What makes a game an indie in 2021?

What makes a game an indie in 2021?

It's a topic I think about regularly when picking games for Indie-licious. What makes a game indie or not anymore?


I came across a dilemma I often thing about when picking out games for stream on Indie-licious this past week. As I was surfing games on Steam's Indie games section, an interesting one caught my eye: Getsu Fuma Den: Undying Moon - an "indie" title published and partially developed by Konami. It brought up the question I often have to contend with when I pick games. Is this indie gaming? What even is indie gaming these days?

This isn't the first time I've had considerations of about this topic, even just in the confines of Indie-licious. For instance, Embracer Group (the parent company of THQ Nordic) acquired Coffee Stain Studios in 2018. You might know Coffee Stain as the group that developed Satisfactory, but also published Deep Rock Galactic and 2020 "indie darling" Valheim. While all of these games would widely be considered Indie, that Embracer investment makes it a little more foggy.

Getsu Fuma Den: Undying Moon isn't Konami's only "indie" move either. Back in June 2020, Konami kind of came out of the blue with the publishing of Skelettack: A lighthearted plaformer from the folks at Ukuza. Konami promised it would be putting into further "indie" efforts and Getsu Fuma Den seems to be the latest behind that. That said, while studio GuruGuru is the main developer behind Undying Moon, Konami is also part developer as well as publisher. Getsu Fuma Den is, after all, a Konami IP revived from its Famicom days.

Don't get me wrong, if I want to play a game for stream on Indie-licious, I ultimately have the final call on the matter. But it's defnitely something I take into account as I scan these games. The core of Indie-licious is playing the "hottest and most delicious-looking indie games out there." But my goal with Indie-licous has also always been to give spotlights to games you otherwise might not have heard of.

For me personally, I think a major publisher is kind of a big deal in determining an indie and not an indie. There was a time when I would have considered Rocket League an indie. I think with Epic Games now backing it, I'm not sure I would say the same nowadays. Same with Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. And yeah, I've had games like Satisfactory and Valheim on my show after the fact that that those games are certainly backed by a big company. But I'm not even entirely sure Steam has the best criteria for how it determines what's indie and what's not. It doesn't catogorize Deep Rock Galactic as indie, but it does categorize Satisfactory as such.

In gaming, "Indie" has always kind of been a nebulous term. Once upon a time, id Software might have been considered indie. Blizzard was the kind of crew that might have been described by indie at its roots. Hell, one might still consider Kojima Productions to be indie. These days, there are so many more developers out there that are called indie, from one man projects like Teardown to massive million dollar undertakings like Genshin Impact.

I think a lot of people's definitions of "indie" in gaming would be just as varied as the offering of "indie" games itself. For me, the best I think I can do is just do my best to keep my own criteria stable. Will I play Getsu Fuma Den on Indie-licious? I'm not sure. It's new(ish), it's interesting to me, and Steam considers it indie. But my ultimate goal is always to help out cool projects that might not otherwise get the eyes I think they deserve. What do you think? What makes a game indie to you?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 16, 2021 6:01 PM

    Is a Konami-published "indie" really indie?

    Read more: What makes a game an indie in 2021?

    • reply
      May 17, 2021 4:56 AM

      I've asked the base question before. It has really gotten complicated. When that upcoming TMNT game showed up on the Nintendo Indie World showcase, that broke my brain. How can a highly polished games like, or Streets of Rage 4, be considered an indie title?

      Masem is right. We're going to need new descriptors. The lines are really getting blurry.

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        May 17, 2021 5:09 AM

        I thought that was just retro-styled rather than indie?

        Indie typically just being a very small independent team that self-release rather than partnering with a huge publisher.

        (Haven’t had a chance to read article yet, apologies if that already covered)

    • reply
      May 17, 2021 6:28 AM

      Generally, I’d say a game made by a mall developer that doesn’t have a publishing deal at the time of making the game is an indie game. Even if they later ink a publishing deal with a big company later, the game was still developed independently so it would still count.

      If the small dev team gets the publishing deal before hand or during a significant amount of development time, then it’s hard to say the game was made independently of the developer and all the things that come with that

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      May 17, 2021 6:31 AM

      I thought indie was a budget tier. Games are either AAA or indie.

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      May 17, 2021 9:48 AM

      I've thought about this off and on. I think baseline indie means no publisher involvement in the development. No funding, no oversight, nothing to get in the way of the developer's vision and execution. I would say if they use a publisher to get the game distributed, that's not the same thing.

      When I was in the casual game space, that's part of what my group did. We found finished casual games, and signed them to be their distributor. We didn't tinker with the core game other than sometimes asked for some bug fixes if there were serious issues being reported back to us form the various places we placed the game. We didn't fund the development, but depending on the game and/or developer there might be some money upfront that goes against the future sales. I would still consider all of those developers we delt with as "indie" even though we had the distribution rights since we're involved with the development.

    • reply
      May 17, 2021 10:40 AM

      In other parts of the entertainment industry, I believe "indie" usually meant that they either didn't work with a production company or label, or the one they worked with wasn't part of the MPAA or RIAA. This was important because the MPAA and RIAA engaged in cartel-like behaviors in the past that supposedly impacted the creative freedom of independent artists and their ability to fairly compete.

      The equivalent in the gaming industry I think is the ESA but to my knowledge the ESA isn't quite as powerful as the MPAA or RIAA. In the games industry the only major players that engaged in anything resembling what the RIAA and MPAA did are the major platform holders, both of which have opened up a ton in comparison to how they used to operate from the 80s to the early 2000s.

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