The state of indie gaming

The state of indie gaming
There are plenty of new devices and opportunities for indies

Great public movements are often started in opposition to the establishment; Communism, The Labour party, even Christianity all thrived on suppression.

Yet, once they'd started, these movements all took the time to define themselves, and what they believed, more clearly (which often resulted in internal purges).

Analogously, Indie games (that is, 'independent games') were also defined in opposition; by not being publisher-owned they defined themselves against the money-grabbing publishers of the 1990s and 2000s.

'We're the underdogs', they cried, 'and in need of your support.' Yet the Indies never clearly defined themselves and we, the media, didn't help.

It's hard to point to an Indie ethos today that's distinctive from that of the typical developer - and, with that in mind, it's worth remembering that many of the biggest developers of today, such as id and Epic, started out as Indies.

That throws up questions. Do we want to still call them Indies? If so, does that weaken the phrase? What about companies like Tim Schafer's Doublefine, Introversion, or Ed McMillen's Team Meat? Do people stop being Indies just because they become successful, or is it more an ethos? Can an Indie employ a thousand people?

Perhaps the more important questions are: what does it mean to be an Indie today? How is the Indie market growing or shrinking? What problems do Indies face getting the public to play their games? What tools do the established Indies use to get their games to the public? Is Indie just a state of mind?

Many Indies were, originally, solitary or in very small groups, often family groups - and there was a reason that Darwinia developer Introversion, the classic example of an Indie, dubbed themselves "the last of the bedroom programmers".

Indies at Develop

If you look at the archetypal UK Indies of the 1980s, the Collyer brothers who made Championship Manager, or at Andrew Gower of Runescape, they typically worked on their own from home.

Yet when Introversion started operating, in the early 2000s, there were literally no Indie studios left - there was just no route to the customer for games developed by independent developers. Hence their slogan reflected that what had once been a thriving industry had died off - and died quickly.

"In 2001, when we made Uplink, there was no digital distribution." says Chris Delay, founder and creative brain behind Introversion. "We had a website, but there was no download facility. There was no Steam. Even then, people didn't want to buy stuff from Amazon because it wasn't 'safe'. We ended up doing shop versions. The conditions weren't there to encourage an Indie scene in the 2000s. That's why individuals didn't make games, because they couldn't sell them."

The market had narrowed to just big publishers owning the route to market - and independent developers had to knuckle under or die. Note, however, no-one called themselves 'Indie', as independent developers were the norm.

The phrase can most probably be traced back to music journalism and Indie music - possibly back to music journalist Stuart Campbell's 'Indie Zone' from 2004 in PC Zone.

Post Introversions, the Indie boom can be attributed to three things; Flash, Steam and the iPhone.

Flash, aa-ahh!


The advent of Adobe's Flash, an easy-to-program and ubiquitous platform, allowed many wannabe game developers to learn their skills quickly. Free tutorials, both from Adobe and online, gave these developers the basics of 2D game creation and soon you couldn't move on the net for flash-based games and animations.

However, few professional Indies emerged from Flash. Developers could make some money from adverts, so animations like Home Star Runner and Weebl & Bob, could thrive, but most people did it just to get the attention and CV credentials to get employed by advertising and design agencies.