like these are rarely considered to be part of the indie movement, due to their abnormally high budgets, which in many ways allow them to produce games as if they had considerable publisher backing.